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Article 370 in the Constituent Assembly: Shaping a Hindu Jammu and a Muslim Kashmir-Mridu Rai


Updated: Jun 8, 2023

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.[1] 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 . . . ’.[2]

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,[3]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’.[4] 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.[5]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.[6] But the matter of choosing them had been left in abeyance because of the prevailing disturbed conditions. N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar (Madras)[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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[10] 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’.[11]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)’.[12]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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]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”’.[17]

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’.[18] Paradoxically, then, emphasizing the Muslim-ness of Kashmiris had become instrumental to burnishing India’s secularity.[19]

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.[20]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.

Article 370

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.[21]No other member rose to speak and article 306 A was passed unopposed.

There is a constituency whose silence on that day sounds particularly loud in retrospect. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, then a minister in Nehru’s government, did not speak a word of condemnation: despite the fact that less than two years later, in 1951,he founded the Jan Sangh and led it into supporting the Praja Parishad’s demand for the abrogation of article 370.

Over a month after it was ensconced in the constitution, the special status of J&K did draw some belated comments. Sardar Bhopinder Singh Man, a Sikh representative from East Punjab, inveighing against the ‘over-concentration of power’ at the centre reckoned that Kashmir had ‘escaped with a very enviable position in the Union’.[22]More in line with the Hindu majoritarian integrationist perspective were the views expressed by Dr. Raghu Vira, a Sanskrit scholar and representative from CP and Berar. For him the failure to integrate J&K fully into the Indian union represented the assembly members’ ‘indifference to [their] duty to the nation’. His references are still the stock-in-trade of Hindu supremacists. After lamenting the shrinking of India’s territory from its historical and ‘natural boundaries’ that had extended to the river Oxus (receded to the river Ravi since Partition), he went on to elaborate on the capitulation that article 370 represented. He bemoaned the betrayal of the people in Jammu and Ladakh who longed to ‘accede to India unconditionally’. He invoked the great cost in money and the blood of Indian soldiers spilled in vain since India had ‘not yet succeeded in making Kashmir [her] own’. Neither could the Indian parliament make laws for J&K, he went on to say, nor could the Indian flag fly in Kashmir without ‘their flag’ unfurled alongside.[23]It is intriguing that Raghu Vira, like Mookerjee,had not voiced his objections on 17 October 1949. But then the Praja Parishad in Jammu had already begun its agitation earlier that year for the state’s full integration with India. And by 1951, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee would gift the movement the slogan of ‘one constitution, one flag and one sovereign head’ (‘ek vidhan, ek nishan, ek pradhan’). In any case, as many other works have shown, the autonomy covenanted in article 370 was relentlessly abraded beginning in 1953.[24]


General elections held in May 2014 brought the BJP to national power with a commanding majority. The year ended with another record-making electoral victory for the party, this time in the Jammu region. Though the BHP’s declared goal had been to obtain a majority in the entire state, it won no seats in either the Valley or in Ladakh.

In terms that exceed by far what K.T. Shah had said, Kashmir, which the BJP does not control, is isolated through various discursive strategies. A speciality of the Hindu Right—though implied in different degrees by other Indian political parties as well—has been a distilling of religious essences along territorial lines within the state. In this view Jammu is Hindu, Ladakh Buddhist and Kashmir Muslim and the outcome of the 2014 elections is adduced to confirm this understanding. In the BJP’s eyes, its majority win there made Hindu Jammu a reality andits failure to win any seats in the valley confirmed the paradigm of a largely treasonous, separatist, Muslim Kashmir. Of course, it had won no seats in Ladakh either but a supposedly Buddhist Ladakhis automatically assimilated in the Hindu nation—on erroneous historical premises, I need not add.

Speaking on article 35 A in late 2017, Hari Om Mahajan, a senior leader of the BJP from Jammu, described it in terms usual among his fellow party members: as fodder for Kashmiri separatism. In the same speech, he also raised the bogey of a Muslim invasion of Jammu through the settling there of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi Muslims. He warned that the ‘ongoing demographic attrition in Jammu needs to be reversed at every cost’, especially because, as he asserted, ‘Jammu is the backbone of the nation in the state’.[25]Given the centrality of Jammu for India that he asserts, it should come as no surprise that Mahajan has also expressed in writing his unstinting admiration for K.T. Shah’s work in the constituent assembly.[26]

[1] Constituent Assembly Debates [henceforth CAD], vol. VIII, 27 May 1949.

[2] Vallabhbhai Patel cited in Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 163.

[3] CAD, vol. IX, 20 Aug 1949. The article numbers in the draft constitution differed from those in the final version that came into force on 26 January 1950. Article 280 became article 352 in the final version.

[4]CAD, vol. IX, 20 Aug 1949.

[5]CAD, vol. VIII, 27 May 1949.

[6]CAD, vol. I, 21 Dec 1946; vol. III, 28 Apr 1947; and vol. VII, 4 Nov 1948.

[7] N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar was a distinguished civil servant who had been closely associated with J&K in various capacities including serving as the princely state’s prime minister from 1937 to 1943 and as a member of its council of state from 1943 to 1947. He was the principle drafter of article 370.

[8]CAD, vol. VIII, 27 May 1949

[9]CAD, vol. VIII, 27 May 1949.

[10] The All Jammu and Muslim Conference had been founded in 1932 and included Muslim representatives from both Kashmir and Jammu. In 1939, Sheikh Abdullah renamed the party the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. The Jammu members broke away and formed a separate party in 1941 by reviving the older name, Muslim Conference, under the leadership of Choudhary Ghulam Abbas.

[11]These worthy boycotters included the NC under Sheikh Abdullah’s leadership.

[12]CAD, vol. VIII, 27 May 1949.

[13]In the end, the four representatives from J&K who joined the Constituent Assembly on 16 June 1949 were Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg, Maulana Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi and Moti Ram Baigra.

[14] Balraj Puri, Jammu and Kashmir: Triumph and Tragedy of Indian Federalisation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1981), p. 93.

[15] A.G. Noorani, ‘Kashmir: Blunders of the Past’, Frontline, vol. 23, issue 25, 16-29 Dec 2006. [Accessed 3 Jan 2018]

[16] Ian Copland, State, Community and Neighbourhood in Princely North India, c. 1900-1950 (Palgrave MacMillan UK, 2005), p. 154.

[17] Noorani, ‘Kashmir: Blunders of the Past’.

[18] S. K. Sharma and S. R. Bakshi (eds.), Nehru and Kashmir, (Jammu: Jay Kay Book house, 1995), p. 308.

[19] Needless to say, when this Muslim-ness began to exceed state-ascription—as it did most resoundingly from 1990 onwards—and was re-appropriated as an idiom of resistance among Kashmiris, it had to be declared illegitimate and erased.

[20]CAD, vol. VII, 15 Nov 1948 and CAD, vol. VII, 3 Dec 1948.

[21] CAD, vol. X, 17 Oct 1949.

[22]CAD, vol. XI, 21 Nov 1949.

[23]CAD, vol. XI, 19 Nov 1949.

[24] See Noorani, Article 370 and Sumantra Bose, The Challenge in Kashmir: Democracy, Self-Determination and a Just Peace (New Delhi/Thousand Oaks/London: Sage Publications, 1997)

[25]PTI, ‘Kashmiri Pandits demand homeland, revocation of Article 370’, The Indian Express, 27 Aug 2017. [Accessed 20 Feb 2018]

[26]Hari Om Mahajan, ‘When Nehru Government Tried to Omit the Word “Jammu” From “Jammu and Kashmir”’, Swarajya, 29 July 2017. [Accessed 22 Feb 2018]


Mridu Rai is a professor of history at Presidency University, Kolkata. She is the author of the prizewinning book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir (2004). Between 1997 and 1999, Rai taught as an adjunct instructor at Columbia University and as a visiting lecturer at Tufts University. Between 1999-2007, she served as assistant professor, first at Bowdoin College and, from 2001, at Yale University. From 2007-10, she taught as an associate professor at Yale University. From 2011, she taught at Trinity College, Dublin, before moving to Presidency University in 2014. She has held various research fellowships in the United States, including a visiting research appointment at the Davis Centre for Historical Studies at Princeton University (2010-2011). In 2016, Rai was on a Cambridge-Hamied Visiting Lectureship at the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge and during 2017-2018, she was an Honorary Fellow of the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, Kolkata. Rai’s teaching focuses on modern Indian and contemporary South Asian history. Her current research explores the history of Kashmir from the sixth century to the present.

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