Kashmir had never really integrated with the British Indian empire. It had relished itself for its sovereignty and independence. Gulab Singh had expanded his rule over Kashmir as compared to his predecessor, Ranjit Singh, by buying the valley from the British in 1846 for a sum of 7.5 million rupees.

At the time of the partition, Muslims constituted 78% of the population of Kashmir with 93% muslims across the whole Kashmir valley. Ruled by the Muslims from the 14th century onwards, Muslim culture was deeply ingrained in the valley. Hence, when the choice of declaring accession came, the majority naturally found comfort in choosing Pakistan due to their common religion.

However, religion alone was not the only factor. The population had links with areas, which eventually became part of Pakistan. One example of this connection is that the only road and rail link, which could be used for trade, connected Kashmir to Rawalpindi and Sialkot. Similarly, timber cut from the valleys of Kashmir could only be drifted down through Jhelum river, which again passed through Pakistan. In the same manner, most of its telegraphic and postal infrastructure was based across areas that became part of Pakistan. All of this implied that most of Kashmir’s tourist activities, commercial trade and business endeavours passed through Pakistan. The people too recognised each other and had a firm bond with each other.

British’s involvement in World War II cost Kashmir dearly. It lost considerable capital and political leverage in India. In its declaration of war, the British did not consult Indian leaders. However, given how their armies relied heavily on Indian footmen, they imposed their decisions onto the Indian population. India was dragged into a war, which made little sense to its people. They had their own problems to cater to. The Muslim League and the Congress had gained more supporters and were both strong parties. Their division over matters of national importance meant the recognition of the Hindu-Muslim divide. Indeed there were some strong voices, which condemned their actions from elements that fought hard to either unite the two, or rebuff anyone who would propagate a division of India. However, politicians from the parties had learnt from their mistakes. When the opportunity knocked at their doors, they took full advantage of it.

When the war was imposed onto British India, the Congress was in power. Nehru and Gandhi, infuriated at not being consulted, started protesting against the British. Congress governments across India resigned. There was confusion over to how to deal with the situation. Some voices, an important one amongst them being Subhas Chandra’s, rallied for a union with the enemies of the British, particularly Japan.

When Singapore fell in 1942, Gandhi foresaw, as did many others, the eventual demise of British rule in its colonies. However, he was more worried on the possibility of a Japanese takeover of India. The populace had long suffered the rule of an alien mercantilist. It would be disastrous if the British rulers were to be replaced by Japanese rulers. The only way out of this, according to Gandhi, was to gain a certain degree of favour in the eyes of the Japanese. This would have allowed Gandhi to strike a deal with the Japanese if the situation was to come to it. With that in mind, Gandhi started vocally opposing the British, not only for going to war but in fact for their lack of authority over the Indian subcontinent. The wartime coalitions of London sent Stafford Cripps to mitigate the tensions and to woo the Congress back. A mass movement would further weaken them at time of war. It is said that Cripps offered a ‘blank cheque’, one that could be used after the war. At this Gandhi famously replied: “What is the point of a blank cheque from a bank that is already failing?”

In August 1942, the Congress launched the Quit India Movement which eventually triggered a tidal wave of civil disobedience across the country. There were mass movements across India where even non-supporters forces with the Congress to express their angst. There were shutdowns of commercial areas and most of these movements, as had been witnessed earlier in the Kilafat movement, turned violent. Most Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru, were arrested.

At this same time, the Muslim League backed the war effort and appeased the weakened British. Muslim leaders were of the belief that this last minute support would take them a long way in making the partition favourable for them.

It was in such times when the question of Kashmir was centre stage. What happened next was influenced by these troubled times.

The author is a freelance writer based in Islamabad.

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