Contrary to the perception created Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (31 October 1875 - 15 December 1950) was very much actively involved in the Kashmir affairs during June 1946 and October 1950, the most crucial period. The finalization of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India and even getting the Article 370 (306-A in the draft Constitution) as “Temporary Provision” incorporated in the Indian Constitution was with the blessings and approval of the Sardar. He was not only the Deputy Prime Minister of India but was also the Minister for Home and the States Ministry. Though it is a fashion these days to blame Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, for everything which has gone wrong in Kashmir affairs, the official documents and correspondence of Sardar Patel leads to the conclusion that not only Patel but even Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar unanimously supported the Article 370 in the Constituent Assembly.
When Dr. Ambedkar refused to draft the Article, the task was assigned to N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar. He was earlier the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh. The entire Union Cabinet including Patel, Dr. Ambedkar and even Dr. Mookerjee supported PM Nehru taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Organisations! Syamababu, even after resigning from Nehru Cabinet and establishing Jan Sangh, had confessed supporting the said proposal in the Cabinet.
The authoritative documentation does mention Sardar Patel’s active participation in the Kashmir affairs though the popular myth being spread is he was kept out of Kashmir affairs by Nehru. V.P. Menon, the Secretary of the States Ministry headed by Patel, contributes “the first authoritative account” in his book “Integration of the Indian States” published in 1956. Durga Das and V. Shankar were also confidents of Patel. Durga Das who was the Editor-in-Chief of the Hindustan Times edited the 10 volumes of Sardar Patel’s correspondence published by Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad. Shankar was Patel’s Private Secretary during 1947-50. He edited two volume “Sardar Patel: Select Correspondence 1945-1950” also published by Navjivan in various languages.
The most authoritative biography “Patel : A Life” by Rajmohan Gandhi, an eminent historian and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi as well as the 15 volumes of “The Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel” edited by P. N. Chopra and Prabha Chopra, both editors of the Government Gazetteers, reprinted in 2015 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Foreword, do have extensive explanations and correspondence by Patel to prove that he was very much a key player in the crucial accession of Jammu and Kashmir as well as one who saw to it that Article 370 becomes part of the Indian Constitution.
“Sardar and Jawaharlal Nehru were both taking interest in the affairs of the State (J and K). J. Nehru was himself a Kashmiri, though his ancestors had left the State several generations back, and was in addition emotional in his approach to problems,” records Shankar and adds, “Sardar’s attitude in regard to the States was clear and pragmatic. He would accept no compromise to the principle of democratization, though he was prepared to regulate the pace…While Nehru sought open confrontation with the State Government and the Maharaja, Sardar was in correspondence with the Prime Minister, Ram Chandra Kak. Sardar’s approach was different.” Even when the Maharaja was “indecisive” about joining the Pakistan Union or the Indian Union, Sardar through the Viceroy Mountbatten conveyed the assurance that “even if the Maharaja chose to accede to Pakistan, India would not create any trouble.” Vallabhbhai did write to Maharaja Hari Singh and his PM Kak on 3 July 1947 to accede to India in the interest of their State but he did not press this view overmuch. The Sardar could convince the Maharaja to appoint Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan of Punjab High Court as his Prime Minister replacing Kak. Later, Justice Mahajan retired as the Chief Justice of India.
The outlook of the Sardar and of Nehru was vastly different. Even while dealing with Kashmir affairs both differed on the approach. They agreed to differ, but at the same time worked together for the common cause of India’s freedom. “The influence of Mridula Sarabhai and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai on Nehru to a large extent responsible for the rift between my father and Jawaharlal,” records Maniben in an introduction to the volumes of Durga Das adding, “The Sardar did not aspire to prime ministership or any other high office.” The first volume of Durga Das is devoted to Kashmir affairs which has the correspondence from June 1946 to October 1950 regarding Jammu and Kashmir. PM Nehru seeks advice of Patel all the time.
The Maharaja signed the Accession of Instrument only 0n 26 October 1947 at midnight when his State was invaded by Pakistan inspired raiders. The very next day the Governor General Mountbatten gave assent and the army planes were dispatched to save the State which became the part of India. And when the Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah who expressed his loyalty to the Maharaja insisted on the Ruler leave his State, Sardar Patel had to convince Hari Singh to issue a Proclamation on 20 June 1949 appointing the Yuvraj Karn Singh as his Regent during his stay outside the State.
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Photo line: Maharaja Hari Singh meets Sardar Patel