Jammu, November 1947: Uninvestigated Violence

  • Rakesh Ankit
  • Publish Date: Feb 9 2017 8:31PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 9 2017 8:31PM
Jammu, November 1947:  Uninvestigated Violence

                                                         Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi

Evidence from government sources shows that violence was directed primarily at Jammu’s Muslims

 

‘In 1947, people in Jammu Province engaged in three major actions that divided J & K. (1) A pro-Pakistan, anti-Maharaja uprising by Muslim Poonchis in western Jammu that “liberated” large parts of this area from the Maharaja’s control. (2) Major inter-religious in the province that caused…a possible massacre of Muslims. (3) Creation of the Provisional Azad (Free) Government in areas liberated by the Poonch uprising’.  

Thus begins Christopher Snedden in his article titled ‘the forgotten Poonch uprising of 1947’ in Seminar, 643 (http://www.india seminar.com/2013/643/643_christopher_snedden.htm). This piece extracted from Snedden’s Kashmir: the Unwritten History (HarperCollins, 2013) does an important job – accomplished at a greater length in the book – of throwing light in great detail on the events of the ten weeks between 15 August 1947 and 26 October 1947 from areas hitherto under-explored in the vast literature on the Kashmir Dispute. Snedden’s work is a latest example of how writing on the Kashmir Dispute has moved on from the days of detailing military actions, diplomatic failures, political intrigues and princely grandeur to narrating people’s histories. And, yet, as Snedden himself writes, with respect to the second of his above-mentioned ‘three major actions’ in the Jammu Province, ‘major inter-religious violence’, there has been a paucity of primary sources (http://www.india-seminar.com/2013/643/643_christopher_snedden.htm). 

It is this violence, long alleged but largely uninvestigated (http://www.kashmirlife.net/circa-1947-a-long-story-67652/) that I wish to document in this piece by presenting evidence, from government sources, and establish that violence was directed primarily at Jammu’s Muslims. This short piece is based on the letters that Sir Dalip Singh, Agent-General of Government of India in Jammu in the month of November 1947, wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister, as well as Minister of States, Vallabhbhai Patel. These are an invaluable and, to my knowledge, previously unseen window into the scene in Jammu in that month after the dubious sequence of invasion-accession-airlift of Indian troops into Srinagar. They come from the National Archives of India (File No. 178-P/48-Ministry of States, Political Branch). 

Dalip Singh (1885-1971) came from the Kapurthala royal family. He was one of eight children of Raja Sir Harnam Singh (1851-1930) and his siblings included Raja Sir Maharaj Singh (1878-1959) – who had been a Prime Minister of Kashmir for a short while in early-1940s and went on to become the first Indian Governor of Bombay Province from 1948 to 1952 – and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (1889-1964) – co-founder of All-India Women’s Conference in 1927, first and long-serving Health Minister of independent India and the first woman and Asian to become President of the World Health Assembly in 1950. Dalip himself represented India at various forums of the UN including the Committee on the Progressive Development of International Law and its Codification, where he was, ironically, involved in the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on 9 December 1948 [See H Abtahi and P Webb, The Genocide Convention (MN Publishers, 2008), pp. 150, 171, 183-4, 198, 208]. 

It was Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai (1891-1954), first Secretary-General (1947-52) of the newly-established Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, who told Dalip of his appointment as India’s Agent-General in Jammu, a de facto envoy to the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, to lend another veneer of legitimacy to the latter’s accession to India. This was the usual trick in the trade of the day. KM Munshi (1887-1971) was similarly appointed as the Agent-General in the princely state of Hyderabad at this time. Dalip was a reluctant public figure and Bajpai prevailed upon him by telling him that he ‘would not be [needed] for more than 10-15 days’ [20 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru]. In his own estimate, Dalip had ‘neither the ability nor wish to publicly restore harmony’ [18 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru]. Early on in Jammu, he also received a hint from the J&K state government that it was not exactly thrilled by his appointment and ‘did not like putting up people as guests forever’ [20 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru]. Within three weeks of his stay in Jammu, Dalip felt his ‘usefulness, if it ever existed, entirely finished’ [18 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru] and ventured repeatedly ‘to ask for [his] recall’ [20 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru]. 

II

What was going on in Jammu that rendered Dalip so unhappy, aghast, unfit and helpless? The eight letters from the period 14 to 28 November 1947 on which the following account is based give but a glimpse of the goings-on in Jammu in those fateful days. On Nehru’s 58th birthday, first as a citizen of independent India, Dalip reported to Patel that the evacuation of Muslim refugees in Jammu Province was ‘unsatisfactory, corrupt and inefficient’. Above all, being next-door to the Punjab that was then burning in the fires of post-partition riots, Jammu had by this time been afflicted by communal tensions. With an increasing traffic of the traveling Sikhs – enroute from now Pakistani Punjab to the Indian side – and the inflaming presence of the workers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), there was a steep downturn in the communal temperature of Jammu. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, head of the emergency administration proclaimed on 27 October 1947, starkly told Dalip that only if ‘HH [Maharaja Hari Singh] and Her Highness went and told people lane by lane that they do not desire Muslim evacuation [and] massacre, then feelings would be better’ [14 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Patel, No. I-12/AGI/47]. 

Four days later, on 18th November, Dalip was submitting to Nehru some stark facts of the matter for his consideration. He began bleakly, ‘My usefulness here, if it ever existed, is entirely finished’. The reason was the ‘Hindu mentality in Punjab – 90% rooted dislike for Muslims – quite apart from recent happenings’. This was impeding refugee evacuation as was a lack of initiative and forthrightness on the part of Hari Singh to normalise inter-communal relations. Dalip feared that the ‘Dogra party and Punjabi party among Hindus in Jammu – latter turning to RSS – wish to retain Jammu as a Hindu province and let Muslim Kashmir go to Pakistan’. This view seemed, to him, to be shared by ‘many Punjabis through East Punjab’. His opinion Mehr Chand Mahajan, Hari Singh’s Prime Minister, had told Dalip that Congress was ‘steadily losing ground in East Punjab to RSS’ was shared by Mehr Chand Mahajan, Prime Minister in Srinagar and Chet Ram Chopra, Governor in Jammu. In Dalip’s estimate, Chopra himself was ‘not a Sanghi but would go with any party close to power’. As for the RSS, they did ‘some work’. Their volunteers had been ‘lengthening the air-strip [and] this kind of thing [made] them popular’. Dalip could not see ‘how one [could] avoid their entering the state [when] almost every official [was] secretly in touch and sympathy with them and would turn a blind eye. They [got] in with the military lorry drivers’. Like his patron, Nehru, Dalip also pinned his hope on the Sheikh who had made an ‘effective’ speech to a mostly Hindu and Sikh audience in Jammu that day: ‘This is the kind of thing that is more use now than anything else’ [18 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru, No. I-16/AGI/47]. 

Two days later, on 20th November, Dalip was writing to Nehru again. This time with a plea to let him leave Jammu: ‘My impression is that while I may be successful socially as an individual, I am not much use so far as my official duties are concerned. Probably this is a correct diagnosis and another reason for my recall. It is now 20 days and I have no idea how long my post here is intended to last. I therefore venture once again to ask for my recall’. Elaborating, Dalip gave a vivid account of the mounting tensions and the uneasy coexistence between Sheikh Abdullah, Mehr Chand Mahajan and CR Chopra. The Sheikh was insisting ‘on the removal of Chopra as Governor…Accusation is that Chopra is a Sanghi, who massacred 1 ½ lakh Muslims in Riasi’. Mahajan was resisting this attempt by Abdullah. In turn, the latter refused to recognise Mahajan as Prime Minister and ‘proposed to arrest’ him but was prevailed upon by Major General Kulwant Singh, in-charge of the first set of military operations in Kashmir. In Srinagar, Abdullah also ‘talked of deposing HH [Hari Singh]’ – talk that was an anathema to Patel, if not to Nehru. Dalip’s dilemma vis-à-vis Abdullah was exactly what would become Nehru’s by 1953 and lead to Abdullah’s ouster and imprisonment namely their inability to accept Abdullah’s ‘need for himself as a sole de facto ruler in Kashmir’ combined with their dependence on Abdullah: ‘In his favour, I have to point out that he does put life into the administration [and] he will probably secure the support of the Muslims in Jammu City [if not] in Jammu Province’. Dalip and Delhi both wanted Abdullah to be ‘conciliatory and reasonable’ and go-slow on these far-reaching matters while more existential issues were still at-hand. Both felt ‘unable to persuade him’. There also lurked the fear of ‘whether he [Abdullah] will similarly secure the support of the Hindus whether Dogras or Punjabis…doubtful’ [20 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru, No. I-19/AGI/47].

Dalip’s mention of the massacre of Muslims at Riasi lend the news-reports of this and other such episodes credibility and Nehru wrote to Patel on 21 November 1947 that ‘it would be a good thing if Mahajan announced an impartial enquiry into military/police conduct’. However, it was the gesture that was more important for the Prime Minister than getting the guilty, for as he continued, the enquiry ‘need not be held immediately but [an] announcement would do good’. Three days later, Patel replied, predictably that it was ‘impossible to agree to appoint a committee to enquire into military/police conduct’ for fear of the damage it would do to Hari Singh’s amour-propre and his ‘state sovereignty’. Secondly, as they had refused ‘any enquiry into complaints against Indian troops, how [could they] force Maharaja’. Instead, Patel himself hoped ‘to go to Jammu and find the positives’. Turning on Sheikh Abdullah then, Patel let himself loose: ‘It seems to me that Sheikh Saheb is still unable to conquer the prejudices, which he has entertained of the Maharaja on account of previous behaviour. Any talk of deposing Maharaja or arresting Mahajan reflects a lack of appreciation of the present position. Cooperation of both [is] necessary. You know very well now both the Maharaja and Mahajan have accepted our suggestions, without umbrage, eschewing [pride]...I suggest you might impress this on Sheikh Saheb’. As for Dalip, Patel felt that ‘he should return if he feels useless’. 

In the meantime, Dalip had been writing separately to Patel too and on a somewhat positive note. On 22nd November, he reported that ‘Sheikh Saheb put life in Jammu administration, refugee evacuation [was] vigorously going [and] communal situation [was] improving’ [22 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Patel, No. I-20/AGI/47]. The very next day, however, Nehru wrote to Dalip asking him to come back and discuss future plans. In his stead, Nehru suggested to Patel the name of the lawyer, historian, administrator and diplomat KM Panikkar – then Diwan of the princely state of Bikaner – ‘if neither Bikaner nor Hari Singh had any objections’. Panikkar was also Hari Singh’s former secretary, ‘knew’ Kashmir and was on the Indian Delegation to the UN [23/11/47, PM/235]. In 1930, he had written a book titled The Founding of the Kashmir State: A biography of Maharaja Gulab Singh, 1792-1858. While Nehru was thinking about his successor, Dalip was sharing with Nehru his ‘strong reason to believe that the state troops did not act properly [in Jammu]’ in maintaining law and order. He had ‘said so several times’ and, in yet another example of their communal mindset and prejudiced behaviour, wrote that one half of Muslims in refugee convoys bound for Pakistan were killed. Claiming that he had ‘no wish to hide unsavoury instances’, Dalip pointed that the Indian Army’s own court of enquiry headed by Brigadier YS Paranjape had ‘moved off without result’. He knew that it was ‘impossible to find out the guilty persons’, given how deep-rooted the institutional complicity had been. His parting shot to Nehru was prophetic: ‘Please remember that our people have not the mentality that you seem to think they should have. They are not Europeans and have not been permeated by European ideas. My utility is finished’ [23 November 1947, Dalip Singh to Nehru]. 

III

Dalip was put out of his misery by Patel on 24th November when the Home Minister told him to return. Four days later, in a formal communication the Ministry of States concluded that while Dalip may be recalled, Government of India needed an Agent-General in J&K – a ‘most delicate, interpreter of uncommon tact and persuasiveness between Delhi and Srinagar, needed for a harmonious working between Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah and Mehr Chand Mahajan’. After all, the ‘stakes [were] enormous’. Much has been written about Jammu and Kashmir since the days covered above. Much of it needs to be de-mystified. None less than the very early days– October-November 1947 – of the Indian civil and military presence in various parts of the state and their behaviour and reception therein.

 

Rakesh Ankit is Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for Law and Humanities, Jindal Global Law School