Frontline Volume 18 - Issue 15, Jul. 21 - Aug. 03, 2001
India's National Magazine
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Of the India-Pakistan summit, 1955


The first part of a two-part article

Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 28 (February 1-May 31, 1955), Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund; Distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 636, Rs.500.

THIS volume appears fortuitously on the eve of the Vajpayee-Musharraf Summit in Agra. It contains Nehru's detailed minutes, recorded the same day, of his talks in New Delhi with Pakistan's Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Bogra and Minister for Interior, Gen. Iskandar Mirza, from May 14 to 17, 1955. Maulana Azad and G. B. Pant joined Nehru at times. While the minutes would help one to understand better the parleys in Agra, they must, in turn, be read in the light of Indo-Pakistan negotiations on Kashmir since 1947 and Nehru's evolving responses to the events. The entire record enables us to understand why the two countries have been in such a bitter confrontation for over half a century and are in such a messy impasse today.

Ever since Governor-General Ghulam Mohammed sacked Khwaja Nazimuddin as Prime Minister on April 17, 1953 and appointed Mohammed Ali in his place, the two launched a "peace offensive" and Indo-Pakistan relations improved markedly. The Governor-General himself came to Delhi in January 1955. At the Palam airfield on January 28 he handed Nehru "an envelope which contained a small piece of paper". It recorded his four-point proposal for a plebiscite in, and partition of, Kashmir. In 1947 discussions centred on a plebiscite. In 1948 partition nudged its way in. The two kept jostling for a while. Before long, partition had plebiscite thrown out. But, I am anticipating.

Nehru's reply of February 27 to the Governor-General contained none of the rhetoric one has heard in recent years. "It is not for lack of goodwill on either side that they (the disputes) have remained unsolved so far." There were "solid difficulties" which impeded solution. "The major problem, that of Kashmir, remains. When I read the paper you gave me on the eve of your departure from Delhi, I had mixed reactions. I liked your approach to this question in the sense that you wanted to leave out outside interference in this problem, casting the burden of solution on ourselves. I liked the approach of mutual trust." But he was against any "upset in the Jammu and Kashmir State".

Jawaharlal Nehru with Sheikh Abdullah. Nehru wanted the Sheikh and his colleagues to have "a firm and clear outlook, and no debate about basic issues. If we have that outlook, it just does not matter what the United Nations thinks or what Pakistan does."

Nehru wrote the same day to India's High Commissioner in Karachi, C. C. Desai, in strict confidence: "I recognise and feel that Ghulam Mohammed is anxious to have a settlement and is prepared to go some distance for it. That is a welcome approach. But to suggest that a plebiscite should be held in Jammu and Kashmir state in the autumn of this year is manifestly not possible... Personally I really see no way out except a recognition by both parties of the status quo, subject to minor modifications. Also of course, if there is an agreement, many mutual privileges might follow. At the same time, I am very reluctant naturally to say that we will not have a plebiscite. That might appear as a breach of faith and I do not want to be guilty of that." This counsel of discretion was a constant refrain, as we shall see, whether in his letters to Sheikh Abdullah or other confidants. Nehru played with his cards close to his chest.

Ghulam Mohammed, evidently, thought he had made a dent in Nehru's stand and encouraged his Prime Minister and Mirza to visit Nehru. One Mulraj acted as an intermediary between Nehru and the Governor-General. Nehru knew him well. "He is a well-meaning person but I cannot trust his judgment."

Mulraj interacted also with another busybody, Wajid Ali. Nehru thought a "separate private approach will have to be made in regard to it (Kashmir) before any result is achieved." The back channel is as old as the official envoy. Nehru rapped Desai on the wrist for telling Ghulam Mohammed "about fate of forty million Muslims in India if (sic) any reopening of Kashmir question."

The Governor-General's proposals, as conveyed by Mulraj, were "that a large area of the Jammu province including Poonch, Riyasi, Udhampur, etc., should be transferred to Pakistan, that Skardu might be transferred to India, and that Kargil area should be attached to Kashmir and should be governed by future decisions about Kashmir, and that there should be some joint control by India and Pakistan, both political and military, of this Kashmir area. Some kind of a plebiscite of the Kashmir area, from five to twenty years hence, was envisaged... We were not very much interested in the Skardu area which was very sparsely populated and mountainous." Joint control of Kashmir was unthinkable.

The episode yields two lessons. A summit held on the basis of misunderstanding or unrealistic expectations or without any preparation is doomed to failure. Secondly, a back channel can create problems especially if run by men of great zeal and little understanding; witness Niaz A. Naik in post-Lahore talks.

The talks began in a deceptively "good atmosphere" on May 14. "Mr. Mohammed Ali referred to the Kashmir issue and said that we must settle this. He said that we, that is India, held the key, and he would like to know what we suggested about settling it." Nehru, true to form, "referred to past history". He recalled that "in the early months of the Kashmir operations, I met the then Pakistan Premier, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, once, I think, in Delhi and once in Lahore. We discussed this matter and I felt that we were not very far from an agreement... We had talked about a plebiscite, etc. I was prepared for that, but I had no doubt that we would have to face great difficulties and a long time would elapse before we could give effect to this, and even then it was by no means clear if there would be a satisfactory settlement. The only feasible and practical approach seemed to me to accept things as they were at that time and put an end to this war on that basis. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan did not agree to this, and there our talks ended. This was in the latter half of 1948". Why, then, did he accept, on December 23, 1948, the U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan's (UNCIP's) detailed proposals for a plebiscite? Nehru is not easy to understand; but he is not an impossible subject, either.

Nehru also ranged wide over differences on foreign policy. "Mr. Mohammed Ali asked me what then were we to do about Kashmir. I said that we had to face the situation as it was... accept present conditions as they were, that is, the status quo, and then proceed on the basis. Having accepted that, one could consider what rectifications of the border, etc., could be made to suit both parties. But the main thing was an acceptance of the principle of the status quo... When I finished, Mr. Mohammad Ali said that he would like a further elucidation from me as to what I meant by these rectifications and the consequences of our proceeding on the basis I had mentioned. He said that we might consider this further tomorrow when he said we might have a map to help us."

The next day (May 15) a map was examined. Nehru preferred "a final settlement now" in one go. When Iskandar Mirza said "No government would last twenty-four hours in Pakistan on this basis, I said that a similar difficulty would arise on both sides. In addition, we had our constitutional difficulties. I read out the part of our Constitution referring to Kashmir contained in the President's Order of the 14th May, 1954. This ran as follows: 'Provided further that no Bill providing for increasing or diminishing the area of the State of Jammu and Kashmir or altering the name or boundary of that State, shall be introduced in Parliament without the consent of the legislature of that State'."

This is a proviso to Article 253 of the Constitution (on the Union's power to conclude treaties) which was inserted in 1954 by an Order made by the President under Article 370. It is still in force.

"Mr. Mohammad Ali and Mr. Iskander Mirza again pointed out their difficulties with their people in accepting anything which completely ignored their wishes and demands. Something had to be done to make them feel that they had gained something. I was asked again to indicate our precise proposal. What was the least or the most that we would accept? I said that it was difficult for me to indicate precisely the variations in the present ceasefire line. That would depend on geographical, administrative and other factors." Nehru suggested the Kishanganga river as "a suitable line" and transfer of "the Poonch area" to Pakistan.

On the third day (May 16), Mohammed Ali asked: "What did Pakistan get out of it? This had been suggested two years ago by the P.M. of India. Unless there was some major adjustments now, the only course was to continue with the Security Council, etc., and consider the question of the plebiscite and try to come to an arrangement about the conditions governing the plebiscite... Mr. Iskander Mirza said that they had come from Pakistan because the Governor General had given them to understand that there was a broad acceptance of a new base for negotiations."

It was a fatal misunderstanding. Mirza suggested that "we should not break" the talks; but part amicably. On the last day (May 17) the visitors produced their map showing the Muslim and Hindu majority areas in different colours. "Above the northern cease-fire line, there was no colouring: it was white." Siachen was then a no-man's land. Nehru could hardly accept partition of the State on a communal basis. Azad offered to add "a bit of Mirpur" to Poonch in the transfer. A conciliatory joint communique was issued on May 18 after the visitors' attempt to revive the Nehru-Mohammed Ali Accord of 1953 on a plebiscite failed.

However, in this very volume there is a document which, in turn, leads to another that contains the clue to Nehru's change of policy. From prison, Sheikh Abdullah had asked Nehru to explain precisely what were the mistakes he had committed as Nehru had alleged in the Lok Sabha. In his reply (April 8, 1955), Nehru referred him to a confidential Note dated August 25, 1952 which he had sent to the Sheikh from Sonemarg (SWJN; Vol. 19; pp. 322-330). It is a document of cardinal importance. As mentioned earlier ("Kashmir: History and Politics", Frontline, July 31, 1988), it virtually admitted that he had set his face against a plebiscite "towards the end of December 1948". He was resolved to maintain by force "the status quo then existing".

Nehru wrote: "We are superior to Pakistan in military and industrial power. But that superiority is not so great as to produce results quickly either in war or by fear of war. Therefore, our national interest demands that we should adopt a peaceful policy towards Pakistan and, at the same time, add to our strength. Strength ultimately comes not from the defence forces, but the industrial and economic background behind them. As we grow in strength, and we are likely to do so, Pakistan will feel less and less inclined to threaten or harass us, and a time will come when, through sheer force of circumstances, it will be in a mood to accept a settlement which we consider fair, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere."

He wanted the Sheikh and his colleagues to have "a firm and clear outlook, and no debate about basic issues. If we have that outlook, it just does not matter what the United Nations thinks or what Pakistan does."

Nehru made three mistakes. Pakistan, aggrieved, could not acquiesce in a status quo established by force. Sheikh Abdullah would not continue with his support to Nehru if it cost him popular support in the State. Nehru's third and gravest mistake was in underestimating the assertiveness of the people if not, indeed, of their relevance. "It must be remembered that the people of the Kashmir Valley and round-about, though highly gifted in many ways - in intelligence, in artisanship, etc. - are not what are called a virile people. They are soft and addicted to easy living."

Events were to prove him wrong on all three points. Yet, this is the disastrous policy which won national acceptance and has been followed to this day. Forgotten was his repeated public pledges of a plebiscite, from 1947 to 1954; "not merely a pledge to your (Pakistan's) Government, but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world" (Vol. 4; p. 298; his wire to Liaquat Ali Khan on October 31, 1947).

Why the volte-face in 1948? On May 14, Indira Gandhi wrote to Nehru: "They say that only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite... Personally, I feel that all this political talk will count for nothing if the economic situation can be dealt with. Because after all the people are concerned with only (one) thing - they want to settle their goods and to have food and salt." They had no soul or mind, evidently. (Sonia Gandhi; Two Alone, Two Together: Letters Exchanged between Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru 1940-1964; p. 551.)

Had he lost the plebiscite, Nehru feared he might lose his job as well. Men of such stature tend to combine in their person personal interests with national interests. He feared that the right wing, within and outside the Congress, might become powerful. These very fears prompted him to reject Zhou En-lai's proposals for a border settlement. He said as much in private as Neville Maxwell revealed. (India's China War; p. 166: "If I give them that, I shall no longer be Prime Minister of India. I will not do it"). There were bigger stakes in Kashmir. Pakistan did not make matters easy by adopting a non-confrontationist stance. Conciliation came belatedly in 1953.

On August 7, 1948, at his very first meeting with the UNCIP, a body mandated to hold a plebiscite, Nehru hinted at alternatives. One of the members, Joseph Korbel, replied that the Commission "had no right to submit a solution on which the parties had not agreed. He said that the commission believed it possible that a solution different from that envisaged in the Security Council resolution might be worked out and that the commission would be quite willing to help in this respect" (The UNCIP's First Interim Report; S/1100, p. 107).

No wonder that on January 12, 1949, a week after the UNCIP's plebiscite resolution of January 5, Nehru wrote reassuringly to Sheikh Abdullah: "You know well that this business of plebiscite is still far away and there is a possibility of the plebiscite not taking place at all. I would suggest however that this should not be said in public, as our bona fides will then be challenged" (V. 9; p. 198).

Mountbatten also began working for partition. "The partition maps were all marked up, and discussed between Pandit Nehru and the Chief of Army Staff" (H.V. Hodson; The Great Divide; p. 472). Now the bits fall into place. Nehru accepted on December 23, 1948 the UNCIP's proposals for a plebiscite; not because he was willing to hold one, but to secure a ceasefire. A recent offensive had pushed Pakistan's troops to a line beyond which neither he nor Abdullah wished to go or could have gone without triggering a war.

Why did he promise a plebiscite in 1947, a "crime" which the Sangh Parivar still lays at his door (Organiser; July 1, 2001)? For three reasons. First, contrary to Jinnah's legalistic but utterly undemocratic and immoral stand that the rulers would decide which State to accede to, the AICC (All India Congress Committee) took a principled stand, on June 15, 1947, that "the people of the States must have a dominating voice in any decisions regarding them..."

Secondly, the ruler of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan against the wishes of his people and Hyderabad stayed out encouraged by Jinnah ("A Tale of Two States"; Frontline; June 23, 2000).

With Nehru's backing, Mountbatten proposed this formula to Jinnah, in Lahore on November 1, 1947: "The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the State's, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people." Nehru repeated it to Liaquat on November 8 (V. 4; p. 320).

No critique of Nehru's policy should ignore Jinnah's criminal folly. He rejected an offer which could have ushered in peace on the subcontinent. Instead, he got the Cabinet to secure Liaquat's undertaking not to settle without Jinnah's O.K; egged on Hyderabad not to compromise; and in the bargain lost Kashmir as well. Lack of ethics was compounded with lack of good sense as well.

The third reason is that in 1947 Nehru was confident of winning the plebiscite. Earlier volumes in the series record Nehru's retreat from plebiscite and moves for partition. One would suspect that when it concerned Kashmir, Nehru had reservations on a plebiscite even in 1947. Thus, he wrote to Abdullah on November 21, 1947: "Dwarkanath writes to me that there is strong feeling in the leadership of the National Conference against a referendum. I know this and quite understand it. In fact I share the feeling myself. But you will appreciate that it is not easy for us to back out of the stand we have taken before the world. That would create a very bad impression abroad and especially in U.N. circles. I feel, however, that this question of referendum is rather an academic one at present... If we said to the UNO that we no longer stand by a referendum in Kashmir, Pakistan would score a strong point and that would be harmful to our cause. On the other hand, if circumstances continue as they are and the referendum is out of the question during these next few months, then why worry about it now?... It is all a question of the best tactical approach. I would personally suggest to you not to say anything rejecting the idea of a referendum..." (V. 4, pp. 336-7).

Nehru pleaded with the Maharaja of Kashmir (December 1, 1947): "If the average Muslim (in Kashmir) feels that he has no safe or secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere... The present position is that in Kashmir proper, the mass of the population Muslim and Hindu is no doubt in favour of the Indian Union. In the Jammu area, all the non-Muslims and some Muslims are likely to be in favour of the Union. But this depends entirely on the policy to be pursued during the next few months" (V. 4; p. 351).

Another consideration weighed with Nehru. He knew that a pro-Pakistan constituency existed in Kashmir. It has to be defeated or marginalised by winning over the people - through the plebiscite offer. Hence his wise counsel to the Sheikh on November 1, 1947: "The people must be made to feel that the question of accession will have to be decided finally according to their own wishes. How this is to be done can be determined later. As far as I can see, it should be done under the auspices of the United Nations" (V. 4; p. 300). Mountbatten's suggestion for reference to the U.N. came later, on December 8.

With Lord Ismay's help V. P. Menon and Chaudhry Mohammed Ali, Secretary-General of Pakistan's Cabinet, arrived at a Draft Kashmir Agreement in November which Ismay discussed with Nehru and Liaquat in detail on December 28, 1947. It had no chance of success given Nehru's attitude despite Liaquat's concessions (V.4; pp. 408-9).

Once the debates in the U.N. Security Council began in January 1948, Nehru became increasingly uneasy and confused. To Krishna Menon he mentioned two alternatives: "One is the possibility of Kashmir being considered more or less independent and guaranteed as such by India, Pakistan and possibly the U.N. The other is the possibility of some kind of partition either by previous agreement or as a result of the vote. I do not fancy either of these; but I do not wish to rule them out altogether" (February 20, 1949; V. 5; p. 222).

On February 26, Mountbatten proposed that "a vote for independence should be included in the plebiscite" (V. 5; p. 232).

The Sheikh was warned on November 29, 1948 that while Nehru had "refused to discuss any details of the plebiscite at this stage, it is not easy in the circumstances just to say no to the commission so far as the plebiscite is concerned. We have to remember that an adverse decision of the Commission may prove harmful to us; so we tried to avoid this while at the same time maintaining a stiff attitude" (V. 8; p. 62). He was rightly confident that time ran in India's favour, a fact to which Pakistan was utterly oblivious (V. 11; p. 367).

Towards the end of 1949, the certitude of 1947 gave way to gnawing doubt which he confided to the British High Commissioner, Archibald Nye, on September 9, 1949: "Whilst he (Nehru) did not accept for one moment the suggestion that the majority of Muslims, because they were Muslims, would vote for Pakistan, he thought that it was true to say that the result of a free and impartial plebiscite, if one could be held, would be for the Poonch area to go to Pakistan and for the Jammu area to go to India, whilst it was doubtful which way the valley would vote. He thought further that a solution on the lines of Western Kashmir going to Pakistan, Jammu and possibly Ladakh to India and a plebiscite being confined to the valley and the area north of it (excluding Gilgit) was worthy of consideration. I (Nye) said that from India's point of view this may well be so but did he really think there was any prospect of getting Pakistan to agree to any such proposal. I pointed out that Pakistan believed, and has good reason to believe, that there was a very good chance that an overall plebiscite would give a majority to Pakistan which would justify their claiming the whole country. He admitted that Pakistan might not be prepared to agree but thought there was a possibility that a solution could be found on some such line" (V. 13; p. 225).

Which is why his Note of December 4, 1949 to Vallabhbhai Patel urged "broader" terms of reference for the single mediator from the U.N. freed from resolutions on plebiscite; one would consider "the present situation in all its aspects, and the basic facts of history, geography, language and culture of the State" (V. 14 (i); p. 198). Patel wrote on July 3, 1950: "I agree with you that a plebiscite is unreal" (Sardar Patel's Correspondence; Vol. 1; p. 317).

The best mediator to come, Sir Owen Dixon, later Chief Justice of Australia, proposed a plebiscite confined to areas where the wishes of the inhabitants were uncertain - the Kashmir Valley. The rest could be assigned to either State, as the case may be. The plan fell through because Nehru rejected his suggestion of an impartial administration in the Valley. The Sheikh must not be removed.

At an informal conference in London of Commonwealth Prime Ministers on January 9, 1951, Nehru firmly stood by the status quo (V. 15 (ii); p. 280). However, at a press conference in New Delhi on November 3, 1951, he said "I welcome a plebiscite" (V. 17; p. 424), though he had ruled it out three years earlier.

The U.S. Ambassador Chester Bowles was told on May 3, 1952 that "India would gladly discuss question of partition" provided Pakistan was agreeable to it (V. 18, p.392). Bowles was reminded on July 8, 1952 that "India had always been interested in partition possibility as outlined in Dixon Report", provided it did not affect continuance in office of the Abdullah regime (V. 18; p. 430).

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