1947 War: Time for Accountability
By suddenly inviting debate on the interlocutors report on Jammu and Kashmir, especially its startling suggestion to restore the State’s pre-1953 status, the Congress Party has virtually disowned the actions of its longest serving Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, thus diminishing the legitimacy and stature of the political dynasty descended from him. Some experts have added fuel to the fire by urging implementation of the report even though Parliament, political parties, and the nation have not yet studied it in depth.
Restoration of the pre-1953 status means a return to the stressful relationship between New Delhi and Srinagar that culminated in the arrest of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on charges of conspiracy against the Indian State in August 1953. Since the J&K constitution came into effect only on 26 January 1957, pre-’53 status would return the State to a lawless limbo in which its ‘prime minister’ can choose freedom from Article 1 of the Indian Constitution which names the States and territories that shall be part of the First Schedule.
Sheikh Abdullah’s slipperiness in committing to the Indian Union after endorsing the Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh and persistent flirtation with the idea of an independent nation, forced the Centre to replace him with Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. But Mr. Nehru failed to take the logical step of fully integrating the State with the Indian Union; his many grave blunders remain his lasting national legacy.
Mr. Nehru’s successors and protégés have long scuttled attempts at public scrutiny of these mistakes. But time has eroded their power and many facts are entering the public domain. Dr. S.P. Bakshi, Chief Education Officer of the State armed forces and a member of the Maharaja’s Durbar, published his reminiscences of the 1947-48 war before he passed away some weeks ago, just short of his 99th birthday.
Though brief, The Inside Story of Jammu & Kashmir State (Knowledge World, Delhi, 2012) is a fascinating narrative of that troubled time. Dr Bakshi for the first time brings on record the fact that a Rasputin-like sadhu known as ‘Mahantji’ played a crucial role in delaying the accession to India by giving the Maharaja delusions of grandeur, telling him of his visions of the State flag flying from Lahore fort and beyond, thus causing immense suffering to the people.
Dr Bakshi’s most sensational disclosure concerns New Delhi’s cavalier disregard of Major Onkar Singh Kalkat’s direct warning about the impending attack, an episode that deserves detailed exposure, with the guilty named. As part of its plans, Pakistan suddenly imposed an economic blockade upon J&K, causing grave hardship to the people. This should have rung alarm bells in Delhi as all supplies of arms and ammunitions to the State were also cut off as all ordnance depots were in Pakistan.
The overall action seems to have been supervised by Gen. Frank Messervy, the British chief of the Pakistan Army, though the main planning was by Maj.-Gen. Akbar Khan who recruited 60,000 soldiers demobilized from Punch area after WWII, ex-INA soldiers, and tribals lured with the promise of loot and plunder. Orders were issued through DO Letters marked Personal/Top Secret and signed by the British C-in-C of the Pakistan Army within days of the creation of Pakistan. In other words, it was a Raj conspiracy!
At that time, Major Onkar Singh Kalkat was serving as Brigade Major at Bannu Frontier Brigade Group under Brig C.P. Murray, who was away at Mural outpost on 20 August 1947. On his behalf, Major Kalkat received and opened an envelope marked Personal/Top Secret and found within a detailed plan of Operation Gulmarg. He hastily called Brig Murray, who told him not to breathe a word to anyone or he (Kalkat) would not be allowed to leave Pakistan alive. Perhaps the Brigadier alerted the Pakistani authorities anyway, for Kalkat was placed under house arrest. He made a daring escape and reached Ambala on 18 October 1947 and took a goods train to Delhi.
The next day, he met senior officers of the Indian Army and told them of the Pakistan plan to launch Operation Gulmarg. But they dismissed his claims, for reasons that deserve to be made public, as also the identities of the officers concerned. It is inconceivable that this news would not have been made known to Governor General Louis Mountbatten, Prime Minister Nehru, and the then Defence and Home Ministers. Nothing is known of their reactions then, or later.
Yet, in this context, we must question the unwarranted delay in sending troops to relieve the besieged Sate once the invasion began, on the pretext of first getting the Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja and Governor General. Why did Lord Mountbatten insist on the loss of a valuable day? Why were Jawaharlal Nehru and even Vallabhbhai Patel so much in thrall of Mountbatten that they couldn’t challenge his evil advice that cost the nation so dearly? At least Patel realised that going to the UN Security Council would be ruinous to India.
The UN helped to deprive India of the northern territory of Gilgit, necessary for the British to oversee Russia. Britain had leased Gilgit from the Maharaja and built an all-weather airfield and roads between Gilgit Agency and the North West Frontier Province. Indeed, Gilgit was integrated with NWFP and run from Peshawar. When Gilgit was returned in August 1947, Rao Bahadur Brig. Gansara Singh, General Staff Officer of J&K State Forces, was appointed Governor. On midnight, 31 October 1947, Major Brown of the Gilgit Scouts surrounded the Governor house and arrested Gansara Singh; the Gilgit Government was handed over to Pakistan a few days later.
Dr Bakshi speaks eloquently of the personal valour of Brig. Rajinder Singh, Chief of Staff of the J&K State Forces, who gave up his life to save Srinagar valley by blowing up the vital Uri bridge and delaying the raiders by a crucial 48 hours. His posthumous award of a Mahavir Chakra is still perceived by many as niggardly. Through vivid snapshots, Bakshi unveils the enormous sacrifices made by the officers and men of the J&K State Forces, which made them the only force from a Princely State to be absorbed en bloc into the Indian Army as a separate unit, the Regiment of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.
A major triumph of this war was Maj.-Gen. Timmy Thimaya’s audacious feat of scaling the inhospitable Zojila Pass with Stuart tanks, the highest recorded use of tanks in battle anywhere in the world –11000 ft.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.
This article was first published on Vijayvaani website here