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Pune, 22nd March 2024: Colonel Ajay Raina can be called one of India’s foremost military historians as regards the events of the partition of Kashmir are concerned. His depth of knowledge, meticulous research and the ability to connect the dots regarding this crucial period in our history which still casts its shadow are to be admired.

His books on this subject are; ‘Unholy Jihad: A True Story from Kashmir’; ‘In The Nick of Time: Saving Kashmir 1947-48 ‘;’ Against All Odds: Naushera-Jhangar Battles 1947-48’; ‘Fighting Across the Passes: Recapture of Tithwal & Gurez, 1947-48’; ‘Hold at All Costs: The Siege & Relief of Poonch 1947-48’; ‘Valour & Betrayal: Last Man Last Round Battles of Brig Rajinder Singh, MVC’, ‘Battle for Kashmir’ and ’Lion of Ladakh’. His latest offering ‘Conspiracy & Intrigue: Truth Revealed’, written in a narrative form is based on recorded and documented evidence and covers events in the months that culminated in partition and the focus on Jammu and Kashmir.

The son of refugee parents who were young children when partition saw the creation of India and Pakistan and when the biggest ever migration of humans took place. Commissioned into the Indian Army in 1990 he served till the end of 2017 and has then been involved in his academic pursuits among other activities.

The author says the problem of J&K at partition viewed as a localized issue between, India, Pakistan and the Princely State of J&K is ‘too simplistic a perspective’ and writes that the flashpoint for this conflict owes its root to the British. The book then examines the duplicity of the British and Ajay states that the British played the game on their interests other than water and religion which is widely believed to be the reason for the problems of J&K. While the indecisiveness of Maharaja Hari Singh and the hand the Prime Minister RC Kak and the sub-nationalist leader Sheikh Abdullah played have been well documented in various writings it is the role played by the British which has ‘been kept out of the conflict’.

Covering the period from 22 March 1947, when Mountbatten landed in Delhi tasked with executing the partition plan the book covers the period till 19 August 1947, with Independence having taken place and Jammu & Kashmir yet to join either of the two dominions. Three more books are to follow focusing on events in all three regions of the state Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh all of which suffered violence in varying degrees at different timelines. ‘Conspiracy & Intrigue: Truth Revealed’ is written in two parts; Part One covers the macro picture of events in ‘Delhi and Beyond ‘ giving out the genesis of the problem whereas Part Two focuses on the impact of these developments in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mountbatten was given the difficult task of overseeing the partition and had to ensure that British interests in the region were taken care of, these included having a ‘base for both offensive and defensive actions against Russia in the Indian subcontinent ‘as they feared the Indian National Congress will not cooperate with them and control of the oil reserves in West Asia and the Persian Gulf for which Western powers need to be in the Middle East. The other issue was to keep an eye on the Russian nuclear programme and for this they needed Gilgit–Baltistan as well as the creation of East Pakistan which as per the author was to give Pakistan; ‘adequate space for dispersion’ and ‘coerce India to keep it free of hostile foreign influence’ and ensure ‘security of communications through the Indian Ocean region’.

At a meeting in the Viceroy’s House on 15 April 1947, Sir Evan Jenkins the Governor of Punjab clearly stated that; ‘partition of Punjab will be disastrous’, and the opinion of the Governor of Bengal was also on similar lines. Giving the choice to population centres to choose either of the two states would have led to Balkanisation which was not acceptable. With this in view partition with ‘two strong governments taking over the reins of power directly from the British seemed to be the only solution. Though Nehru has been quoted as saying;” our acquiescence of splitting Punjab and Bengal doesn’t imply our willingness to cast away the geographical and civilisational oneness of India.”

As per the plan submitted by the Viceroy on 11 May 1947, the princely states did not have ‘the option of staying independent’. While the Army was to be divided based on territorial recruitment, the recommendation was that the British not get involved in the affairs of princely states after the decided date of partition. The fact remained that most of the Princely states would not have been able to survive independently due to their lack of size and resources and would have faced revolts.

Churchill who was a strong advocate of partition was pleased with what Mountbatten had recommended and threw the weight of his party behind the proposal by ‘committing to support the Act when it was to be presented in Parliament’.

Jinnah of course wanted a land route connecting both West and East Pakistan running across India to include Delhi, Rampur and Patna secured by a fence and joint control of Calcutta for the first six months. Both these were not agreed to. The Russians felt that artificially separating the industrial and agricultural areas would disrupt and weaken the political economy.

In Part Two amongst the issues written by the author are the desire of Jawaharlal Nehru to visit Kashmir and the strong opposition to the visit by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir to this visit and thereby the constant endeavour with Mountbatten to dissuade Nehru as he felt the visit would inflame the population. The Maharaja also did not want to free Sheikh Abdullah from custody, finally, a compromise was reached with Mahatma Gandhi visiting Srinagar but was not permitted to meet Sheikh Abdullah nor was he permitted to address any rally.

There was no doubt that the ‘Kashmir National Conference’ had demonstrated its hold on the masses and there was unanimity that Prime Minister RC Kak must go as it was at his ‘instance that Sheikh Abdullah had been imprisoned.’

The state of Jammu and Kashmir was 84,000 square kilometers with a population of over four million of which 77 % were Muslims of which over 40% were Shias and bordered Tibet, Sinkiang and Afghanistan. Kak felt that the ‘best option was to remain independent’. While the Maharaja was a Dogra from Jammu, the Army consisted mainly of Dogra Rajputs and Kashmiris whether Hindus or Muslims ‘were excluded’ which ‘was a common grievance amongst all Kashmiris’. There was terrible poverty contrasted with enormous wealth in the hands of few and the potential resources of the state, the land system was outdated and ‘oppressive’ it was with this backdrop that Sheikh Abdullah was able to grow a popular movement. Unlike other parts of India, the resentment was against the Maharaja’s rule and not the British.

Nehru in his note to Mountbatten on Kashmir had written that the Maharaja ‘is timid’ and that if Mr RC Kak ‘remains in control, he will see to it that there are communal riots’ and if an attempt is made to push Kashmir into the Pakistan Constituent Assembly there is likely to be much trouble’.

With the partition of India and the uncertainty of the Princely states in mind Maharaja Hari Singh was apprehensive of Mountbatten’s visit to Srinagar on 18 June. Mountbatten not one to waste time told Maharaja Hari Singh that the proposals of Princely States to remain independent were not acceptable to either the Congress or Muslim League and that he should make up his mind and they decided to meet on 22 June. However, on the appointed day the Maharaja ‘was indisposed’. Nehru felt ‘that was an old trick’ as the Maharaja did not want to discuss the future of Kashmir post-partition.

Another issue which is dwelt at in great length in the book is the role of the British in ensuring that Gilgit–Baltistan goes to Pakistan. ‘Gilgit is strategically very important ‘and the Pamirs are where a number of Empires meet, they wanted Jammu & Kashmir to accede to Pakistan so that Gilgit ‘becomes a part of Pakistan’. Major Alexander Brown was instrumental in utilising the Gilgit Scouts which thanks to the governor of NWFP George Cunningham had no non-Muslim personnel. On 24 June on the lawns of the Peshawar club over a glass of beer, he is now being asked by Lieutenant Colonel Roger Bacon the Political Officer of Gilgit Agency to implement a plan to ensure that Gilgit remains with Pakistan. The vested interest of the British was not to lose control of the acoustic monitoring stations there which were keeping tabs on the Soviet nuclear programme.

The scheme involves, Major Brown going back to Gigit taking charge of the Gilgit Scouts and then steering the JCOs to refuse to be part of J&K State ‘sowing seeds of hatred against the Maharaja’; as they feared being Shias they would not like to be part of a Sunni dominated Pakistan. When the British returned to Gilgit Agency J& K State, he was to resign his commission and join the State Forces. Thereafter, he was to subvert the soldiers and ensure their loyalty. In case the Maharaja joins Pakistan the British felt the issue would get resolved. However, if that was not to be ‘Operation Datta Khel’ his present place of posting in North Waziristan was to be set in motion. That involved staging a coup and taking control of the areas South of the Indus and Skardu to the East.

The book offers a fascinating insight into a period of history where things were changing at a fast pace. The political environment in the sub-continent underwent a churn like never before, the British masters of many games were rescheduling their date of exit and withdrawing the option for independence of princely states and Maharaja Hari Singh, unsure of his geographical continuity with India kept nursing ambitions of remaining independent while Mountbatten tried to coax him to join Pakistan while Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar Patel felt differently. Finally, British officers indulged in what is widely known in the Army as ‘unbecoming conduct’.

Ajay needs to be complimented for bringing all these facts to the fore and revealing the duplicity of the British in this sensitive region the cross of which is still being borne today.