I have been a fan of the Aman ki Asha initiative for a while now. Peace is indeed the only sane answer to our international squabbles. The two countries have much to gain from pacifying their relationship and discouraging/ignoring mindsets that dictate otherwise. That said, there are issues; those that are and will remain prerequisites to lasting peace. The most important amongst these is of course Kashmir.

The brilliant thing about history is that it cannot be altered. Yes, there can be many sides to an argument, different angles to a conclusion but events that existed and were recorded, remain so as they were. This column today would be a retelling of history, one where events will dictate the narrative.

Ideally Muslim majority states were to join Pakistan in 1947 and Hindu majority states were to become part of India. However, the geography of the subcontinent could not be ignored in claiming accession. When asked, the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten suggested that: “Normally geographical situation and communal interests and so forth will be the factors to be considered”. While drawing the boundaries, Radcliffe was also instructed to cater to economic realities of the different locations, lest not to repeat conditions resembling the pre-partition Bengal of the late 19th century.

Around 560 states existed when the two countries were born. Earlier, Article 7 of Indian Independence Act had already stipulated the independence of the princely states. As per this stipulation, they were not legally obliged to join either of the new dominions. However, Lord Listowel, the secretary of state at the time, made clear that: “We do not, of course, propose to recognizse any states as separate international entities”.

With that the fate of the 560 states stood in the balance. They had to decide between either of the two new nations. For most the choice was natural and easy. By 15 August 1947 all states with the exception of Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir had acceded to either of the two countries. It is the fate of these three states, which is of utmost importance in this write-up.

The state of Junagadh was spread over 4,000 square miles and had a population estimated to be 0.8 million. The state had a Muslim ruler who ruled over a population which was 80% Hindu. On 15th August, the government of the state declared its accession to Pakistan which the latter accepted. Lord Mountbatten, then the Governor General of India, protested the accession saying that it was “…in utter violation of principles on which the partition of India had been agreed upon and affected”. The Indian government strongly rejected the accession on the grounds of the state’s land and human geography realities. The state, it was argued, was contiguous to India and the majority population was Hindu. India further demanded that the accession should be decided via a plebiscite conducted jointly by the Junagadh and Indian government.

September 17, 1947 saw the deployment of Indian troops on Junagadh’s borders. The borders were soon penetrated and a forced plebiscite was conducted. According to Indian records, an overwhelming majority voted in favor of India. After the plebiscite, the state acceded to India.

Hyderabad’s case also resembled that of Junagadh. 85% of its population were Hindus however the ruler was Muslim. The Nizam of Hyderabad wanted either to declare independence or to join Pakistan. The Indian government reacted sharply to this proposition. There was considerable political pressure on the Nawab to reconsider his choice. Some historical accounts claim that bullying by the Indian government pushed the Nawab to seek urgent attention of the UN Security council on August 24, 1947. However, before his appeal could be taken up, the Indian army occupied it on the pretext of “danger of communal disorders spreading to India”.

A third case of the ‘supremacy of populace opinion’ can be taken of the State of Jodhpur. The rule of the state wanted to join Pakistan however after being warned by Lord Mountbatten that such an accession would “be in conflict with the principles underlying the Partition of India on the basis of Muslim and Non-muslim majority areas”. The Mahraja, recognising this predicament, agreed to accede to India.

The above 3 cases are recorded in history and need to be looked at before developing an opinion on both the logic of the plebiscite and indeed the fate of Kashmir. They provide the layman the opportunity to compare and contrast similar scenarios and recognise how decisions pertaining to Kashmir are of abnormal nature.

This column will be continued in subsequent weeks. Today forms the basis of the argument and provides a foundation of exercise’s conclusion. For now, I would suggest the readers to take some time out and read Dr. Ijaz Hussain’s ‘Kashmir Dispute: An international Law Perspective’, indeed a necessary read for anyone who seeks to understand the Kashmir question.