Kashmir, Sardar Patel And The Basket of Apples

Raman Swamy

Adolf Hitler once said: “If you win, you don’t have to explain anything to anyone.  If you lose, nobody is going to listen to your explanation”. 

George Orwell expressed the idea in his own way: “He who controls the present, controls the past.  He who controls the past, is often under the illusion that he can control the future”. 

But a hundred years before Hitler and Orwell, Napoleon Bonaparte had already realized that “History is just a version of past events that people agree to accept as authentic”. 

But all three of these historical personalities are probably somewhat off the mark when it comes to the history of Kashmir.   There are multiple problems involved - a) There is no winner in sight.  b) There is no widely accepted version of the past. c) There are too many players attempting to control the present by re-writing the past.   

Take for example the assertion that if Sardar Patel had been in charge during Partition, he would never have allowed Pakistan to make any claim on Kashmir.   Just like Hyderabad and Junagarh, the Kashmir dispute would have been settled in India’s favour once and for all, for all times to come. 

Even Prime Minister Modi said on the floor of the Lok Sabha: “If Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had been the first Prime Minister of the country, then the entire Kashmir region would have been ours”. 

However, a recent lecture by historian Srinath Raghavan is trending on social media in which he reveals certain historical facts that run counter to this perception about Sardar Patel. 

Raghavan cites evidence to show that Vallabhbhai Patel had in truth offered Kashmir to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad and Junagarh.   Right up to September 13, 1947 – a full month after Independence -- Patel, as India’s first deputy prime minister, had been perfectly willing to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan – as long as Hyderabad came to India.

This version of history is supported by documents from that time.  In his book ‘Kashmir: Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle’, Saifuddin Soz has cited official letters and records which show that “Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was happy to let Kashmir go to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad, and it was the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who insisted that Kashmir should be with India”. 

Another book, written by Rajmohan Gandhi in 1991 book describes Sardar Patel’s views on Kashmir when he was in charge of integrating the 565 Princely States into the Union of India.  Much before Independence, when Patel had first discussed the problem of Princely States with Louis Mountbatten (the last British Viceroy and first Governor-General of independent India), the aim was to bring in “a full basket of apples” by the date of Independence.   

Knowing the situation in some ‘Native States’ like Sylhet, Hyderabad and Kashmir, the Viceroy had half-humorously asked him if India would be satisfied with a basket of 560 ‘apples’ instead of the full 565.

As it turned out, Sylhet went to East Pakistan and is now an integral part of Bangladesh.  Sardar Patel was more concerned about three other ‘apples’ – Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir, in that order of priority.   

Top priority for India’s deputy prime minister was getting Hyderabad, which was the largest of the Princely States with a population of 16 million of whom 85 per cent were Hindus but was ruled by the Nizam who was adamant on acceding to Pakistan. 

On Mountbatten’s urging, Vallabhbhai Patel had given the Nizam three months’ time to agree to accession to India.  In a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Patel wrote: “I am striving for Hyderabad.  It will take time”.   Patel’s trusted secretary Menon, who played a proactive role in the negotiations, noted in his diary that an offer could be made regarding Kashmir but there could be no compromise on Hyderabad and Junagarh.    

There is documentary evidence that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was not quite sure that he wanted the Kashmir ‘apple’.   Although it was ruled by a Hindu king, three out of four Kashmiris were Muslims.   Jammu province had a Hindu majority population and Ladakh was predominantly Buddhist.   But as Patel saw it, the capital Srinagar was 300 miles away from the nearest Indian border.

This historical background is significant to show that Sardar Patel was involved in very complex negotiations at that time and was strategically keeping options about Kashmir open.  Hence it would be historically inaccurate to assert that if he had been in charge, Kashmir would have been fully integrated into the new Union of India.  The facts show that a) he was very much in charge; and b) he was mentally prepared to give away the Kashmir ‘apple’.

There are some other ‘myths’ that can also be punctured by a closer reading of available documents.   One myth is that Kashmir was the only State to be given special Constitutional privileges.  Not correct - the erstwhile Princely States of Travancore and Mysore were also offered the same privileges.   Another is regarding plebiscite -- it was in regard to Junagarh, not Kashmir, that Sardar Patel first came out with the idea of holding a referendum. 

Today, many of these finer details of historical fact are being either ignored or wilfully brushed under the carpet.  As American historian Howard Zinn has said: “The main problem in historical honesty is not outright lying – it is omission or de-emphasis of important information”.   

To quote George Orwell again: “The most effective way to confuse people is to refute their understanding of their own history”.   Also, “In the age of disinformation, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”.

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Oct 16, 2019

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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