Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru as India’s first and longest-serving Prime Minister has had an immense influence on modern India. The decisions taken by him, many of them monumental, still affect national identity, polity and culture of the nation. Such is the influence that their descendants still hold immense sway in Indian politics with them holdings important positions in both the main political parties in Indian politics. These descendants, especially those in the Indian National Congress (“Congress”) have numerous times taken the support of Nehru’s standing to gain further legitimacy for their themselves. Meanwhile, opponents have attacked such attempts and highlighted the issue of ‘dynastic politics’ and in attempts to dislodge them have sought to damage the credibility of Nehru himself. Kashmir has been one of the most politically challenging issues in India and Nehru’s role in the shaping of the region has been monumental.
In light of this influence, there has been an increasing scrutiny of Nehru’s tenure and his appointment himself with various theories doing the rounds on social media. This Independence Day we look at key highlights of Nehru’s tenure as India’s first Prime Minister and analyse them in their contemporary setting and their impact on modern India. The purpose is it to provide factual clarity, clear myths and prompt debate.
Kashmir and the UN
Jawaharlal Nehru has been criticized for “internationalizing” the Kashmir issue by taking it from the battlefield to the United Nations. This, in a situation where not only the Indian troops but also frontline tanks were airlifted to Kashmir and had already turned the tide of the war decisively. Indian planes took off from Delhi on the 27th October and by 8th November, 1948 had not only secured Srinagar but also freed Uri and Baramulla from the “tribals”. Pakistan has on their part has always maintained that Muslims (mainly Pathans) from all over Pakistan felt betrayed and came to protect their Muslim bretheren. However, this has been strongly challenged by India and even supported by neutral scholars, who acknowledged Pakistani Amry’s involvement to say the least. However, for the sake of brevity, the term “tribals” have been used throughout the article.
A Viable Solution for Kashmir?
Once the princely state had been cleared of rebels, Nehru on the advice of the then Governor-General Lord Mountbatten decided to take the help of the United Nations in clearing the rest of Kashmir of the enemy. India had already cleared the area which used to be under the direct control of the princely state and had anticipated much more resistance in areas like Poonch and Gilgit-Baltistan where even the British officers were openly supporting the rebellion. Decades of mismanagement had angered the local populace and there was genuine opposition to Hari Singh in these areas despite the fighters being ethnic Pashtuns being brought in by the Pakistani military. Furthermore, the Pakistani army was now directly in the battlefield which may have led to unnecessary bloodshed and costs so monumental that both newly independent nations would have come unhinged.
From the Indian perspective, the accession was legal, and a popular leader, atleast in Srinagar, as in charge in Kashmir and the illusion of tribals rebelling had already dissipated. For them, there was no reason to believe that the UN would rule otherwise as they had all the requirements for a state: territory, people, institutions, the sovereign and the law on their side. India at this juncture, was already in control of more than 2/3rd of the Jammu and Kashmir state and the Indian Army had cemented their positions firmly despite a spirited attack by the Pakistani Army. Rather than escalate a fiery situation by using the Indian military, a neutral party can remove such infiltrators saving India lives, money and provide legitimacy and recognition for India while the Pakistani Army would be forced to back down.
India received the first shock at the United Nation when the question was rephrased from the “Jammu-Kashmir Question” to the “India-Pakistan Question” This is widely attributed to the oratory skills of Sir Zafrullah Khan, Pakistani representative, however, Cold War politics played a significant part in the modification. This put India on the back foot as India had sought UN assistance in removing the Pakistani forces now that Kashmir had formally ceded to the Indian Union. The rephrasing of the question brought into factors which India considered irrelevant to the decision on Kashmir.
Undoubtedly taking the Kashmir issue was a mistake not only in hindsight but also considering the global political scenario at the time. The Muslim League was always the favoured entity and the British partisanship continued in the form of support to the Pakistani position. It was the British that had given support and legitimacy to the Muslim League but also did nothing to stop the Direct Action Day, which culminated in the Partition of India. Their policy of “divide and rule” was based on supporting the Muslim League against the popular Indian National Congress.
Muslims, Pathans and Punjabi in particular, were considered as a “martial race“, people who were considered able at warfare. British policies at the time were heavily influenced by such thought and consequently, Pakistan was considered as a better “security” partner. In addition, India’s Non-Alignment Policy was viewed with suspicion in the West and Congress’ appreciation and close relationship with the Soviet Union, made Pakistan seem a more reliable partner in the emerging Cold War scenario. The partisanship at the UN felt like a betrayal considering the fact that it was India’s Governor-General Mountbatten who had pushed for a UN-backed position.
The Unsolvable Problem
Jinnah and Liaquat Khan had also made the problem impossible to solve diplomatically as they considered the Kashmir issue existentially. Both Jinnah and Liaquat Khan were “mohajirs“ (Pakistanis who had come from India) and were married to non-Muslims. The struggle for Kashmir became their way of proving their commitment to the Muslim or Pakistani cause (as the Pakistani populace viewed the struggle in Kashmir in religious terms).
It was naivety to think that the United Nations would be an impartial forum and adjudicator. The United States had effectively taken control of the body and were running it in conjunction with the British. It was due to this very reason that Jinnah agreed to UN-backed plebiscite while completely rejecting them when Junagarh was in question. Jinnah realised that a popular plebiscite would be won by India considering that most populated areas supported India and the Muslim League had very little support in the region. They then began to delegitimise Sheikh Abdullah who had popular support amongst the people and refused to conduct a plebiscite under his supervision. It has been stated by numerous scholars that Nehru had an undeserving admiration for the United Nations as an independent forum for the international community. This blind spot towards the UN did leave the Kashmir issue in a limbo.
This is not to say that Nehru did not understand the complexity of the Kashmir issue. The letter parts of which were produced in Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi as follows shows the current Indian policy as well.
“It is of the most vital importance that Kashmir should remain within the Indian Union . . . But however much we may want this, it cannot be done ultimately except through the goodwill of the mass of the population. Even if military forces held Kashmir for a while, a later consequence might be a strong reaction against this. Essentially, therefore, this is a problem of psychological approach to the mass of the people and of making them feel they will be benefited by being in the Indian Union. If the average Muslim feels that he has no safe or secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere. Our basic policy must keep this in view, or else we fail”.
Nehru’s faith in multilateral institutions definitely backfired. The move also led to an increasing alienation with the West and led to attempts to create a pan Asian movement which could counter the Western influence in multilateral institutions. It pushed India towards China and the USSR. The above will be discussed in the next part.
Views are personal.
Image credits: United Nations Archives
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Saarthak Singhal is currently pursuing law from National Law University, Jodhpur and is a founding editor at ELS Review.