How Sheikh Abdullah’s note to Nehru saved Kashmir from falling into the hands of Pakistan

The October 26, 1947, meeting at Nehru’s residence would eventually decide the future of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Give army, take accession and give whatever powers you want to give to the popular party (National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah), but the army must fly to Srinagar this evening, otherwise I will go and negotiate terms with Mr (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah (the Pakistan leader) as the city must be saved,” beseeched Jammu and Kashmir’s then Prime Minister Mehar Chand Mahajan to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

It was October 26, 1947, and the meeting in Nehru’s residence would eventually decide the future of Jammu and Kashmir.

Angered by Mahajan’s threat, Nehru told the J&K PM, “Mahajan, Go away.”

As Mahajan got up to leave the room, Patel detained him and said in his ear, “Of course, Mahajan, you are not going to Pakistan.”

Mahajan’s threat to go to Lahore to sign deal with Jinnah hung in the air; then a piece of paper was passed to the Prime Minister.

“Sheikh Abdullah, who was staying in the Prime Minister’s house, was overhearing the talks. Sensing a critical moment, he sent in a slip of paper to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister read it and said that what I (Mahajan) was saying was also the view of Sheikh Sahib,” recollects Mahajan. “His (Nehru’s) attitude changed completely.”

Abdullah, who wanted to head a civilian government in the state, was also totally against Jinnah and opposed to the idea of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.

Mahajan’s recollections and the telling account of the accession of Kashmir to India comes from his autobiography ‘Looking Back’ that was first published in 1963 and is being republished now, 23 years after its last publication in 1995.

“I decided to republish an updated version of the book since the past, present and future of Kashmir is of great importance for the country and the Indian subcontinent. The updated version has two new chapters that were not part of the book when it was last published. The new chapters, written by Mahajan himself, have been provided to me by his family,” said Narendra Kumar, chairman of Har-Anand Publications.

The new chapters give an inside account of Kashmir’s accession of India and on the demand for a plebiscite in the state.

A notable lawyer in pre-independence Punjab, Mahajan was appointed a judge of the Punjab high court in 1943. He was a member of the Radcliffe Commission, formed to demarcate the boundary between India and Pakistan following the partition and also of the Royal India Navy Mutiny Commission of 1948. 

Most importantly, he was J&K’s Prime Minister between October 1947 and March of the following year when Sheikh Abdullah succeeded him. Later, Mahajan became a Supreme Court judge and retired as the Chief Justice of India in 1954.

“As per my understanding, Mahajan is the only one among the protagonists of the episode who has left us with the written account of the extremely crucial meeting and his integrity is unimpeachable,” says Dr Karan Singh, son of then Kashmir ruler Maharaja Hari Singh.

Giving the background of the crucial October 26 meeting when the destiny of Kashmir was decided, Mahajan wrote that by October 24, 1947, tribal raiders from Pakistan had reached the borders of Srinagar.

In the summer of 1947, Hari Singh had toyed with the idea of remaining independent, a kind of Switzerland of Asia, but with Pakistan showing its hand by organising a raid on the state, the Dogra King was left with no option but to accede to India. He dispatched his deputy Prime Minister Ram Lal Batra to Delhi with the proposal of accession.

Singh sent two personal letters as well for Prime Minister Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel, seeking military help. But despite Batra reaching Delhi, there was no comforting sign of Indian military landing in Srinagar.

Meanwhile, Jinnah had decided to celebrate Eid at Srinagar. Mahajan writes that Jinnah ordered his British commander-in-chief to march two brigades of the Pakistani army into J&K on October 27, one from Rawalpindi and the other from Sialkot.

The Sialkot brigade was to take Jammu and capture Hari Singh while the Rawalpindi brigade was to reach Srinagar but the British officer refused to march the troops of one dominion to fight those of another dominion (of the UK) without consulting the supreme commander of both the dominions.

Then came the events of October 26.

The Supreme Commander Claude Auchinleck told Jinnah on October 26 that Kashmir had decided to accede to India, which therefore had the right to send troops at Maharaja’s request. Jinnah then cancelled his orders.

The next morning, the Indian army landed in Srinagar following the offer of accession as well as the Maharaja’s promise to consider handing over power to Sheikh Abdullah.

A few days later, as per the desire of Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah was sworn in as head of emergency administration and few months later as the Prime Minister of the state.