Updated: Nov 23, 2020
This talk was delivered as part of the 5th annual History for Peace conference, The Idea of the Indian Constitution in July 2019.
While the Constituent Assembly had begun its labours on 9 December 1946, the question of Jammu and Kashmir first became the subject of substantive discussions only on 27 May 1949. The delay was attributed to the disturbances besetting the region at the time especially the recent war with Pakistan—precisely for control over that state’s territories—which was ended through a United Nations mediated ceasefire only months earlier in January 1949. These restive conditions had meant that it had not yet sent representatives to the constitution-framing body.
By the time the question of J&K appeared on the roster of business, as Gyanendra Pandey has shown, an understanding of the nation as Hindu at its core and a concomitant suspicion of Muslims had become manifest among several members of the assembly. On 26 May 1949, in a debate on minority rights, the very powerful Vallabhbhai Patel told Muslim members of the Assembly not to ‘pretend to say “Oh, our affection is great for you”. We have seen your affection[. . .]Let us forget that affection’. Muslims would have to prove they were not the disloyal ‘other’ in the nation. ‘Ask yourself’, he commanded Muslim representatives in the House, ‘whether you really want to stand here and cooperate with us or [whether] you want to play disruptive tactics . . . ’.
While these words were addressed specifically to Muslim members of the Assembly that the audience implied was the community at large became difficult to miss. The figure of the always potentially disloyal Muslim looking to enfeeble the state from within was the foil—explicitly or implicitly—around which many (but certainly not all) in the Assembly sought to build the new state and its norms of governance.
This was evident in deliberations on many issues. On 20 August 1949, when B.R. Ambedkar introduced an amended version of article 280 for discussion,disagreement broke out over the proposed power of the state to suspend certain fundamental rights in an emergency. In defending Ambedkar’s proposed emergency protocols, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar (Madras) argued that the various freedoms and rights of citizens would ‘be secured in times of peace’ but only so long as ‘the security of the State is guaranteed’. In his view the latter was already, two years after its independence, in peril: ‘We are envisaging a situation threatened by war, in a country with multitudinous people, with possibly divided loyalties, though technically they may be citizens of India.’ The danger of war might retreat in some indeterminate future but until then the constitution-makers could not ‘proceed on the footing that in regard to all citizens of this country their loyalty is assured’. It does not require particularly fine skills of perception to detect the perfidious Indian Muslim lurking in the picture; a figure rendered more dangerous because of the war with Pakistan.
Intriguingly, however, as I have already mentioned, the war with Pakistan had been ended months earlier in January 1949. That threat, then, was already being treated as never-ending. War and emergency were always around the corner if not already roiling parts of the country such as Kashmir. In the latter, its Muslim majority living in territory contiguous to the Muslim enemy’s became a particular cause for concern.
Jammu and Kashmir in the Constituent Assembly
On 27 May 1949, then, the assembly began its first substantial discussions relating to J&K.The exchanges between certain members, though lively, lasted only for a day (until the matter of J&K was taken up again on 17 October 1949). Contention erupted over how the state’s representatives to the Assembly would be chosen. It had been decided earlier that, on the basis of population, J&K would be entitled to send four representatives out of the ninety-three allotted to the princely states. But the matter of choosing them had been left in abeyance because of the prevailing disturbed conditions. N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar (Madras) began the day’s business by moving for new rules to select the state’s representatives. He acknowledged that until then, where legislatures had existed in princely states they had elected fifty per cent of the representatives and the ruler nominated the rest. However, he argued, in Kashmir’s case the Praja Sabha—its legislative assembly—was ‘dead’, having last held elections in winter 1946-47 and meeting only once before the war with Pakistan intervened. In the circumstances, Ayyangar proposed that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the state’s prime minister and also the leader of its most popular party at the time, the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC), be allowed to ‘advise’ the maharaja on the four representatives he would nominate.
K.T. Shah (Bihar) immediately challenged this proposal. He argued that ‘technically’, no matter how moribund, the Praja Sabha still existed. It should, therefore, be allowed the ‘right’ to elect the state’s representatives. But what was more problematical was Shah’s imbrication of religious and regional identities in order to question Sheikh Abdullah’s qualification to nominate J&K’s representatives. Against Ayyangar’s contention that Abdullah’s government ‘represent[ed] the majority of the Kashmir population’, Shah noted that ‘the population of Jammu and Kashmir, put together, is something like 76 per cent Muslims and 24 per cent Hindus, including Dogras and other non-Muslims’.
As if this linking of representativeness with the religious composition of the state’s subjects was not troubling enough, Shah went on to ask members to ‘remember’ besides the ‘composition of the population of Kashmir, its geographical position, its connection and the possibilities [of what] may happen there’. These were dark hints to piece together in their minds the disparate facts of a Kashmiri Muslim majority, Kashmir’s territorial contiguity with Pakistan, and Muslim loyalty to Pakistan, to contemplate the result of this explosive combination.
In all this, Shah demonstrated particular solicitude for the people of Jammu. He suggested that the state’s name as it appeared in Ayyangar’s motion—the ‘State of Kashmir’—be changed to describe it ‘more correctly’ as the ‘State of Jammu and Kashmir’. Others, too, had objected to Ayyangar’s nomenclature. For example, Lakshmi Kanta Maitra (West Bengal), though eventually satisfied by Ayyangar’s assurance that the designation ‘State of Kashmir’ included Jammu and Ladakh, still demanded that the state’s nominees represent both these regions. But Shah, unlike Maitra and others, in challenging Ayyangar’s (and Jawaharlal Nehru’s) Kashmir-centricism, was concerned more with leveraging Jammu’s importance than the satisfactory representation of all parts of the state.
Criticizing the Ayyangar-Nehru stance, he asked: ‘if we have been carried away by the importance of one section of the State, by the importance of the personages connected with that part of the State, is that any reason why we should forget the other and no less important part of the State?’
Shah’s speeches on that day were strewn also with elliptical references to the ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign started by ‘the leader of a responsible party’and blaming it for ‘the events’ that followed and ‘all the difficulties that have since ensued’. These allusions are intriguing in that the Quit Kashmir movement Abdullah and the NC had launched in 1946 had called for the revocation of the Treaty of Amritsar through which the British had handed the Valley to the Dogra maharajas a hundred years earlier. The agitation was in opposition to monarchical rule and was not framed in religious terms. Perhaps Shah was picking up on the trepidation it had caused among many Hindu subjects until then comfortably ensconced in the state’s power structure. Shah was urging a shift from the stance of Nehru and others seen to be cosseting Sheikh Abdullah, an undependable figure somehow made culpable for instability in the state, which in turn opened it up for Pakistan’s interference. He urged recognizing instead the political worth (and centrality) of Jammu, and its presumably more reliably loyal people.
Nevertheless, K.T. Shah’s assessment of Abdullah’s limited popularity in Jammu and Ladakh was not entirely off the mark. Indeed, many Ladakhi politicians resented the prospect of rule by Kashmiris with whom they felt no affinity either culturally or politically. In Jammu, large numbers of Hindus were veering to Hindu right-wing groups such as the Praja Parishad, the RSS and eventually the Jan Sangh. And large numbers of Muslims in Jammu had been supporters of the Muslim Conference that remained antithetical to the NC and for merger with Pakistan. However, Shah’s own advocacy for Jammu was based on equally dubious grounds; Jammu-based leaders, including the Maharaja Hari Singh (r.1925-1952) himself, were held in little regard in Kashmir where, at the time, Abdullah was lionized.
In the end, it took Nehru’s forceful intervention to settle the issue along his preferred lines, which were those put forward by Ayyangar. He dismissed the Praja Sabha as ‘a bogus body’.He also admitted that the practice of nomination was not ‘desirable’ but argued that in the current conditions Ayyangar’s proposal was the best option. It would produce the closest approximation to a democratic process since the nominating ruler would be acting on the recommendation of the head of a popular government formed by a popular party. Nehru also made a small concession on the name of the state. In order to allay what he called ‘a slight confusion in people’s minds’, he ‘beg[ged]’ Ayyangar to insert a modification in brackets: the state would now be termed the ‘State of Kashmir (otherwise known as the State of Jammu and Kashmir)’.Although Jammu had made it into the brackets, Ladakh was still missing. Clearly, it was already the proverbial red herring in the contentious politics between Jammu and Kashmir and between Delhi and Srinagar.
Hindu Politics in Jammu
There were political developments outside the halls of the central legislative assembly that provide a useful background to Shah’s and Nehru’s positions on the question of Jammu versus Kashmir. The ‘spectre of plebiscite’, in the words of Balraj Puri, was hanging over Jammu and Ladakh. As we know, that plebiscite had been promised to all the state’s people by Mountbatten and confirmed by Nehru following the maharaja’s signing the instrument of accession on 26 October 1947. Fear that a state-wide plebiscite would go in Pakistan’s favour made many in Jammu and Ladakh ‘receptive’ to proposals for dividing the state and holding ‘zonal plebiscites’ instead.
Nehru was aware of these moves, especially by Hindu groups in Jammu, and the maharaja’s involvement in them. As A.G. Noorani has revealed, Nehru, in a letter addressed to Patel dated 17 April 1949, citing an intelligence report, mentioned ‘a growing Hindu agitation in Jammu province’ for the zonal plebiscite animated by ‘the belief that a plebiscite for the whole of Kashmir is bound to be lost and therefore let us save Jammu at least’. The movement was spearheaded by the Jammu-based Praja Parishad, founded in November 1947 by the RSS activist Balraj Madhok. It represented overwhelmingly the interests of Hindu landlords and former officials of the Dogra state. And, as the intelligence officer had informed Nehru, it was financed by the maharaja who was also dipping liberally into the funds of the Dharmarth Trust (a religious endowment controlled by the Dogra rulers) to whip up propaganda.
Fear among Muslims—in both Kashmir and Jammu—had already been aroused by the maharaja’s, his state troops’ and the RSS’s roles in the massacre of close to 80,000 of their numbers in Jammu at the end of 1947.According to Noorani, Sheikh Abdullah had written to Nehru and Gandhi in December 1947 about how during Hari Singh’s flight from Srinagar to Jammu, after the ‘tribal invasion’, the maharaja had ‘organised killings of Muslims in Jammu “for weeks under his very nose”’.
It is unlikely that K.T. Shah was speaking in support of the maharaja’s or the Praja Parishad’s course of action. But it is equally improbable he was unaware of these manoeuvres and slogans promoting a Hindu Jammu voting separately for a stronger union with India in order to stymie any potential Kashmiri dominance within the state. Some of his language reflected the same concerns: his highlighting the religious make-up of the state’s people and the implicit concern that the interests of its substantial Hindu minority be protected, his advocacy for recognizing the importance of Jammu, and the assertion that Sheikh Abdullah did not speak for the people who lived there.
It must be added, however, that, when it came to J&K, Nehru, himself, was not immune from emphasizing the religious identity of the state’s people, albeit coming to it from a different angle. For the secularists in the Congress—Nehru among them—possession of Kashmir was vital to fulfilling India’s national self-definition along lines no less tied to religious identity. As late as in 1953, Nehru had famously proclaimed: ‘Kashmir is symbolic as it illustrates that we are a secular State’. He celebrated the fact that ‘Kashmir, with a large majority of Muslims, has nevertheless, of its own free will, wished to be associated with India’. Paradoxically, then, emphasizing the Muslim-ness of Kashmiris had become instrumental to burnishing India’s secularity.
Of course, Nehru’s concern was with the effect the agitations in Jammu—involving the Praja Parishad and the RSS and later joined by the Jan Sangh—were having on Kashmir’s Muslims, poised delicately as they were in choosing between India and Pakistan in any future plebiscite.
Paradoxically, then, the religious lens through which the people of J&K came to be understood was the product not just of the politics of avowedly religious nationalists but also of secularists such as Nehru. Indeed even K.T. Shah cannot be dismissed as a Hindu bigot. He is associated with two attempts (both of which eventually failed) to have the word ‘secular’ introduced into the constitution’s preamble.But both Shah’s and Nehru’s rationalizations for their preferred policies with regard to J&K were important in framing the religious perspective from which the state and its peoples came to be viewed, whatever their original intentions may have been.
Compared with the lively disputations that marked proceedings about J&K on 27 May 1949, and especially compared with the political noise generated by Hindu right-wingers around it ever since its passage, article 306A (370 in the final version) was added to the draft constitution rather tamely on 17 October 1949. One of the few demurrals in the Assembly to Ayyangar’s motion introducing article 306 A came from Hasrat Mohani (UP) who could not see why J&K was being treated more liberally than other princely states. Ayyangar argued that ‘the discrimination was due to the special conditions of Kashmir’ which meant ‘it was not yet ripe for this [same] kind of integration.’ The special circumstances Ayyangar had cited, of course, related to the recent war with Pakistan.No other member r