Syama Prasad Mookerjee and the struggle for One India – II
by Sandhya Jain on 17 Aug 2023 2 Comments

In a robust response on February 23, 1953, Mookerjee replied to many points raised by Sheikh with unusual candour, and that ended the brief correspondence between the two.  He contended that Abdullah’s allusion to the “basic principles” underlying J&K’s relationship with India, rested on a “rigid acceptance of a legal fiction created by the British government” when dividing India into two separate countries and creating over 500 large and small units as “so-called sovereign zones.” Propriety demanded that while withdrawing, “the entire authority of British Crown and Parliament should have passed on automatically to the successor government,” i.e., the entire undivided India excluding the newly created State of Pakistan. The political unit of undivided India was the most vital contribution of British rule, he said, and “There was no question at all of any of the units within India claiming the right to secede under any circumstance.”


The British objective in fragmenting this unity had three features: [1] Lapse of paramountcy and all that it meant, [2] States thus becoming independent had to decide their own future regarding accession, and [3] Accession was to be in relation to three subjects - foreign, relations, communications and regarding the rest, nothing could be done except with their concurrence. Obviously, Mookerjee noted, the motive was to create conditions that would make it difficult for the new government to build a strong and unified India.


Accepting Abdullah’s claim to have fought for democratic rights in J&K in association with the Indian National Congress, Mookerjee observed that the purpose of the struggle in British India “was to create one India based on a truly democratic constitution.” At that time, no one dreamt that India could be divided on any communal or other consideration. Abdullah’s current thesis, however, rests on the British game of reviving the sovereign powers of the Princely States. Yet, Mookerjee stressed, these powers reverted to the Maharaja, and the “sovereign authority that you are claiming today was derived by you from the Maharaja, who either willingly or by force of events parted with all his legal and constitutional authority.”


Eventually, barring Hyderabad, Junagarh and Jammu & Kashmir, all states, rulers and people realised that their safety and welfare lay with India, and accepted the new constitution. Jammu & Kashmir’s merger was stymied by the war with Pakistan, and as the Constitution of India was being finalised, Article 370 was created as a legal device to link the state with India. While moving the resolution in the Constituent Assembly, Gopalaswami Ayyangar emphasised that this was a transitory provision and J&K would ultimately join the Indian Union at par with other states. Mookerjee urged Sheikh to help “undo completely the disunifying pattern that the British government left as their last legacy to us,” as the youth of J&K and India had “jointly shed their blood for saving this territory, which is part of India, from the cruel hands of the enemy.” This is the crux of the Praja Parishad’s demands in Jammu.


Reiterating that India went to the UNO on the issue of aggression and not accession, Mookerjee said there can be no question of a general plebiscite so long as one-third of the territory remains in Pakistan’s occupation. Hence, he favoured a resolution of the J&K Constituent Assembly, and informed Abdullah that Prime Minister Nehru had in his last letter to him (Mookerjee) stated that he no longer objected to this procedure.


Clarifying doubts regarding the unity of J&K, Mookerjee explained that he had suggested that if the people of Jammu want full accession and those of Kashmir want “loose integration,” a possible solution might be to “form Kashmir Valley into a separate state and give it whatever it wants for its development. It would even then continue as one of the units of the Indian Union but would function according to a special provision in the constitution.” However, he now favoured dropping this idea completely, for a united J&K.


As for subjects covering the accession, Mookerjee asked Abdullah to identify which Articles of the Constitution of India he wanted modified for J&K. However, all citizens deserve common rights pertaining to fundamental rights, citizenship, Supreme Court, the President’s emergency powers, economic and financial integration, and conduct of elections. He gently challenged, “May I ask you, is there anything wrong or communal or reactionary in this approach? … You have said there is no Hindu and Muslim question in relation to the accession or the acceptance of the provisions of the Indian Constitution. But may I ask who is opposing this proposal? Not certainly the non-Muslims of your state. And what the fears of the Muslims are, so far as the present constitution goes, you have never cared to explain.”


On the questions of the Head of the State and flag, Mookerjee advised Abdullah to refer to Nehru’s arguments in the Constituent Assembly against an elected Head of State. Accepting the national flag would remove misunderstandings, and the state flag could be used on special occasions with the national flag. He chided Abdullah’s “abhorrence of the bhagwa flag,” asserting that bhagwa colour has no communal meaning, but stands for purity, sacrifice and service. “It is amazing that you should say that it represents aggressive Hinduism. Does secularism mean that India cut herself off from her past history and traditions?” He pointed out that the colour of the J&K flag is “wholly red, with a special design on it. If any of your uncharitable critics say that it is a camouflage for using the communist flag, surely it is unfair and you will resent it. Let us not, pray, get colour blinded.”


Clarifying his feelings for the Maharaja, Mookerjee said he did not know him personally and had only met him once at a function. Agreeing that hereditary rulers are obsolete in the modern age, he insisted that it was Hari Singh “who alone from his class had the courage 20 years ago to stand up at the Round Table Conference (RTC) in London and plead for the progressive approach by the British towards India’s claim for political independence. It is a matter of history that for this act of his, he became the eyesore of British administrators in India.” Whatever his mistakes, it was his last performance that helped the Government of India and Abdullah in achieving their goals.


Staunchly defending Hari Singh on the charge of deserting Srinagar when the invasion of the city was imminent, Mookerjee said, “I have seen certain documents and I have heard from unimpeachable sources that this is untrue and the Maharaja was asked to leave Srinagar at the express wish of Lord Mountbatten and other leaders. One obvious reason was that his signature was essential for finalising certain formalities and it could have not been done if by any chance Srinagar fell and he was captured. It is hardly possible that you are unaware of this fact. For some reasons, you with your family, were also away from Kashmir at that time. Need the reason for all this be also gone into now?”


Mookerjee bluntly asked, “did you not yourself write a letter to the Maharaja sometime in September 1947 where you assured him that you and your party never entertained any feeling of disloyalty towards him, his throne and his dynasty? Did you not again write to him in March 1948 when you were asked to take charge of the affairs of the government, valuing the full help and co-operation of the Maharaja and appreciating the spirit in which he had made the offer to you? Surely, you cannot charge the Maharaja for having done anything ungracious or atrocious after March 1948.”


Pressing his point, Mookerjee said that despite professing loyalty, “you took the earliest opportunity to eliminate him completely from his throne and his dynasty with the full support of the Government of India… having utilised him to the full extent to your political advantage … it is hardly gracious on your part now to rake up past history and attempt to throw the entire blame on him.” The present struggle, he reminded Sheikh, is “for assuring that full democratic rights may be enjoyed by all sections of the people and minorities may live without fear and with equal rights.”


Refuting the charge that he had cast aspersions on the Chief Justice of J&K, Mookerjee said he had previously written to Prime Minister Nehru that the others members of the commission enquiring into the Jammu events were all administrative officers of the state, viz., Accountant General, Chief Conservator of Forests, and Revenue Commissioner; they could hardly sit in judgement over the government’s policy. Normally, in other states, when controversies arise, commissions of enquiry include judges exclusively, even judges from other states. It was in this spirit that he had urged Prime Minister Nehru that J&K should be requested to reconstitute the commission and, besides the Chief Justice, include two judges from other states. This was not a challenge to Abdullah’s authority.


Taking the bull by the horns, Mookerjee remined Sheikh Abdullah that twenty years ago, when the Maharaja appointed a commission of enquiry to examine riots with which the National Conference “and even your name was associated,” they refused to co-operate though the commission was headed by Chief Justice Dalal. Perhaps, the National Conference felt that a commission composed of persons in state service could not do justice to their grievances. As chief minister today, Abdullah needed to appreciate the fears of those who disagreed with his policies and wanted an impartial and independent investigation.


Expressing bafflement at Sheikh’s refusal to talk to the Praja Parishad, Mookerjee pleaded that the movement should be called off, and a conference held with Pt. Nehru, Abdullah and Parishad representatives to resolve all political and constitutional matters. He urged that prisoners be released and confiscatory orders withdrawn, and the Commission be reconstituted and tasked to examine all grievances. Mooting speedy implementation of the July agreement, Mookerjee queried, “May I ask again, is this an approach which must be dubbed as reactionary, communal and treacherous?”


Castigating the demonisation of the RSS on unproven allegations, Mookerjee countered, “The one specific charge you have brought against RSS and Praja Parishad is that in the fateful days of October 1947, they played an ignoble part in forcing out Muslims from some areas of Jammu and even in depriving some of them of their lives and honour.” While stating that he was unable to find evidence to support this, Mookerjee asked Abdullah, “If specific individuals who carried on such acts could be found out, one does not know why they were not put up for trial after you came into power? Why was no commission of enquiry set-up immediately afterwards?”


Mookerjee further admonished, “You have made no reference whatsoever to tragedy that fell on Hindus and Sikhs in Jammu province before the attack on Muslims took place. Fifteen to 20 thousand Hindus were butchered by the joint acts of Pakistani invaders and Muslims of Jammu state living in those areas. Even today, five thousand Hindu women remain untraced and unrecovered. Many were tortured and raped and all sorts of atrocities took place on innocent Hindus and Sikhs.... You were the accepted leader of National Conference in those days. Can you solemnly pledge that among the assailants, all of whom were Muslims, none belonged to your National Conference which was the dominant party in the state? Why were you staying in Delhi or somewhere else at the time and not present at the affected areas to save Hindus and Sikhs from these terrible atrocities? In accordance with the Gandhian spirit, why did you not face the people bravely then? The attacks on Muslims in Jammu started after these atrocities had been committed and thousands of refugees became scattered in different places, carrying with them tales of their sufferings and shame.”


The way forward, Mookerjee advised, is to “forget the memories of that tragic period. Your repeated reference to only one part of these incidents fills me with wonder when, if at all, you will be able to forget the past and carry with you all sections of the people for the good of your state, and of the country?”


Recalling the massacre of Hindus in Bengal in August 1946 under the nose of the Muslim League ministry and British government, and again at Noakhali in 1947, Mookerjee said that in many places in India, Hindus were the greatest sufferers and even now the minorities in Pakistan are suffering heavily at the hands of the Muslim League government, with few, if any, Muslim leaders in India expressing even lip sympathy at their tragic fate. However, it was time to treat this chapter as closed in India and in J&K. He concluded by urging Abdullah to show statesmanship and order an independent inquiry into allegations of atrocities committed by the state authorities, and regretted his inability to convince Abdullah to change his attitude.




It bears stating that while India was being denigrated by the big powers in the UN Security Council, where Nehru went at Mountbatten’s advice and against the better judgment of his cabinet colleagues, the Prime Minister expended considerable energy playing world statesman in the Korean War (1950-53). Nehruvian historians have never perceived the incongruity of this situation, to this day.


At the time, many observers viewed Sheikh Abdullah as rejecting Pakistan in order to carve out a ‘little Pakistan’ for himself at the expense of India. In the months leading up to his inevitable collision with Nehru, he openly espoused autonomy and warned against applying the Indian Constitution to Kashmir in totality. He alarmed New Delhi, and even members of his own cabinet, by meeting foreigners who reputedly favoured an independent Kashmir, forcing the Prime Minister to become cautious while outwardly supporting him.


Ultimately, the J&K cabinet found his attitude unbearable and submitted a Memorandum to the Sadar-i-Riyasat, expressing lack of confidence in the chief minister. Dr Karan Singh called Abdullah for a meeting, but he ignored the call, and left the city. Left with no alternative, Singh dismissed Abdullah and had him arrested him at Gulmarg.


This was August 1953, barely six weeks after Mookerjee’s tragic demise in Srinagar, in June. Chief Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad moved decisively and on February 6, 1954, the J&K Constituent Assembly ratified the accession with 64 members present (of the 75-member Assembly) voting unanimously. Doubtless the Government of India nudged the state leadership as it was obvious that a fair plebiscite was impossible. But no credit was given to the late Syama Prasad Mookerjee.


Bakshi also moved to implement the Delhi agreement of July 1952. In the same session, the Basic Principles Committee recommended application of some provisions of the Constitution of India for the welfare of the state. Thus, on April 13, 1954, the customs barrier was removed and Kashmir was economically integrated with India. 



-       Integrate Kashmir. Correspondence between Mookerjee, Nehru and Abdullah, Complete Works of Deendayal Upadhyaya, Vol 2, Appendix VII: 193-272.

-       Korbel, Josef, Danger in Kashmir, Princeton University Press, 1954: 246.


A version of this article appeared in Himalaya Hunkar Patrika, May 2023. Hindi translation by Nidhi Bahuguna.


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