Guest post by SAMEER BHAT
Autumn wind rustled in the terrified vale. In the chimneys of Srinagar, nestling birds shuffled. A DC-3 Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Airplane (called Dakota in brief) was heard in the sky around 8.15 in the morning. The dull camouflage paint suggested that the propeller-driven plane belonged to the Royal Air Force (gifted to the newly formed Dominion of India). Commandeered by Biju Patniak (who later went on to become the CM of Orrisa), the DC-3 had 17 soldiers of 1-Sikh regiment on board. The bumpy flight had just crossed Pir Panchal and was going to significantly alter the course of history in the subcontinent. Its first attempt to land on the ramshackle Srinagar airstrip was not successful.
Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, the commanding officer of the party was getting edgy.
He asked the pilot to fly low on the airstrip again, this time, to ensure that no raiders were around. Also since the first hasty attempt to land was abortive, Plan B was to turn back to Delhi. Instructions from PM Nehru’s office were clear: If the airport was taken over by the enemy, you are not to land. Taking a full circle the DC-3 flew ground level. Anxious eye-balls peered from inside the aircraft – only to find the airstrip empty. Nary a soul was in sight. The raider party – also called Tariq’s raiders (after Gen Mohammad Akbar Khan of Pakistan’s 13 Frontier Force Rifles, codenamed Gen Tariq) were busy distributing the war booty amongst them in Baramulla.
Four days ago the fiercely combative Afridi tribals with active help from the Pakistan army, galvanized by reports of the mass murder of Muslims in Jammu, attacked Kashmir. Codename: Operation Gulmarg. Everything went according to plan for the Pakistanis. A few hours after the daredevil blitzkrieg was launched on October 24, 1947, Muzaffarabad fell. On October 25 the tribal militia, backed by regular army troopers, reached Uri. By evening the tiny town was captured. Mirpur and Poonch looked vulnerable. The Maharaja’s troopers were absolutely no match. The Pakistani onslaught was ferocious, sudden and swift. By the morning of October 26, 1947 the advancing squad was knocking at the doors of Baramulla. By afternoon the most important township in north Kashmir was taken. The same evening a feeble Hari Singh fled Srinagar, anticipating savage raiders – any moment — to drag him out of his Hari Niwas palace to impale him.
Ofcourse the moment never came. The uncouth raiders in the words of Gen Mohammad Akbar Khan (Brigadier-in-Charge, Pakistan, in War for Kashmir in 1947) himself: ‘Delayed in Baramulla for two (whole) days for some unknown reason’. The loot and orgy in Baramulla continued well into the morning of October 27, 1947. Around that same time the DC-3 hovered over the airspace of the still independent Kashmir. Later Indian claims that its forces landed on the Srinagar airport — only after signatures on the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja and the Indian government were obtained — is riddled with some confusion and disputed. Be as it may the Dakota quietly touched down, almost unnoticed at 8.30am. For the first time — ever — India was in Kashmir to help. Sometimes in history friends can cook up a storm.
A total of 704 sorties right from the morning of October 27, 1947 till November 17, 1947 meant that the tribals were totally routed by the more professional Indian army. PM Nehru was ecstatic. On November 2, 1947, the PM spoke to the nation from All India Radio. Nehru was pointed: [Quote] We are anxious not to finalize anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide — And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir. [Unquote]
The matter went to the UN which announced a ceasefire of hostilities, pending a plebiscite. Pakistan still holds onto a part of Kashmir. The Indian army continues to increase its footprint in Kashmir and at present constitutes the highest military-civilian ratio anywhere in the known world.
63 years later, the battle for Kashmir wages on.
Postscript: Col Rai was killed in Kashmir a day after he landed. Gen Tariq was jailed under the Rawalpindi conspiracy case but was later released and went on to become the chief of national security under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
(Sameer Bhat is a journalist.)