By M J Akbar
Mountbatten, as governor general, and Nehru, as prime minister, did not let Pakistan seize by armed force what should have been negotiated over a table. They ensured the legality of the Indian response to aggression through the instrument of accession and then supervised the Indian Army action that drove the invaders out of most of Kashmir.Would we remember August 15 if it were not a holiday? Admit it: most of us are feeling vaguely cheated that it falls on a Sunday this year. Its rituals have fallen flat, tripped by boredom and repetition.
A more interesting question: did we actually become independent on August 15, 1947? No. This truth has been carefully screened behind a mist of sentiment and the symbolism of the rising tricolour on a pole where once flew the Union Jack. What we got in 1947 was dominion status, under the Government of India Act of 1935, amended by the British Parliament in 1947 to create two dominions instead of one. At the apex of their polity, India and Pakistan would have a governor general, appointed by the British monarch in consultation with Delhi and Karachi.
Jawaharlal Nehru, with commendable foresight, asked the last viceroy, Mountbatten, to continue, and gave him a role in the executive as chairman of the Cabinet's defence committee. This was hard-headed, not sentimental, since the commanders of the Indian armed services were British, as were senior officers: transition would take time. This single decision would pay historic dividends in Jammu and Kashmir. Mountbatten wanted to be named governor general of Pakistan as well, but Jinnah chose to become Pakistan's first British appointment, rather than his country's first prime minister.
India became a sovereign nation on January 26, 1950 when it adopted a Constitution and held an election that gave India its first adult franchise government. In Pakistan, there was much squalid politics, with governments being dismissed arbitrarily, before it got a Constitution in 1956, soon usurped by a military coup. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, united Bengal's last premier and the law minister who piloted the Constitution through the assembly, tells an amusing story in his memoirs. In May 1953, Governor General Ghulam Mohammad, dismissed Pakistan's first Bengali prime minister, Khwaja Nazimuddin, just after he had proved his majority in the legislature, apparently because Nazimuddin was about to reduce the strength of the army by 30,000 men. Ghulam Mohammad took care to cut Nazimuddin's telephone line to prevent him from appealing to Queen Elizabeth for a reversal of the dismissal. Such action would have been within her legal rights.
Do these anachronisms of history matter?
They matter so much that blood is still being spilt in Jammu and Kashmir.
Partition divided India and Pakistan in 1947, but did not resolve the status of the two largest princely states, Kashmir and Hyderabad. The Hindu maharaja of Muslim-majority Kashmir and the Muslim Nizam of Hindu-majority Hyderabad thought, for reasons they never made very clear, that they could remain independent. A little after Partition, Nehru wrote to Mountbatten that the best time for discussions on the future of Kashmir would be after the spring thaw of 1948 since his government was overburdened by the bitter aftermath of riots and resettlement.
Pakistan pre-empted a peaceful settlement in 1948 by organizing an invasion thinly disguised as an "uprising", in October 1946. If Pakistan had not sought to seize Kashmir through war, the Kashmir problem would have been resolved across a table in 1948. The Act granting dominion status to India and Pakistan did not envisage independence for any princely state. Britain still had a legitimate presence on the subcontinent.
Mountbatten, as governor general, and Nehru, as prime minister, did not let Pakistan seize by armed force what should have been negotiated over a table. They ensured the legality of the Indian response to aggression through the instrument of accession and then supervised the Indian Army action that drove the invaders out of most of Kashmir.
When, in response, Jinnah ordered the Pakistan army to join the war, he discovered the limitations of his power in a dominion. Acting chief of the Pakistan army, General Sir Douglas Gracey refused to take orders from Jinnah. His army joined the war only in the spring of 1948, after a quiet nod from London.
Mountbatten was, of course, also the man who pushed Nehru into referring Kashmir to the United Nations. It is ironical that his reputation is now stained on both sides of the border. In Pakistan, he is vilified as the biased viceroy who favoured Nehru's India for public and personal reasons; in India, he is the UN-villain. Such was the fate of do-gooders whose best intentions were a trifle out of step with reality. The Kashmir story has now moved beyond the UN, plebiscites and even the India-Pakistan war. War solved nothing and wrought nothing but misery in 1947; it can only inflict havoc today. There is only one lesson, if indeed anyone has time for history's moral science. The war that Pakistan began is a recipe for disaster; the negotiations that Nehru and Mountbatten wanted are still the only option.
( Times of India column)