Jayaprakash Narayan’s role in Jammu and Kashmir
26th JP Memorial Lecture, March 23, 2006
-- By Balraj Puri .
I have more than one reason to be grateful to the PUCL for inviting me to give 26th JP Memorial Lecture today. To join the company of much more eminent personalities of the country who were assigned this august task before me is a privilege in itself. But it is also a privilege to join in commemorating the memory of a person who was a great source of inspiration and strength for me due to which I could sustain myself in Jammu and Kashmir State which was my main field of public activity under ruthless regimes and despite campaign of vilification by chauvinist groups. Moreover, the topic of my lecture is JP on Kashmir, on which there is not much appreciation in the country. After the first emotional rupture between the people of Kashmir and the rest of the country, in 1953, they looked to JP as another Gandhi. Just as the impact of Gandhi, after his visit to the State in August 1947 in winning over the people of the State for India is rarely acknowledged, JP’s role in emotional re-integration of the people of Kashmir with the rest of India in sixties and seventies has been ignored. What happened thereafter is not much different from what happened in Kashmir six years after Gandhi’s visit there.
Pardon me to begin this lecture by quoting a personal anecdote to show how human he was. Once during his visit to Delhi he missed an appointment with me. I wrote a letter of protest to him. In reply he not only profusely apologized but also asked me if I could spare full one day on his next visit to Delhi and have breakfast, lunch and dinner with him; except that I should not mind his brief formal appointments in between.
I reached J.J. Singh house at 101 Friends Colony where JP used to stay on the appointed day at breakfast time. After a while he had to leave for a formal appointment with Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda. He asked me to accompany him and continue the discussion we had initiated. The subject that I had raised at that time was the dangerous situation that was developing in Kashmir due to the way the Government of India had handled the theft of the holy relic in 1963-64. When JP entered the Home Minister’s room, I was asked to wait in the adjoining room. Not long after the Home Minister came out along with JP and tried to pacify me and asked me to meet him separately.
In the evening J.J. Singh had arranged a formal dinner in JP’s honour where VVIPs of Delhi, including foreign ambassadors, cabinet ministers, political leaders, and other public men had been invited. JP’s table had been set at the center. But he asked his host to arrange a separate table for two of us as he had to atone for his lapse. Despite J.J. Singh’s persuasion and my requests, he did not relent and two of us had dinner together, separate from the rest of the guests. Apart from a full day stimulating discussion on all important issues with one of the greatest minds of the time, I had the opportunity of having most touching experience of my life by the way I was treated.
Coming to the subject proper, my knowledge about JP’s role in Kashmir is not only based on my personal interactions with him but also on available material on his press statements, articles, and reports of his public speeches in the archives and elsewhere. His direct association with Kashmir, as also my association with him, started with his first visit to the State on 30th December 1946. It was my privilege to organize public meeting to be addressed by him at Ranbir Singh Pura, the first major town from Sialkote to Jammu Railway line. Hindu communalists and Maharaja’s loyalists had threatened to sabotage and disrupt the public meeting. But we could succeed in holding it with the help of the volunteers of the students union, the best organized secular force in Jammu at that time.
Support to “Quit Kashmir” Movement
JP had come to the State to lend his support to the “Quit Kashmir” movement launched by the National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah. As it was aimed at ending the Dogra rule over Kashmir valley and was motivated by sentiments of Kashmiri nationalism, its appeal was mostly confined to the valley. Otherwise too the traditional sentiments of loyalty to the ruler, who was one of them prevailed among a large section of the people of Jammu – both Hindus and Muslims. The Congress party was formally committed to responsible government in princely States and did not approve of any demand for the end of monarchy.
Jawahar Lal Nehru, however, tried to reconcile the Congress stand and the objective of the “Quit Kashmir” movement by saying that it was not addressed to the person of the Maharaja but to the system. In any case, the “Quit Kashmir” movement did not challenge the basic spirit of the Congress stand and at the most might have exceeded it, according to him.
Jayaprakash Narayan did not believe in such sophistications and rationalizations. His support to the “Quit Kashmir” movement was categoric and unreserved.
He wanted complete end of the monarchical system. He had differed with the Congress party in his attitude towards the other princes also. While the party accepted a compromise formula regarding the ratio of the respective representation of the rulers and the people in the Constituent Assembly of India, JP insisted that “all representatives of the States should be elected by the people of the States and none of them should be the nominee of the princes.” At his RS Pura speech, he said, “India does not belong to the Britain or the rulers. It belongs to you and me.”
JP’s support to the “Quit Kashmir” movement was thus consistent with his policy towards all the princely States. He had maintained his close contacts with the developments in the crucial State of the country since then, and staked his popularity by sticking to a consistent moral stand. However he did not get much support from the Kashmir National Conference which was then under the influence of the communists who had their differences with the socialists led by JP at the national level. But while refusing to recognize any other party in the State except the National Conference, JP cautioned the people of the State to beware of the machinations of the communists “who often worked in disguise through other mass organizations.”
Opposition to communal politics
After independence JP did not want to interfere in Kashmir politics in the initial period of the National Conference regime, till the Kashmir problem was solved. I had, on the other hand, envisaged “indefinite prolongation of the Kashmir dispute”, title of a Statement issued by me at a press conference in 1948. But when Sheikh Abdullah joined the election campaign of the Congress party in 1951, JP expressed his great surprise and in an express telegram to Abdullah advised him to desist from identifying himself with a single party as Kashmir had never been a party question. The Socialist Party, he added, had refrained from forming a party branch in Kashmir and parties, other than the Congress had lent Sheikh Abdullah full support.
When Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed from power and put under detention on 9 August 1953, I asked JP to condemn what I believed to be an illegal and immoral act. He drew my attention to Abdullah’s reaction to his Statement on the death of the Jana Sangh leader Dr. Shyamaprasad Mukherjee in a Kashmir jail in which he had accused the State government for its criminal negligence. Abdullah had retorted angrily and had said “a Hindu leader like JP had no right to interfere in the affairs of our State.” I urged JP to ignore the irresponsible remark of Abdullah and judge the issue of action against him on merit. He agreed to consider my request. Meanwhile I wrote a letter to Abdullah telling him how important it was to enlist JP’s support and asked him to sign the enclosed draft of a letter addressed to JP in which an appeal was made to the “conscience keeper of India” whom Kashmiris looked up to for support after Gandhi. He did, as advised. I passed on his letter to JP.
Thereupon JP started a nation wide campaign against detention without trial of Abdullah and demanded his release, “without delay or trial in a court.”
From 1953 to 1977 JP became most powerful voice in India for a settlement through negotiations between Government of India and Sheikh Abdullah as also with Pakistan. He was at that time swimming against the popular current and at places his public meetings were sought to be disturbed with slogans like “hand JP the traitor.”
During the end of December 1963, Kashmir was in turmoil when the holy relic of the Prophet (PBUH) from the Hazratbal Shrine disappeared mysteriously. The State and central government bungled in handling the situation. I sent a detailed note on the subject to JP and reminded him of his unique position “to influence the climate of opinion in the country as also in encouraging the secular and healthy trends in Kashmir politics.” He agreed to send a team of the Sarva Seva Sangh to Kashmir to study the situation.
On the basis of their report, he issued a long Statement in which he congratulated the people of Kashmir, irrespective of communities, for maintaining remarkable communal harmony throughout the anxious days since the theft of the relic. He pointed out the dangerous state of affairs in the State where the government did not enjoy the confidence and support of the people. He asserted that the events since the theft of the holy relic definitely established “the great and widespread popularity of Sheikh Abdullah” and therefore “any political settlement in Kashmir would be inadvisable without him.” He demanded immediate release of Abdullah and political approach to him.
Sheikh Abdullah was released in March 1964. He acknowledged “thought provoking” telegram which he had received from JP on his release. He sought “blessings and cooperation from JP to make “Kashmir a bridge between India and Pakistan.”
Post-Nehru Kashmir policy of India
Abdullah was invited to Delhi by Nehru as his personal guest. During their series of meetings, mutual goodwill and old affectionate friendship were revived. JP at that stage proposed confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir which appealed to Abdullah. The proposal had the approval of Nehru also. Sheikh Abdullah went to Pakistan to get its support for the formula. But Pakistan President General Ayub summarily rejected it./ Abdullah’s Pakistan visit had to be cut short with the sudden death of Nehru on 27th May 1964. On his return he told me that if he had known that Panditji’s death was imminent he would not have gone to Pakistan and finalized an agreement here.
Nehru’s successors did not pick up the threads where he had left them. The new government took a series of measures to erode the autonomy of the State through constitutional amendments with the help of an obliging State government headed by GM Sadiq which provoked angry reactions in Kashmir.
JP in a lengthy Statement, issued on 18th December 1964, asked “whether constitutional integration of Kashmir with India is more important in national interest than friendship with Pakistan and justice to the people of the valley. He warned, “the most harmful consequences of policy of forced integration would be the death knell of Indian secularism and enthronement of aggressive Hindu communalism.”
Earlier in September 1964, JP had visited Pakistan as the head of the delegation of India-Pakistan Conciliation Group, founded a little earlier to meet Pakistan President, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Kahn. The delegation included M/s Mulgaonkar, B. Shiv Rao, J.J. Singh and Radha Krishan (Secretary of the Sarve Seva Sangh). President Ayub and JP had two meetings lasting more than two hours, which were officially described as free, frank, and informal. JP told reporters, “We are all private citizens and hold no official position. We represent no one but ourselves.” He was, however, confident that they did represent the general desire of the people of India to see an end to the disputes and differences of the past 17 years. He was sure that this desire was reciprocated by the people of Pakistan. He also conveyed to President Ayub, the request of the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to respond to India’s invitation to visit India at his earliest convenience. On Kashmir, he declined to be drawn into any discussion but said, “we (he and his group are doing in India whatever is possible to solve the Kashmir problem. We want our position to be understood in Pakistan.” He also acknowledged “an encouraging and Statesman like response from President Ayub” and believed that “a real possibility exists for evolving a workable approach to the solution of the outstanding disputes between the two countries, including the one relating to Kashmir.”
On return to New Delhi, he said at a public meeting, which was initially hostile that he had “told President Ayub in clear terms that there could be no plebiscite and that India cannot give up the valley.” He, however, indicated that just as plebiscite was a slogan in Pakistan, final and irrevocable accession had become a mere slogan here. He, however, reiterated his belief that justice to the people of Kashmir and friendship with Pakistan were the needs of the hour.
Later, in separate letters in June 1965 to Lal Bahadur Shastri and Field Marshal Ayub Khan, both of whom were scheduled to attend Commonwealth Conference in London in June, he advised them to make use of the “heavenly sent” opportunity to meet and “find out a way for personal exploration and understanding.”
Meanwhile Government of India had taken a serious notice of Sheikh Abdullah’s utterances abroad where he had been allowed to go after performing the Haj, in particular of his meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Chou-en Lai at Algiers. His passport was impounded and he was asked to return immediately. There were reports that he would be arrested on his return. Reacting to these reports five members of India-Pakistan Conciliation Group, of which JP was President, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, telling him that “Sheikh Abdullah’s re-arrest at this juncture will be yet another mistake for which the country will have to suffer for many years to come.” The signatories to the letter included, MR Masani, Kapur Singh, Buta Singh, J J Singh, and Pandit HN Kunzru. As expected Sheikh Abdullah was arrested when he landed in India. JP strongly protested against it “without giving him a chance to clear himself of the charges so widely made against him.”
JP’s stand on Kashmir after India-Pak war
By now JP’s stand on Kashmir and attitude towards Pakistan had radically changed after what he called “Azad Kashmiris”. As Pakistan’s army entered Chhamb on the international border of Kashmir, he offered his full support to the government’s action in dealing with Pakistan’s aggression. In a press statement on 17th September he spoke out, “not to my country and my people but to the people and government of Pakistan and to the peoples and governments of the world.” He declared that Pakistan, by its deliberate and blatant action, had forfeited whatever place it had obtained in the Kashmir issue. He could not conceive of “any power on earth being able to transfer Kashmir to Pakistan.”
He held that if there was any issue now in Kashmir, it was between the people of Kashmir and the Government of India. He advised Sheikh Abdullah to keep in mind that what was possible before 5 August 1965 was now impossible. He believed that Sheikh was realist enough to realize that (a) no solution of the Kashmir question could ever be accepted by India that involved de-accession of the State, or any part of it, from the Union, and (b) an independent State in that part of the world had little chance of survival. He therefore advised the Prime Minister in his letter dated 23 June 1966 to set at liberty Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues and invite him for talks. He also told the Prime Minister that Sheikh Abdullah’s services might prove to be invaluable for promoting Indo-Pak friendship in the spirit of the Tashkent declaration. He believed that it should be possible to persuade Sheikh Abdullah to accept autonomy within India. He did not think Abdullah was a traitor. He said while Godse thought Gandhi was a traitor and the RSS thought that Jayaprakash was a traitor, nobody could be held a traitor by the Government of India unless it was established in accordance with due process of law.
He referred to a certain image created by some people 9mostly crypto-communists and Hindu Nationalist of all hues) that Jayaprakash Narayan was a silly idealist or a hidden dictator. He asserted that none in the government, except the Prime Minister, was as constantly and widely in touch with the people as he was. He addressed public meetings almost daily and was heard in pin drop silence. In any case, he believed that the job of the leaders was to lead and if the need arose, to face the wrath of the people. As far as he was concerned, no abuse, no criticism, no argument had convinced him to change a single word of what he had said. According to him Kashmir was basically a human problem. He ridiculed the thinking of some responsible people that it could be solved by using force in the belief that no Kashmiri had yet been known to die for a cause.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrote to JP on 2 August 1966 that she had no objection to his meeting with Sheikh Abdullah (in Jail) but said, it would not be desirable for their talks to find their way into the press or otherwise become public. Accordingly JP met Abdullah for 3 days, 5,6 and 7 August at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu where he was detained at that time. On conclusion of the talks JP told the media that it would not be in the national interest for him to divulge anything regarding his talks. All that the reporters could extract from him was the Statement that the discussions were not “unsatisfactory.” I, however, reported “verbatim” account of the dialogue between the two leaders published in Opinion, edited AD Gorwala from Bombay under the title “What transpired between JP and Abdullah?” JP was surprised about the source of my report. I told him that I had known both of them so long that I not only knew their views but also the words they used to express them. I asked him to confirm accuracy of my report. He confirmed it.
Thereafter JP stepped up his campaign for the release of Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues from various fora. He based this demand on various grounds including (a) a person could not be held in detention without definite charges and without trial in a democratic country like India, (b) likely support of Abdullah for a solution of Kashmir problem within India and (c) his unquestioned popularity.
J&K State People’s convention
In his inaugural address and concluding observations at a seminar in New Delhi on 4, 5 and 6 October 1967, presided by him,. JP spelled out his views on various aspects of the Kashmir problem and options for India as also people of Kashmir. He believed that Sheikh Abdullah was one person who was still in a position to sway the people of the valley. Therefore, if the Government of India was realistic, it should try to reach an agreement with Abdullah. If it fails, “the world be convinced that we made a serious attempt and gone to the farthest limit to reach an agreement with him.” JP’s own feeling was that there was a possibility of an agreement. After the last war, it was not possible for any Government of India to agree to de-accession of any part of Kashmir from India. He ruled out independence for Kashmir as there would always be present the danger of war between India and Pakistan or between India and China and the danger of subversion in Kashmir. He therefore favoured a formula based on internal autonomy for the State within India and autonomy for Jammu within the State. He expressed the hope, though he was not certain, that Sheikh Abdullah might be in a position to accept such a settlement.
Eventually, Abdullah was released on 4 January 1968. JP welcomed him to freedom and congratulated the Union Government for having done the right thing at last. He hoped that the opportunity created by this decision would not be allowed to go waste.
After his release, Abdullah revived the activities of the Plebiscite Front, which was set up in 1964 under his leadership and mobilized popular support for him and for the Front. He then proposed to “hold a Convention of the liberal minded and intellectual citizens of the State with a view to arrive at such conclusions as may bring about a lasting and honourable solution of the Kashmir problem0. He requested JP to inaugurate it in view of his “close association with the question and deep interest in the well being of the people.” JP accepted the invitation. I agreed to be a member of the Steering Committee of the Convention, the only member from Jammu region on the Committee, after Abdullah agreed to discuss the future of regions of the State before discussing the future of the State.
JP arrived in Srinagar on 10 October 1968 where he received a hero’s reception. But the public meeting that he and Abdullah addressed turned out to be bitter clash of ideas. Abdullah traced the long history of the Kashmir problem and quoted commitments of Gandhi and Nehru to justify his demand that people of the State may fashion their destiny according to their wishes, without any force or coercion. He wanted the Government of India to honour the guarantees given to the international community and to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
After Abdullah’s welcome address, JP did some plain speaking in his speech at the public meeting. He reminded the audience that after the 1965 conflict, no Government of India, even if it was headed by him, could accept a solution which places Kashmir outside India. As a friend and well wisher of the people of the State, he advised them to seek a solution within the framework of the Union of India. Referring to the demand of right to self-determination of the people, he said, “it is extremely difficult to define and geographically demarcate “a people,” and asked, “Are the Kashmiris a people? Then what about the Dogras and the Ladakhis? Where will you draw a line?” As far as the rights of the people are concerned, he further asked, “How can the people decide complicated and grave issues without clear and unambiguous advice from their leaders?” He strongly wished that leaders gathered in the convention unambiguously advise the people on these vital issues. Finally, he suggested that the precise constitutional status of the State within the Indian Union and a guarantee that the status would not be unilaterally altered should be discussed with the Government of India.
JP’s plain speaking provoked an angry retort from Sheikh Abdullah. He said, “Freedom is never given as a gift, it has to be snatched. The question is not whether what the Government of India is willing to give us but what people of Kashmir want to achieve. They will get it with force. Hundreds of young men will be prepared to be hanged. If we have power, we will get it. Or we will destroy ourselves.” Referring to Pakistan’s attack, he said, “What else could Pakistan do when the doors of negotiations were closed on it.”
JP reacted mildly to Abdullah’s outburst. On arrival in Delhi, he told waiting press persons that Abdullah’s speech was meant to appease the extremists in the valley who were getting disillusioned with his leadership. He, however, was surprised over the tone of Abdullah’s speech. JP, in his letter dated 47 October 1968, thanked Abdullah “most warmly for the wonderful welcome you and the people of Srinagar gave me. I know that I did not come up to their expectations, but I hope they will find in time that I spoke as a true friend.”
After formal exchange of letters, Abdullah conveyed to JP in a letter dated 6 March 1967, sense of surprise and shock of “many many of your admirers to hear from your lips that Indian Government would not keep their pledge by the people of Kashmir as Pakistan had made a war with India.” What shocked him more was that even JP could not honour the pledge if he was the Prime Minister. Abdullah asked, “Would mere apprehension of loss of office persuade Gandhiji to bypass his solemn pledge?”
JP in his reply was happy over return of Abdullah’s usual warm personal tone. He, however, argued that the views he expressed in Srinagar had been expressed publicly on many occasions. If his known views were to be considered unhelpful, he should not have been invited. Though correspondence between the two leaders continued for a while, no agreement could be arrived.
Meanwhile Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beg, and Gulam Mohammad Shah were externed from the State and hundreds of workers of the Plebiscite Front were arrested after banning it on the eve of Parliamentary election of 1971. JP strongly protested against this step of the government which made him despair “if the country would ever be able to tackle the Kashmir problem with intelligence and vision.” In a letter to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 26 March 1971, he said “it was a pity that Sheikh saheb and his friends were not allowed to participate din the Parliamentary election. Had that been allowed, it would have contributed greatly to the easing of tensions in the valley and strengthened the hopes of its people that their democratic aspirations would find fulfillment within the present constitution.”
The externment order of Kashmiri leaders was extended even after the assembly election of March 1972. Meanwhile Pakistan was split after the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. As Sheikh Abdullah had recognized that his bargaining power was over, I started mediatory efforts between him and Indira Gandhi which culminated in return to power of the Sheikh in 1975. I kept JP informed of the progress on the subject.
Soon after, JP along with other opposition leaders, was arrested following the declaration of the Emergency. The Sheikh told press persons on 22 September 1975 that he favoured conciliation between the anti-Emergency forces and the Prime Minister. And his services were always at her disposal. Reacting to these reports JP wrote in his letter to the Sheikh, “Coming from a friend like you, with so much goodwill in both camps, and occupying such an important position as you do, your words are of extraordinary significance and interest for me.” This letter was not delivered to Sheikh Abdullah. Nor was he allowed to call on JP.
After the end of the Emergency and assumption of power by the newly formed Janata Party sponsored by JP, differences again arose between him and the Kashmir leaders.
JP publicly advised the National Conference, which had been revived, to merge itself with the Janata Party. Ashok Mehta, who was President of the Janata Party, visited the State to form the party unit, conveyed JP’s message to me to persuade Sheikh Abdullah to merge the National Conference with the Janata. My differences with JP on this proposal were two fold. Firstly, without common ideological basis unity of heterogeneous parties, like the Jana Sangh and the Socialists, the united party would not last long and to the extent it lasted, it would damage the party system. Secondly, it would not be possible for Sheikh Abdullah to accept any proposal that undermined distinct identity of Kashmir which was implied in the dissolution of the National Conference. Ashok Mehta, as expected, got a blunt “No” to his proposal from Abdullah.
JP’s last intervention in the State
JP’s last intervention in the State was on the issue of Jammu. Over three years after Abdullah’s return to power, his alienation in Jammu region re-emerged will an incident of police firing on student demonstration against complaint of irregularities in recruitment of teachers in the border town of Poonch on 2 December 1978 provided a flash point of mass regional upsurge.
The commitment was also a part of the Delhi Agreement between Nehru and Abdullah in 1952, later reiterated J&K State People’s convention which Abdullah had convened in 1968. Again, it was an unwritten part of his understanding with Indira Gandhi. Before resuming power, he had repeated the offer of regional autonomy to the representatives of Jammu and Ladakh in 1974. But I did not get any response.
JP in his letter to Sheikh Abdullah on 19 February 1979, expressed “deep concern over recent happenings in Jammu.” What was urgently needed, he wrote, was creation of an atmosphere of peace and goodwill. JP had supported the concept of regional autonomy along with that of the State autonomy. Sheikh Abdullah could neither get autonomy for the State which was possible when JP suggested it as a basis of solution of Kashmir problem from 1965 to 1971 nor he conceded regional autonomy. But there are indications that the solution of the problem now is being sought on these lines.
It is difficult to sum up the impact of JP’s long association with the problems of J&K State from pre-independence days till almost his end. But it is fairly obvious that no other national leader had paid so much attention and priority to these problems. He never compromised in stating his views, in which be believed, without consideration of popular response. His sincerity was transparent which left deep impact over even his opponents. His basic approach was marked by not only moral and human values but also reflected his sense of patriotism and farsightedness. Above all, he demonstrated that national interest and morality were not mutually exclusive