The Story of Kashmir’s integration with India
Lt-General Maharaja Hari Singh, whose great-grandfather Gulab Singh purchased the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the British for a sum of Rs 75 lakh, ascended to the throne on September 23, 1925.
By the time of Independence, he was the ruler of the biggest state in India with international boundaries with four countries. Convinced that he would be able to make his state a tourism heaven like Switzerland, Gulab Singh refused to accede to either India or Pakistan.
On October 22, Pakistan launched Operation Gulmarg, an armed invasion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the help of lashkars (battalions) comprising tribals and army regulars. By the time Gulab Singh came to know of the Pakistani blitz, the lashkars had already captured the important town of Muzaffarabad and were on the outskirts of Uri, barely 100 miles from the capital city of Srinagar. An open, unguarded road lay ahead of the lashkars. Had the tribals not wasted three days in an orgy of loot, rape and murder in Baramulla, 67 km from the capital, Pakistan’s lashkars would have captured the Kashmir valley.
As part of our series on Operation Gulmarg, today we revisit the events that led to Kashmir’s SOS to India and how New Delhi mounted a quick defence to keep the Pakistani’s out of Srinagar
Maharaja Hari Singh saves himself and Kashmir from Pakistani raiders
Uploaded 28 November, 2020
Kashmir’s future regent, the 17-year-old Prince Karan Singh Dogra, was convalescing in the Srinagar Palace after an injury to his leg when he first heard that his father, Hari Singh, had decided to flee Srinagar.
The young prince was expecting an emergency evacuation ever since the palace plunged into darkness during the Navratri celebrations and the Maharaja was told Pakistani lashkars had reached Baramulla and could be in Srinagar any minute.
The Maharaja had already sent an SOS to the Indian government. On his request, VP Menon, secretary to Sardar Patel, had landed in Srinagar with two persons, one of them the future Indian army hero Sam Maneckshaw, to discuss Kashmir’s defence.
Karan Singh would return to Srinagar again. But his father would never set foot on the kingdom his great-grandfather Gulab Singh had purchased from the British after the decline of the Khalsa empire.
VP Menon landed at the Srinagar airport in a plane that was used to evacuate British nationals from Kashmir. The first thing he noticed was the grave-yard like stillness that belied the fear of an impending invasion by Pakistanis just two hours away from the state capital.
“From the aerodrome we went straight to the residence of the Prime Minister of the state. The road leading from the aerodrome to Srinagar was deserted. At some of the street corners I noticed volunteers of the National Conference with lathis who challenged passers-by; but the state police were conspicuous by their absence,” Menon was to write later.
After discussing the Maharaja’s request for Indian help, Menon advised Hari Singh to leave Srinagar immediately. The Maharaja and his family, Menon told Hari Singh, would be butchered by the tribals since the state’s army had been annihilated and there was nobody to protect the royals.
Within hours, Hari Singh had gathered his family, loaded all his valuables in vehicles and bullock carts and hit the arduous road to Jammu across the Banihal pass. Before he went to sleep, he instructed his ADC to shoot him in case Menon didn’t return with the Indian response to his SOS.
Menon was woken up in the early hours of October 26 and asked to rush to the airport. There were rumors that Pakistanis had infiltrated Srinagar and it wasn’t safe for him to stay there any longer.
Menon’s flight took off at the first light with three additional passengers--a Hindu woman and her two daughters who pleaded with him to save them from the lashkars.
Menon rushed to the Cabinet Committee that was waiting for his update on Kashmir straight from the Delhi airport. He apprised it of the peril at Srinagar’s doors and the urgency for an immediate response. But, Lord Mountbatten, the first governor-general of independent India, put his foot down.
Mountbatten argued Kashmir was still an independent state and it would not be right for India to intervene till the Maharajas formally acceded to India.
When Menon landed at Jammu with the Maharaja’s prime minister, Hari Singh was still asleep. On being told of Mountbatten’s advice that he sign the instrument of accession with India, Hari Singh agreed immediately. He also promised to set up a government headed by National Conference leader Sheikh Abduallah assisted by his own prime minister.
In a few hours, Menon was back on a flight to New Delhi with the document that was to change Kashmir’s destiny forever placed in his briefcase.
“With the Instrument of Accession and the Maharaja’s letter I flew back at once to Delhi. Sardar (Patel) was waiting at the aerodrome and we both went straight to a meeting of the Defence Committee...There was a long discussion at the it was decided that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir be accepted, subject to the proviso that a plebiscite would be held in the State when the law and order situation allowed,” Menon wrote in his account of the integration of the princely states into India.
In the evening, as India was putting together an infantry battalion of the 1 Sikh regiment to launch the defence of Srinagar, Menon met a British official at his residence.
As he poured out a drink, Menon told the official that the Maharaja had finally put Kashmir in India’s bag. “And now that we have it, we will never give it away.”
A brave team of soldiers flew into Srinagar on Dakota planes the next morning to ensure Menon’s prophetic words became Kashmir’s destiny.
Next: Hurry! The plane has landed