Opinions are free, but facts are sacred.” All practitioners of journalism are required to follow this dharma of their profession. But what happens when the Prime Minister of a nation takes liberal liberties with facts? That too in parliament, where speaking truthfully is a constitutional obligation even for ordinary members? One thing happens: the Prime Minister brings disrepute to himself, to the high office he holds, and to the institution of parliament.
Narendra Modi’s antipathy for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is well known, as is his admiration for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. But neither antipathy nor admiration for anyone should be based on disrespect for facts.
In what sounded more like a hyper-aggressive election campaign speech than a sober reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President on Wednesday, Modi spoke two patent falsehoods. One, he accused the Congress of dividing the nation in 1947. “Even after 70 years, 125 crore Indians are daily facing the consequences of the seeds of poison you sowed then,” Modi told the Congress leaders in the Lok Sabha. What was that poison that still endures? Intriguingly, he did not elaborate. Two, once again exaggerating the contribution of the Sangh Parivar’s Partition-era icon, he claimed that “all of Kashmir would have been India’s, if Patel (instead of Nehru) had been allowed to become India’s first Prime Minister”.
Those who listened to Modi’s speech would have found the reference to partition rather bizarre. The context in which it came was when he was actually blaming the Congress for the hurried and messy manner in which the UPA government divided Andhra Pradesh and carved out a separate Telangana in 2014, just before the general elections. Obviously, he wanted to send a conciliatory signal to Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and his party, Telugu Desam, which is threatening to break its alliance with the BJP. Therefore, Modi contrasted the Congress way of establishing Telangana with the “smooth” formation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand by the NDA-I government a decade earlier. One may or may not agree with Modi on this, but he was well within his rights to make this comparison.
However, what was weird was the PM’s absolutely uncalled for reference to the division of India in the same breath as he was talking about the division of four Indian states. The latter is a mere reorganisation of states, which brooks no comparison whatsoever with the tragic partition of India in 1947 and the birth of two independent nations. But such is Modi’s visceral hatred for the Congress that falsifying the context and the content comes naturally to him.
Was the Congress solely responsible for the blood-soaked division of India? Books on partition can easily fill a large library, and all the authors who are faithful to facts of history tell us that the Congress did not want India to be divided. Even Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the architect of Pakistan, did not want the kind of partition that eventually established India and Pakistan as two separate and sovereign but deeply antagonistic nations. The communal Muslim League’s intransigence in demanding a separate Muslim state (its Lahore Resolution of 1940 actually talked of ‘Muslim states’, with no mention of Pakistan or the two-nation theory) and the British policy of “divide-and-exit” combined to create a situation that forced the Congress to accept the partition plan.
Of course, the Congress, too, cannot disown its share of blame. There were several opportunities during the course of the freedom movement to prevent partition, including opportunities for cooperation and reconciliation between the Congress and the Muslim League, but these were not seized. However, for those in the Sangh Parivar who have made Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru the principal villains of India’s partition, two points merit mention here. First, in his classic “India Wins Freedom”, Abul Kalam Azad clearly establishes that Patel was the first and the strongest among all the major Congress leaders to support the British plan for India’s partition. (Reluctant and sad Mahatma Gandhi was the last.) However, since Azad is not really a Sangh Parivar favourite, Modi may get some education on this from his own ministerial colleague MJ Akbar, who, in his masterly 1988 biography “Nehru – The Making of India” writes: “Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the strong man of India, had accepted the idea of partition even before Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the romantic.”
Therefore, when Modi holds the Congress guilty of dividing India, and of “sowing the seeds of poison”, he should acknowledge that he is also blaming, first and foremost, Patel himself.
The second point is even more serious. Modi leads a party that is a member of the Sangh Parivar, which swears by Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra and Akhand Bharat. Was this ideology also not responsible for partition? On this, we should listen to Dr Rammanohar Lohia, whom Modi has described as one of the “three greatest Indians” who shaped Indian political thought in the 20th century, Gandhi and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya being the other two. Lohia, a strong critic of Akhand Bharat and Hindu Rashtra, writes in his book “Guilty Men of India’s Partition”: “The opposition of fanatical Hinduism to partition did not and could not make any sense, for one of the forces that partitioned the country was precisely this Hindu fanaticism. It was like the murderer recoiling from his crime, after it had been done. Let there be no doubt about it. Those who have shouted loudest about Akhand Bharat, the present Jana Sangh and its predecessors of the curiously un-Hindu spirit of Hinduism, have helped Britain and the Muslim League partition the country. They did nothing whatsoever to bring the Muslim close to the Hindu within a single nation. They did almost everything to estrange them from each other. Such estrangement is the root cause of partition. To espouse the philosophy of estrangement and, at the same time, the concept of Akhand Bharat is an act of grievous self-deception, only if we assume that those who do so are honest men.”
Let’s now see how facts are stacked up on Modi’s claim about Patel and Kashmir. Patel undoubtedly played a stellar role in the integration of over 560 princely states into the Indian Union after India won freedom. Nehru himself has praised him as the “builder and consolidator of New India”. However, three princely states – Hyderabad, Junagadh and Jammu & Kashmir – remained major sources of contention between India and Pakistan. Patel’s steely resolve ensured the merger of Junagadh (through plebiscite) and Hyderabad (through police action) with India. Kashmir, however, continues to bleed both India and Pakistan – morally, financially and in terms of tens of thousands of lives – with no solution in sight.
All available facts of history disprove Modi’s claim that Patel could have secured a lasting and fully satisfactory solution to the Kashmir problem in 1947-48 itself. Indeed, far from wanting to get all of Kashmir for India, Patel was, initially, prepared to give away all of Kashmir to Pakistan. To know how, it is useful to listen to the unanimous voices of multiple historians. Rajmohan Gandhi in his biography “Patel: A Life”, tells us that Patel was thinking of making an ideal bargain: if Jinnah let India have Junagadh and Hyderabad, Patel would not object to Kashmir acceding to Pakistan. He cites a speech by Patel at Bahauddin College in Junagadh, following the latter’s merger with India, in which he said: “We would agree to Kashmir if they agreed to Hyderabad.”
Patel’s other authoritative biographer Balraj Krishna writes in his book “Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel” – “But for Nehru, he could settle the Kashmir issue in no time by arranging that the Kashmir Valley go to Pakistan and East Pakistan to India. Both countries would benefit from such an arrangement.” Why did he want such an arrangement? Citing a conversation on this matter between Dr Rajendra Prasad and Jayaprakash Narayan, he writes: “(According to the Sardar), when we had given away Punjab, Sind and NWFP, of what value could the small valley of Kashmir have for us?”
Let us turn to a third biographer, Dr Dinkar Joshi, a renowned Gujarati historian who is well known to Modi. On page 220 of his book “Sardar: The Sovereign Saint”, Dr Joshi writes: “Sardar knew the reasons behind Maharaja Hari Singh’s indecisiveness – the geographical and demographic conditions of Kashmir (it being a Muslim-majority state neighbouring West Pakistan). If Hari Singh decided to join Pakistan, Sardar had planned his own strategies – he would ask for Jammu and Ladakh for India and hand over Kashmir Valley to Pakistan.”
This is corroborated by another acclaimed book “The Shadow of the Great Game – The Untold History of India’s Partition” by Narendra Singh Sarila. The author writes that Mountbatten, the last viceroy, “told me many years later” – “I explained to HH (Hari Singh) that his choice was between acceding to India or Pakistan and made it clear that I had assurances from the Indian leaders that if he acceded to Pakistan, they would not take it amiss.”
Who had given those assurances? Sarila writes: “According to VP Menon (an important civil servant, and Patel’s right-hand man who played a critical role during India’s partition and the integration of princely states) ‘These assurances had been given by Sardar Patel, the Home Minister, himself.'”
The authenticity of this has been has been certified by none other than HV Seshadri, a former Number 2 in the RSS leadership hierarchy. In his book “The Tragic Story of Partition”, Seshadri, quoting Menon, states that Patel had no objection to Kashmir going to Pakistan.
If all this does not convince Modi and his followers, they would do well to turn to pages 186-7 of “The Biography of Bharat Kesri Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee – With Modern Implications” by SC Das. Founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Mookerjee is, after all, a BJP icon. Das tells us that Patel was keen on giving Kashmir Valley to Pakistan in exchange for East Pakistan. More significantly, he writes: “There was consensus between Dr Mookerjee and India’s Iron Man Sardar Patel on this grave issue.”
Why did India’s Loh Purush favour Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan? Most historians attribute it to Patel’s pragmatism. Unlike Nehru, he was not emotionally attached to Kashmir. He probably thought that a Muslim-majority state bordering Pakistan could become a source of trouble for India. At the same time, historians also record that after Pakistan tried to forcibly seize Jammu & Kashmir by sending armed invaders, Patel became an indefatigable crusader against Pakistan.
As is well known, India’s first war with Pakistan in 1947-48 ended in a stalemate, a UN-enforced ceasefire, and effective partition of J&K. It was a war in which Britain connived with Pakistan’s adventure in Kashmir. In this, the erstwhile colonial masters were helped by a fact we would find hard to believe today – even after India and Pakistan had become independent, their opposing armies were still led by British nationals! The moot question here is: Did Patel take a stand that the Indian army must continue the fight until all of J&K came under Indian control?
Let us put the question in another way. “Most Indian political parties, BJP being the most vociferous among them, assert that Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir is an atoot ang(inseparable part) of Bharat. This is as much an agony as it is an assertion, since no party and no leader can present a credible strategy to get PoK back. Did Patel have one? Again, the answer would disappoint Modi and his supporters.
On this, we should listen to the views of two eminent and erudite Indian ambassadors. In his 2002 book “War and Diplomacy in Kashmir: 1947-48”, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta tells us that – (a) “Sardar Patel at one stage declared that he would reject any proposal concerning a plebiscite in Kashmir unless Pakistan accepted the principle of plebiscite in Hyderabad also.” In other words, Patel was not in principle opposed to a plebiscite in Kashmir. (b) At one stage, Patel offered a complete withdrawal (of Indian troops) from the Poonch area (to facilitate the holding of a plebiscite). In other words, Patel was ready to halt the Indian army’s operations mid-way through the war in favour of a diplomatic-democratic solution.
All of us know no such solution emerged. But very few know that Patel, the realist, did not press for a military solution. Dasgupta’s narration on this is supported by TCS Raghavan, who retired as India’s ambassador in Islamabad in 2015. In his widely praised recent book “The People Next Door – The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan”, Raghavan writes : “By the end of 1948, the war had run its course. While the tribal levies and the Pakistan military personnel were evicted from many areas in Poonch, Ladakh and Kargil, a narrow stretch bordering Pakistan and including Muzaffarabad and Mirpur and in the large area of Gilgit and Skardu further to the north remained in Pakistani control. Evicting Pakistan forces from these would require a larger offensive, a move which Prime Minister Nehru and his government, including Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, had little enthusiasm for.”
These, in essence, are the irrefutable facts about Patel, partition and Kashmir.
But why should we bother to educate the Prime Minister on all this? Because this is not a mere academic debate on some events that took place long ago, and on personalities who are long gone. This debate is about the grave and current problem of Kashmir, which is daily crying out for a fair and lasting solution. The LoC is on fire. Soldiers and civilians are dying on both sides, in terrorist as well as state violence. Kashmir has been subjected to unspeakable indignity and inhumanity. The Modi Government’s confused approach, be it internally in J&K or externally with Pakistan, is proving to be fruitless.
Therefore, if both India and Pakistan have anything to learn from Patel, it is the virtue of pragmatism, the readiness to be flexible and the willingness to compromise in the interest of a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. Here was a leader willing to hand over the whole of Kashmir to Pakistan, if it meant future peace between the two neighbours.
How anachronistic and thoroughly impractical then is the boastfulness of today’s ‘patriots’ who say, “Kashmir ki ek inch zameen nahin denge” (We’ll not give them an inch of our land in Kashmir). They should heed the cautionary words of their own idol. Patel, as quoted in RSS leader Seshadri’s book (page 226), warns: “It will be a folly to ignore realities; facts take their revenge if they are not faced squarely and well.”