The Story of Kashmir’s integration with India
As part of our series on ‘Operation Gulmarg’, Pakistan’s attempt to invade the state of Jammu and Kashmir, we revisit the heroic defence mounted by Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his small group of Dogra soldiers to keep the raiders away from Srinagar
The saviours of Kashmir and the butchers of Baramulla
Uploaded 05 November, 2020
On the night of October 21, a large group of tribals and Pakistani soldiers gathered at Garhi Habibullah on the Pakistani side of Kashmir border. Around midnight, the headlights of their vehicles switched off, they waited for a signal from across the border to begin their invasion of Kashmir.
The signal came from members of the army of the Jammu and Kashmir state guarding the bridge on the Neelam River across the border. The guards first killed their Hindu supervisors, over-powered fellow Dogra soldiers and opened the bridge for the raiders. Within minutes, at least 4000 raiders had rolled into the Indian town of Muzaffarabad. Operation Gulmarg, a joint venture of tribal lashkars (battalions) and the Pakistani army, had begun without any hurdle.
On October 22, 1947, Brigadier Rajinder Singh Jamwal, a brave Dogra from an illustrious family of warriors and chief of the Jammu and Kashmir state’s army, summoned all the private vehicles in Srinagar to transport his soldiers to the battlefront in Muzaffarabad, where Pakistani tribals and army regulars in plain clothes were engaged in an orgy of loot and violence.
By the time he left Srinagar, after mobilising a small army of soldiers and palace guards at the Badami Bagh cantonment, it was almost midnight. The enemy had already captured the area west of Uri right down to the Pakistan border. And, Singh feared, the raiders would not need more than two hours to roll into the next major town of the state, the verdant city of Baramulla, just 63km from Srinagar, their destination.
Most of the Muslim soldiers from the state of Jammu and Kashmir had revolted and joined the Pakistani invaders. Some of the Hindu leaders of the regiments, like Major Narayan Singh, had been betrayed and butchered by their own men. Kashmir’s future depended on just a handful of Dogra men being led by Brigadier Singh.
But Singh had two other allies—greed and indiscipline, in the enemy camp.
Once the raiders crossed the bridge across the Neelam, they had the entire Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road open to them. This pucca road ran along the Jhelum without any obstacle till it came across the Uri River, where a steel bridge slowed down the traffic.
By the time Brigadier Singh reached the outskirts of Muzaffarabad, he had come to know that the enemy outnumbered his group by a huge margin and was already entrenched in the town and the adjoining mountains. Singh ordered his men to fall back to Uri and take up a defensive position across the Uri River, where the narrow Valley suddenly opened into an open ground.
In a bid to slow down the progress of the invaders, he asked his men to blow up the bridge on the Uri River. The decision was to give India precious time to mount the defence of Srinagar.
Khurshid Anwar’s lashkars of tribals were in a festive mood when the sun’s rays descended on the meadows of Muzaffarabad and splashed around on the waters of the Jhelum. Eid was just three days away and the tribals wanted to start the celebrations even before they reached their destination, Srinagar.
By the time Anwar could coax them into advancing forward, a dispute had broken out among the invaders over the loot from Muzaffarabad. The tribals wanted to transport the plundered wealth back to their training camp in Garhi Habibullah instead of advancing further. This took up most of their day. And by the time the convoy was ready to begin its march towards Srinagar, Brigadier Singh had already blocked the route with the rubble of steel bridges across the bend near Uri.
When the lorries leading the advance came to a screeching halt just before Uri, barely 70km from Muzaffarabad, Anwar jumped out of his vehicle to find out what had brought Operation Gulmarg to a sudden halt. Across him lay the sight of a pucca road disappearing into a swollen river before reappearing around 30 metres away on the other side.
“We will leave our lorries here and cross the river on foot,” Anwar announced. But, none of his men made any effort to implement his order.
The tribals, trained on the rugged hills of the northwest, had no idea how to swim across a swollen river. Also, none of them was keen to leave behind their lorries, afraid that they would not be able to transport back the loot from the invasion.
From behind his defensive position across the river, a small group of Brigadier Singh’s men listened in attention as the tribals argued among themselves over their next move. His soldiers, who had dug trenches during the day, waited with their rifles aimed at the enemy as darkness began to fall over the Uri bridge.
The greedy tribals were not to budge even an inch for the next few hours.
After hours of cajoling, coaxing and haggling, the first batch of raiders started crossing the river just before dawn. Anwar had instructed them to take a circuitous route and emerge behind the enemy, who was sure to be waiting across the bridge.
Gunshots rang out as the first rays of the sun fell on the tribals crossing the river, exposing them to Dogra soldiers. The tribals, not accustomed to open warfare or dealing with trained soldiers, fell back immediately. By noon, Singh’s defensive position held, but as the number of infiltrators began to increase, he decided to retreat to Mahura, the centre of the Valley’s power supply.
A message from the Maharaja was waiting for Singh when he retreated to Mahura. “Brigadier Rajinder Singh is commanded to hold the enemy at Uri at all costs and to the last man. Reinforcement is sent with Captain Jwala Singh. If Brigadier Rajinder Singh is not contacted, Jwala Singh is commanded to hold the enemy at all costs and to the last man. He will do his best to contact Brigadier Rajinder Singh”.
Maharaja Hari Singh was celebrating the festival of Navratri in his palace in Srinagar. Just when he was seeing off his nobles, the lights in the palace suddenly went off. When the Maharaja came to know that the entire city of Srinagar, from the palace near the Zabarvan hills to the houseboats on the Dal lake, were enveloped in darkness, he knew the raiders had crossed Mahura and would be streaming into Srinagar any moment next morning. In consultation with his son, he decided to act before it was too late.
The next morning, an Indian Airforce plane landed in Srinagar with three men: VP Menon, the Indian civil servant in charge of integration of princely state’s with India, and Colonel Sam Manekshaw, one of the brightest officers of the Indian army.
By the time Menon and Manekshaw landed at the airstrip, Brigadier Singh had laid down his life, fighting to the last man on the outskirts of Baramulla. For three days, Singh led his men from the front, launching counterattacks, destroying bridges and stalling the enemy’s advance.
His valour, compared by Menon to that of Xerxes in the battle of Thermopylae, earned India precious time. Because of Singh, the raiders were still to enter Srinagar and ‘Operation Gulmarg’ had already been stalled by three days. The brave Dogra would later become the first recipient of independent India’s second highest gallantry award—the Mahavir Chakra.
Before the partition of India, Baramulla was a thriving centre of trade between the Kashmir valley and west Pakistan. It was the first prosperous town the raiders from north-western Pakistan had seen in their lives. So, as soon as they entered it, the wild, bearded, beastly Pathans fell on it like a pack of wolves.
Most of the Hindus and Sikh families had already fled, paying a ransom for a ride to Srinagar. Those who stayed back had retreated to the outskirts, hoping for a miracle, and planning a counterattack that never materialised. But, the tribals found another target for pillage, rape and plunder—a British convent and hospital in the middle of the town. Over the next two days, the nuns and nurses at the convent and adjoining hospital, its patients and the small European community was raped, looted and murdered by the shouting, screaming Pathans.
In his book, A Mission in Kashmir, former BBC Correspondent Andrew Whitehead quotes an eyewitness account of the attack on the convent and the adjoining hospital:
“We found ourselves surrounded by some fifteen of the most unpleasant hoodlums I have ever seen. Armed to the teeth with rifle, sword, dagger, most of them carrying an axe for business purposes. Untidy black beards, unkempt long hair, dirty black turbans, ragged clothes caked with blood and dirt, dull bloodshot eyes, which completed the picture did little to raise our spirits. One of them extended a grimy hand—politely I shook it. It seemed that is not what he wanted; and impatient of making himself understood in Pushto, he asked no further. By plunging his hand into my trouser pocket and helping himself. The others were being treated in like manner—money, watches, keys, were taken away from us, and then Father Mallett and I were half dragged, half pushed into my two roomed house, followed by all the gang, the door locked, spirits sank still further. A scene of indescribable confusion followed; locks were burst open with axe blows, drawers were pulled out and emptied, furniture overturned and ripped open. The accumulated treasures of ten years disappeared into spacious pockets—we were too busy dodging swinging axes and getting out of the way of rifle butts to worry about that . . ..”
A group of Pathans, meanwhile, decided to execute their leader, Khurshid Anwar, because of a dispute over the money in the state’s treasury. The Pathans insisted that the money—around Rs three lakh, was theirs, but Anwar was adamant on handing it over to the government of Pakistan. The angry Pathans agreed to spare Anwar only after the Pir of Manki Sharif was summoned from Pakistan to broker a truce.
While the loot, rape and infighting delayed the march of the raiders, Anwar stalled the progress for anther reason. Convinced that Kashmir was about to fall, Anwar secretly started negotiating with the Pakistanis for giving him an important post in the state. He was not prepared to move till he was assured of a bright future under the new regime.
The power he dreamt of wielding in the state were destined to be vested in a young, wirey Kashmiri, Sheikh Abdullah.
News of the tribal invasion of Kashmir reached Delhi almost 48 hours after the first Pakistani lorry rolled across Muzaffarabad. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, authors of Freedom at Midnight, believe it was conveyed by the British army in Pakistan to their Indian counterparts through the only phone line between the two countries.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, immediately exhorted Lord Mountbatten to send the army to stop the tribals. But, Mountbatten, who as the first governor general of India was also the commander in chief of the army, refused to intervene in a dispute between an independent state and Pakistan. He was adamant that the Maharaja of Kashmir first accede to India—even if temporarily—and then seek military intervention.
The British had their own vested interest in the border dispute. Wary of the spread of the communists, they wanted a stake in the north-western regions of Kashmir, in a bid to keep an eye on China, Afghanistan and the Soviets.
By the time the Indian government decided to send Sardar Patel’s secretary VP Menon to speak to the Maharaja of Kashmir, the British had already made decisive moves in Skardu, the crown sitting on the head of Kashmir.
Next: The revenge of the queen of Lahore