It has been more than two years that A G Noorani’s important book ‘Article 370 : A Constitutional History of J and K’ (OUP, 2011, Pages 480) has hit the stands and has been able to clear many a confusions about the tumultuous era in post independence times pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir.
Basing himself on authentic documents, letters, memorandums, white papers, proclamations and amendments the author, a constitutional expert himself, has not only provided new insights about the period but has also tried to bring forth an important summary of the developments then and the role played by different stakeholders. While we have been witness to a process of erosion of the article 370 today, the book underscores the politics behind its erosion, which was negotiated between Prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah and had a stamp of approval from Sardar Patel and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.
For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which daily invokes name of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh – percursor to its present incarnation namely BJP – to oppose Article 370 which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir – this exposure that the said Article had full approval from Mukherjee as well as then Home Minister Sardar Patel is nothing but blasphemous. Despite its important bearing on its overall posturing, one is yet to come across any strong rebuttal from the saffron quarters to this claim barring its usual rhetoric which says that it is an “[a]ttempt to distort history at the behest of separatist friendly pseudo-secularists and pseudo-intellectuals.” Interestingly while lashing out at the contents of the book, Mr Jitendra Singh, the then spokesperson of BJP for J & K and its National Executive member had rather indirectly acknowledged what the author wanted to convey by stating that “[T]he late leader had suggested to first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to put a time-bound rider on ‘Article 370’ and specify for how long it was being envisaged,” (http://www.siasat.com/english/news/shyama-prasad-mukherjee-never-endorsed-article-370).
It is worth emphasising that this is not for the first time that Dr Mukherjee’s consent to full autonomy to Kashmir has come up. In his write-up in ‘The Greater Kashmir’ (http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2010/aug/8/leaf-from-the-past-4.asp) Mr Balraj Puri, the veteran journalist from the state had provided further details about the same:
“[S]hyama Prasad’s prolonged triangular correspondence with Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah on the status of the State, which was published at that time by the party, is the most authentic evidence of his stand on the issue. In his letter dated January 9, 1953 to both of them, for instance, he wrote: “We would readily agree to treat the valley with Sheikh Abdullah as the head in any special manner and for such time as he would like but Jammu and Ladakh must be fully integrated with India.” While Nehru rejected the idea straightway warning against its repercussions in Kashmir and its international implications, Abdullah sent a detailed reply in which he, inter alia, said. “You are perhaps not unaware of the attempts that are being made by Pakistan and other interested quarters to force a decision for disrupting the unity of the State. Once the ranks of the State people are divided, any solution can be foisted on them.”
He further adds that the prolonged correspondence is concluded with Dr. Mukherjee’s letter to Pandit Nehru on February 17, 1953, in which he suggested.
1. “Both parties reiterate that the unity of the State will be maintained and that the principle of autonomy will apply to the province of Jammu and also to Ladakh and Kashmir Valley.
2. Implementation of Delhi agreement—which granted special status to the State—will be made at the next session of Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly.”
Nehru replied that proposal for autonomy to the three provinces had been agreed by him and Abdullah in July 1952. If Mukerjee had realised his mistake, he should withdraw the agitation unconditionally. Mukherjee was unwilling to do it as it amounted to surrender. The deadlock prolonged over some way which could provide, what may be called, a face saving to the Jana Sangh.
It is important to note that after the sudden death of Mukherjee, Nehru had appealed to the people of Jammu to withdraw their agitation as their demand for regional autonomy had been conceded. The State government endorsed the appeal on July 2, when Praja Parishad leaders were released who went to Delhi where they met Nehru on July 3. Thus the Praja Parishad agitation was withdrawn on the assurance of regional autonomy and immediate implementation of the Delhi Agreement.
But there are number of ifs and buts. One factor which prevented its implementation was that Praja Parishad and Jana Sangh backed out of it. According to Balraj Madhok, who later on became the president of the Jana Sangh, the party withdrew its commitment to the State autonomy and regional autonomy under the directive from Nagpur (the RSS headquarters).The party continued a ceaseless campaign against regional autonomy and Article 370.
Anyway, it is upto the dedicated followers of late Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, to either refute the facts mentioned by Mr Noorani and Mr Balraj Puri and many others or go on peddling hagiography as history as they have been doing for the last umpteen years. Not some time back while addressing meetings on Mr Mukherjee’s sixteeth death anniversary L K Advani – the ex Deputy Prime Minister of India and Narendra Modi – Chief Minister of Gujarat, and many of their fellow travelers repeated the same thing about him and even emphasised if the government then had heeded to Mukherjee’s opposition to the said Article, Kashmir would have been in a different situation right now.
Definitely in a democracy everybody has a right to have her/his opinion and it is not possible or even expected that there would be consensus on every other issue. One expects that sooner or later wisdom will dawn upon them or to put it otherwise they will rise up from the collective amnesia with which they seem to be inflicted with today and get ready to confront the acts of omission and commission on part of their leaders.
Looking at the fact that there is a very weak tradition of reading (as well as writing) within the larger Hindutva fraternity – which believes more in ‘action’ – the possibility seems very remote. In fact any student of the trajectory of Hindutva brigade in our country would provide many examples where members of the BJP and the larger fraternity have been found to be not reading literature prepared by their own people in a state where they themselves were holding reins of power and were compelled to withdraw books when they found themselves in uncomfortable situation.
An example from then NDA ruled Orissa is quite illustrative where the prescribed textbook prepared under the guidance of the education minister who was himself its own member had clubbed BJP with Lashkar-e-Toiba (In NDA Orissa, a textbook equates BJP with Lashkar, JEEVAN MUKUNDAN : BHUBANESWAR, FEB 1, Sat Feb 02 2008, 01:23 hrs)
The chapter on the ‘Existence of Terrorist Organisations’ in a textbook on ‘Indian Polity’ for second-year degree students in Orissa says: “Terrorist organizations create tension in in the country. Communal parties like the BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hurriyat Conference and Laskhar-e-Taiba are responsible for fermenting violence… leading to the killing of hundreds in the country and especially Kashmir.”
The BJP is part of the ruling coalition in the state and its leader Samir Dey is the minister for higher education. Worse, the textbook has been taught here since 2003. The textbook is written by Amarendra Mohanty and Shyama Charan Mohanty and published by a Cuttack-based publisher Kitab Mahal.
It may be noted here that it took five years for the BJP to notice this comparison and that’s only when a party worker in Salepur first lodged a FIR. A highly embarrassed government immediately announced a monitoring committee to screen all textbooks while BJP workers took to the streets and burnt copies of the book.
Or, look at this ‘mysterious withdrawal’ of one of the 16 volumes of an official account of the Jana Sangh-BJP history, four months after it was released as part of the silver jubilee celebrations. (A volume of Jana Sangh-BJP history account withdrawn, Express news service , Express news service : NEW DELHI, MAY 8, Tue May 09 2006, 02:33 hrs)
..The series, written by historian Makhan Lal under the supervision of senior BJP leader J P Mathur, carry a foreword by Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L K Advani.
While no one has come forward to object to the sixth volume of The History of Jana Sangh or pin-point the objectionable portions, sources claimed the book was withdrawn after senior leaders noticed some controversial references to Muslims. There was confirmation of the sale of the controversial volume having been stopped.
…Makhan Lal told The Indian Express he had no knowledge of the volume being withdrawn or any of its contents meeting with an objection. Sources close to Advani claimed that he had written a general foreword for the whole series obviously without reading every single volume.
One can just have just best wishes for Mr Advani, ex Prime Minister in waiting as well as Mr Modi, would be Prime Minister in waiting, that they are able to dust off some history books, from their otherwise busy schedule.
If at all the saffrons are able to undertake this arduous journey they will be confronted with another set of troubling questions regarding Shyamaprasad Mukherjee’s political journey before independence and their continuous valorization of his legacy.
Born in 190, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee started his political leader in 1929 and became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1939 to espouse the cause of the Hindus in India and was a close associate of Savarkar. He was the opposition leader in the state when a coalition government led by Krishak Praja Party – Muslim League coalition was in power 1937-41. Later he joined the Ministry headed by Fazlul Haq as a Finance Minister and continued sharing power during the tumultuous times of the ‘Quit India’ movement when the Britishers faced mortal challenge to their rule. The experiment to share power with Muslim League then was not limited to Bengal alone, it extended to Sind and as well as NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and was part of a conscious policy adopted by the Hindu Mahasabha.
Defending this power sharing Savarkar had said :
..in practical politics also the Mahasabha knows that we must advance through reasonable compromises. Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind Hindu Sabha on invitation had taken the responsibility of joining hands with the League itself in running coalition government.The case of Bengal is well known. Wild Leaguers whom even the Congress with all its submissiveness could not placate grew quite reasonably compromising and socialble as soon as they came in contact with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Coalition government , under the premiership of Mr Fazlul Haq and the able lead of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities.
( V.D.Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya Hindu Rasthra Darshan ( Collected works of V.D.Savarkar) Vol VI, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, p 479-480)
Prof Shamsul Islam, in his well researched book ‘Religious Dimensions of Indian Nationalism : A Study of RSS’ (Media House, Delhi, 2006) describes how ‘[H]indu Mahasabha and the Muslim League had a coalition government in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) also.’ (Page 313) He quotes Baxter : ‘In the Frontier, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan formed a ministry which combined Muslim Leaguers, Sikh Akalis and Mahasabhaites, and placed the Congress led by Dr Khan Sahib temporarily in the opposition. The Mahasabha member of the Cabinet was Finance Minister Mehar Chand Khanna.’ (Craig Baxter, The Jan Sangh : A Biography of an Indian Political Party, (Philadelphia : University of Pennysylvania Press, 1969, P. 20).
It is now history how in 1942 when the Britishers were engaged in the World War II and the Congress’s call for ‘Quit India’ reverberated throughout India, thousands of people engaged in government jobs including police and military left their jobs to protest continuation of British regime, the formations espousing the cause of Hindutva adopted a compromising attitude. While the RSS preferred to keep itself aloof from the ‘Quit India Movement’, Savarkar, then Supremo of Hindu Mahasabha went one step further. At that time Savarkar preferred to tour India asking Hindu youth to join the military with a call ‘Militarise the Hindus, Hinduise the nation’ .. thus strengthening British efforts to suppress the rising tide of people’s movement.
Savarkar’s address to the twenty fourth session of Hindu Mahasabha at Kanpur is worth quoting where he outlined Hindu Mahasabha’s ‘policy of responsive cooperation’ with the British rule.
The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of responsive cooperation. And in virtue of it, it believes that all those Hindu Sangathanists who are working as councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies with a view to utilise those centres of government power […] are rendering a highly patriotic service to our nation. [..] The policy of responsive cooperation which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance, will also keep adapting itself to the exigencies of the time, resources at our disposal and dictates of our national interest.
( V.D.Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya Hindu Rasthra Darshan ( Collected works of V.D.Savarkar) Vol VI, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, p 474)
In fact, Savarkar was of the opinion that with banning of Congress in 1942 and its removal from “..[t]he political field as an open organisation..the Hindu Mahasabha alone was left to take up the task of conducting whatever ‘Indian National’ activities lay within its scope.’ (do – Page 475)
As a close associate of Savarkar, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, who later became President of Hindu Mahasabha in 1944, was a party to all these decisions and had no qualms in British efforts to suppress people’s movement against the British rule. In his book ‘History of Modern Bengal’ Ramesh Chandra Mazumdar provides details of his letter to the then Bengal Governor on suggesting measures against the Quit India Movement. According to him
“[S]hyam Prasad ended the letter with a discussion of the mass movement organised by the Congress. He expressed the apprehension that the movement would create internal disorder and will endanger internal security during the war by exciting popular feeling and he opined that any government in power has to suppress it, but that according to him could not be done only by persecution…. In that letter he mentioned item wise the steps to be taken for dealing with the situation …. ” (Ramesh Ch. Mazumdar, History of Modern Bengal, Part II, pp 350-351).