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Opinion | When Nehru Threatened Wary Kashmiri Pandits to Join National Conference

Author: Sunanda Vashisht
Publication: News18.com
Date: November 5, 2022
URL:      https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/opinion-when-nehru-threatened-wary-kashmiri-pandits-to-join-national-conference-6314227.html?s=03

Pandits have faced scenarios of ‘Raliv, chaliv, galiv’ (join, flee or die) numerous times but that a warning similar to Islamist warning should have come from Nehru is mind-boggling

Sheetalnath Bhairav temple in Kralkhud is an ancient Bhairav temple in the heart of Srinagar. This temple, and the large compound around it, used to be the epicenter of political expression of Kashmiri Pandits until they were thrown out of the Kashmir Valley as part of continual genocide which saw their seventh exodus in 1990.

It was here in the temple’s compound that Jawaharlal Nehru, who was visiting Kashmir on the invitation of the National Conference, addressed Kashmiri Pandit youth on August 7, 1945.

Strange advice from the stalwart of the Indian National Congress was passed on to the aboriginals of Kashmir who had resisted Islamist repression for 700 years and were now reduced to 5 per cent of the total population of Kashmir.

Nehru, while addressing the Pandit youth, said: “If non-Muslims want to live in Kashmir, they should join the National Conference or bid goodbye to the country. The National Conference is the real national organisation and even if a single Hindu does not become its member, it will continue to be so. If Pandits do not join it, no safeguards and weightages will protect them” (Bazaz,248).

Himself a Kashmiri Pandit, Nehru was aware of the history of his ilk. After a long period of oppressive Islamic rule, it was only under Dogra rulers that Hindus of Kashmir had finally found some succor and peace. If Pandits were wary of Islamic rule returning under the garb of Sheikh Abdullah, could they be blamed? Should their trepidations have been addressed meaningfully?

Instead, when Pandits approached Nehru to help them secure minority protection rights, Nehru’s advice to them was not to be ‘communal minded’ and join National Conference. Pandits have faced scenarios of ‘Raliv, chaliv, galiv’ (join, flee or die) numerous times but that a warning similar to Islamist warning should have come from Nehru is mind-boggling.

Much has been written about Nehru’s infamous friendship with Sheikh Abdullah that caused the rift between Maharaja Hari Singh and him. Nehru erroneously assumed that Abdullah was an anti-imperialist and anti-colonial crusader and hence, there was much in common between the two.

The truth is Sheikh Abdullah’s politics was driven by his personal grudges and disappointments for which he held Dogra rulers responsible. Abdullah’s entire politics was dismantling of Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule and establishing Muslim rule in Jammu and Kashmir. His secularism was a façade and his friendship with Nehru was opportunistic and primarily for self-preservation.

According to Dr Ramesh Taimiri, a well-known scholar who has spent decades studying modern Kashmir history, the British had stopped entertaining Abdullah after Gilgit was leased by Maharaja Hari Singh to them in 1935. Jinnah could not stand Abdullah because he never wanted a challenge to his leadership by another popular Muslim leader. Abdullah had no choice but to forge ‘friendship’ with Nehru.

Abdullah was shrewd enough to know that his dream of independent Sheikhdom would never see light of the day in Pakistan. He would get subsumed in larger Muslim politics of Muslim League. With Nehru, he saw hope of carving an independent Sheikhdom within India and the first step towards that was Article 370, which Nehru accepted. A state within a state, a sovereign with its own flag, Constitution and office of Prime Minister within sovereign state of India. It was a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Establishment historians have over time also weaved the canard that Maharaja Hari Singh delayed accession to Indian dominion because he was toying with the idea of independence. There is no historical evidence that suggests Maharaja ever entertained the idea of independence. He knew that option was not even on the table. Princely states had been given the option of either joining India or Pakistan. There was no other choice.

Maharaja had a channel of communication open with Sardar Patel. He even sent his emissary to Delhi on September 13 to indicate his decision. Maharaja, however, was very wary of Sheikh Abdullah. He did not want to leave his kingdom to Abdullah and he knew this is exactly what Nehru would do after he relinquished power.

The delay in signing the Instrument of Accession wasn’t over terms and conditions of accession but over rehabilitation of Abdullah. Nehru had made the entire accession to India somehow intertwined with Abdullah’s future. Like every other princely state, the decision to join India or Pakistan should have been left to the ruler of that state. It was only in Kashmir that Nehru made it about Abdullah and his ascension to power.

The delay in signing the Instrument of Accession had tragic consequences for Kashmir. Pakistan declared jihad in Kashmir as soon as it came into existence and under Operation Gulmarg, Pakistani tribal militia killed and maimed thousands before they were stopped by the Indian Army.

On August 7, 1945 Kashmiri Pandits faced rebuke from Nehru in the Sheetalnath Bhairav temple compound. Their only crime was that as victims of genocide, they were fearful of majoritarian Islamic rule returning to Kashmir without any safeguards for minorities. Nehru dismissed their fears with contempt.

Forty-five years later, in 1990, the seventh exodus began. Kashmiri Pandits had yet again been rendered homeless. This time, some of them had warned the future prime minister of Independent India well in advance. The Bhairav of Sheetalnath temple stands witness to that day.
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