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Role of Indian leaders during Kashmir war

Role of Indian leaders during Kashmir war

Author: Arabinda Ghose
Publication: Organiser
Date: March 3, 2002

Introduction: Neharu used to meekly surrender before Mountbatten and the British officers. Ultimately to the chagrin of Sardar Patel, Neharu went over all India Radio on January 1, 1949, to announce a ceasefire in Kashmir. Shocked, Sardar Patel had remarked "Jawahar Pachhtayega" (Jawahar will repent). How right he was!

Speaking in the Central Hall of the Parliament House on the midnight of August 14-15, 1947, on the occasion of India becoming Independent after a long struggle, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his "tryst with destiny" speech, began with, "when the whole world sleeps", India emerged as an independent nation. How wrong he was! For one thing, from purely a geographical point of view, it was only about 6.30 in the evening that time in London when it was not even dark, and the United States and the western hemisphere had just woken up. For another, the British were certainly not asleep at that moment, at least not even figuratively.

The Viceroy of India, now renamed Governor-General, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma and his consort, Lady Edwina Mountbatten, were on the podium in full regalia, reminding everyone that the head of the dominion was still the King of England, George VI. And the entire armed forces of India, which had won laurels in both the world wars with a number of Victoria Crosses to their credit, remained under the command of the British officers.

Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck was the Supreme Commander of both the Indian and Pakistani armed forces. General Lockhart (later General Bucher) was the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. Air Vice-Marshal Elmherst was the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Air Force till 1950 and Admiral Hall was in charge of the Indian Navy.

On the Pakistani side, General Douglas Gracey was the Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army. Pakistan did not have then either a Navy or an Air Force worth mentioning. However, it were the British who were manning the seniormost posts in the armed forces in that country too.

One of the many cases of apparent insubordination by these officers emanated from a secret instruction issued by Sir Claude Auchinleck which enjoined all British officers serving with the two dominions to "Stand Down" in the event of India and Pakistan going to war. At the height of the Junagadh crisis on September 27, the three service chiefs manning the Indian Armed Forces wrote to the Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh in a joint memorandum virtually refusing to obey the Government of India's orders in case the Army was asked to march into Junagadh.

In his recently published book War and diplomacy in Kashmir 194 7-48 (Sage Publications India Ltd, New Delhi) Shri C. Dasgupta former diplomat says that General Rob Lockhart, Admiral Hall and Air Commodore Mukherjee (representing Air Marshal Elmhirst) point out to the 'very real danger' of a clash with Junagadh forces... They went on to draw the attention to the position of British officers including themselves serving with the Indian Armed Forces who "belong to the British fighting services and it would be impossible for any of them to take part in a war between the two dominions or to be the instrument of planning or conveying orders to others should the operations now contemplated lead to such a war, or appear likely to do so". They concluded by urging that the "movement of armed forces for the projected operations be stopped and that the dispute regarding Junagadh be settled by negotiations".

The Cabinet reacted sharply, adds Shri Dasgupta, to this invasion of the political domain by the military. Sardar Patel was outraged by what he regarded as the disloyalty of the British Officers. Prime Minister Nehru as usual, consulted Mountbatten on this matter. 'The Governor-General warded off a crisis by sending for General Lockhart and persuading him to Withdraw the letter. After securing the consent of the two colleagues Lockhart wrote to the Prime Minister expressing distress and admitting that this could be interpreted as a -attempt to "trespass our proper sphere". However, even while admitting their guilt Lockhart wrote that we were anxious to make (the point) that at the present time all the British officers serving in India, whether at Supreme Headquarters or in the Armed Forces of India or Pakistan, are on a single list (and) we feel it incumbent on us to represent this."

Shri Dasgupta remarks that "the apology tendered by the service chiefs did not alter the fact that British officers were prohibited, by orders, from taking part in an inter-dominion war. On the very next day after the service chiefs withdrew their letter, the stand down instructions were reiterated in a secret message from Field Marshal Auchinleck to all senior British commanders in the Indian and Pakistani armed forces. The Supreme Commander for India and Pakistan issued the following orders.

"On receipt of the code word 'STAND DOWN' the following order will be immediately put into force:

Owing to the immediate risk outbreak of open conflict between the armed forces of India and Pakistan, all British officers and other ranks HOWEVER employed and WHATEVER rank shall cease forthwith to take any further part in the command or administration of the Armed Forces of India and Pakistan. You will take immediate action to this effect, and nothing is to be allowed to impede it."

If one opens almost any page of the book, one will find how the leaders of India meekly surrendered before both the Governor General and the Service Chiefs. Let us take page 94 for example which relates to the issue of holding on to Poonch or surrendering it. Here are excerpts:...... the question of evacuating Poonch led to a heated debate. The Governor General vigorously supported the Chiefs of Staff in calling for evacuation. Operations in Jammu, he said, were the 'exact inverse' of operations in the Jhelum Valley. In the Srinagar area, victory was certain." In the Jammu sector, however, India suffered from a serious strategic weakness since her lines of communication ran parallel to the Pakistani border. He compared the situation with the Imphal operations during World War II.

"The Prime Minister questioned this approach says Shri Dasgupta" and "called for bold action, urging an offensive at selected points in the Poonch area". A fighting force like the raiders could not hold together for long unless they were winning. A series of successful offensives by the Indian army would break the morale of the invaders and cause them to withdraw. Nehru rejected the parallel with operations in the Burma theatre. In the Burma operations, the main bases were far removed from the lines of communication; in Jammu, on the other hand, the main bases in east Punjab were not very far from the lines of communication. Even if the lines of communication were to be cut temporarily, it would not entail the same disastrous consequences as might have been the case in Burma.

The Governor-General brought the debate-to an end by observing that ministers could only give policy directives; details of operations should be left to the Chiefs of Staff. He expressed the opinion that the policy might take the form of directing the Chiefs of Staff to keep at the front the largest force which could be adequately maintained, in order to prosecute operations vigorously. The Prime Minister agreed but added significantly that it was most important to adopt an offensive-and not defensive approach. The Governor General conceded that this should be an essential element of the directive. In regard to Poonch, it was agreed that a decision would await receipt of General Russell's recommendation but, meanwhile, there should be no withdrawal.

Nehru was unshakeably determined to hold on to Poonch, Russell met him the day, after the Defence Committee meeting in a final attempt to get him to reconsider his decision. The General once again emphasised the military risks involved in maintaining an insulated garrison and the problems involved in its relief. The Prime Minister declared emphatically that evacuation of the town should not even be contemplated. A withdrawal would give encouragement to the raiders at a critical juncture. Moreover, the refugees who had sought shelter in the town would meet a terrible fate at the hands of the enemy. The Prime Minister's unyielding stand settled the question. Russell accepted the decision and assured Nehru that he would do his utmost to implement it successfully though this would require a bit of good luck.

Shri Dasgupta has also revealed that the British Officers were getting increasingly anxious about the role of Lt Gen K.M. Kariappa who was to take over as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army in January 1949. Towards the end of 1948 when there were a sort of stalemate in the Kashmir war Lt Gen Cariapp's actions showed that he was functioning independently of the British officers including his senior, Gen. Bucher.

Although Nehru often spoke strongly about how the army should carry on operations in Kashmir he used to meekly surrender before Mountbatten and the British officers. Ultimately to the chagrin of Sardar Patel, Nehru went over All India Radio on January 1, 1949, to announce a ceasefire in Kashmir. Shocked, Sardar Patel had remarked "Jawahar pachhtayega" (Jawahar will repent). How right he was!

One must mention here the role played by Philip Noel Baker who was the Secretary of State in the Common Wealth Relations Office during the war. He was the evil force in the entire Security Council debates in Kashmir and had consistently tried to get resolutions favourable to Pakistan, often violating the instructions of his Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. It will surprise many an Indian to learn that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later!

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