April 2006

"She wandered around in Mumbai, Jabalpur and across Maharashtra, went to all government offices asking for a job. Everywhere she went, she was asked about certificates, but she had nothing except the one sari she wore. Those were the darkest days of her life. She was hungry, with no proper clothes and no place to stay.

But she was sure about one thing — she would not go to a Congress office and ask for money. "

saraswati ramaswamy

Shobha Warrier  presents the story of a freedom fighter Saraswathy Ramaswamy in a rediff special.


In one of his article, well-known Tibet and Kashmir expert "Claude Apri"  wrote:

Everything started in early 1946 when the Indian National Congress had to elect a new president. It was an accepted fact that the leader chosen as Congress president would become the first prime minister of independent India. Three candidates were in the race: Acharya Kripalani, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Patel. The working committee of the INC and the pradesh committees had to send their nomination for one of the three candidates.

Sardar Patel was easily the most popular. Everyone knew his efficiency and his toughness for tackling difficult problems. Twelve out of 19 Pradesh committees nominated him. None nominated Nehru.

From the start Gandhi had indicated that he favoured Nehru. His reasoning was that his British education was an asset: 'Jawaharlal cannot be replaced today whilst the charge is being taken from the British. He, a Harrow boy, a Cambridge graduate, and a barrister, is wanted to carry on the negotiations with the Englishmen.'

Another point Gandhi made was that while Sardar Patel would agree to work as Nehru's deputy, the reverse might not happen. He also felt that Nehru was better known abroad and could help India play a role in international affairs.

Eventually, in deference to Gandhi, Kripalani nominated Nehru and withdrew from the race. Patel had no choice but to follow his colleague 'so that Nehru could be elected unopposed.' Dr Rajendra Prasad later stated: 'Gandhi has once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the glamorous Nehru.'

It is how India got a Kashmiri Pandit as its first prime minister.

I have always found it strange that a man professing to be above caste or religion agreed to be called 'Panditji.' Nonetheless, the fact that a Pandit was the prime minister made Kashmir a state different from the 500 other princely states.

Soon, the conflicting aspects in Nehru's persona came to the fore. On one hand, he was a democrat and revolutionary; on the other, he was often carried away by his 'Socialist' ideals to the point of blundering with India's destiny.

After his election as Congress president, he gave his support to his friend Sheikh Abdullah (he called him his 'blood brother') who had been jailed by Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir. In June 1946, he decided to go to the valley to free Abdullah. The situation was certainly not shining in Kashmir (as in the rest of India), but to take on the maharaja at this point in time was a serious mistake.

However, for Nehru, 'Anything that happens in Kashmir has a certain importance for the rest of India, but recent events there have had an even greater importance, [they] became symbols of a larger struggle for emancipation. Thus Kashmir became symbolic of the [princely] States in India.' He wanted to take on 'the autocratic and often feudal rule that prevails there.' He did not realise that the princes' support and collaboration would be indispensable during this all-important transition period for the nation.

Though prohibited to enter the maharaja's state, in July 1946 Nehru decided to defy the ban. Patel and other members of the working committee tried to dissuade him: there were more important matters to tackle in Delhi after the Cabinet Mission had come to discuss the transfer of power.

In a letter to D P Mishra, Patel explained: 'He [Nehru] has done many things recently which have caused us great embarrassment. His actions in Kashmir … are acts of emotional insanity and it puts tremendous strain on us to set the matters right.' However, Patel, always fair, added: 'but in spite of all these innocent indiscretions he has unparalleled enthusiasm and a burning passion for freedom.' Patel, thus, pointed out the two powerful (and opposing) aspects of Nehru's personality.

A year later, hardly two weeks before Independence, Nehru still wanted to go to Srinagar. He wrote to Gandhi: 'I shall go ahead with my plans. As between visiting Kashmir when my people need me there and being prime minister, I prefer the former.' Once again he had to be dissuaded.

At the stroke of the midnight hour on August 14, India awakened to life and freedom. Unfortunately, Maharaja Hari Singh remembered the events of the previous year and while most princes signed the Instrument of Accession of their state to the Dominion of India, Hari Singh prevaricated. What would happen to him and his state under Nehru's rule? He also knew that the future of his state could not lie with Jinnah and his government.

In September, he decided to offer Kashmir's accession to India. This was refused by Nehru, who first wanted Sheikh Abdullah to be freed and installed as prime minister of the state. This was not acceptable to the maharaja.

Things came to a head at the end of October 1947 when raiders from the North West Frontier Province entered the state, killing, looting, and raping along. On October 26, they had reached the outskirts of Srinagar. Hari Singh agreed to sign the Instrument of Accession.

On the same day a historic meeting was held in Delhi with Mountbatten, the governor general, as chairman. A young army colonel named Sam Manekshaw, who attended the meeting, recalled: 'As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, 'Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?' He [Nehru] said, 'Of course, I want Kashmir.' Then he [Patel] said: 'Please give your orders.'

This anecdote perfectly exemplifies Nehru, who could make the greatest speeches, but was unable to take a decision at a crucial moment. Thanks to Patel's decisiveness, troops were flown to Srinagar the next morning and the airport, the only link with India, was saved. Military operations to expel the raiders started.

Nehru's colleagues soon discovered they had made another serious blunder, a collective one. They had chosen Mountbatten to be the first governor general of independent India while Jinnah had kept the post for himself in Pakistan. At that time, it was probably easier for the Congress to have a foreigner as the head of the Dominion; it conveniently avoided having to choose among themselves. However, Mountbatten manipulated matters so well that he became chairman of a newly created defence council. Nehru did not see a problem in this: Mountbatten (and his wife) were his best friends.

But this was to have grave repercussions on Kashmir policy. Mountbatten, a British officer, was now at the helm of the executive defence machinery. British generals still serving in India reported to him. Mountbatten was not working for India's interests, but the British crown's.

Nehru's sentimental attachment to the Mountbattens deeply vitiated the Kashmir issue. It was certainly the most important factor for the failure to find a solution in the first years of the conflict.

Events took a turn for the worse at the end of December 1947 when the governor general managed to convince Nehru that India had to refer the Kashmir issue to the UN instead of conducting a military counterattack in West Punjab. Patel did not agree. But at this precise point in time the Sardar, who had so far looked after the relations with the princely states, was sidetracked. On December 23, he wrote his resignation, but was prevented (by Gandhi) from pressing for it. From that day, with Patel out of Kashmir affairs, things went from bad to worse.

In the first months of 1948, during the UN hearings, the British showed where their interests lay. The original Indian complaint was completely left aside and the Security Council began adopting anti-India resolutions.

Abdullah had already started his crusade (particularly with the US administration) for Kashmir's independence. He remained Nehru's friend till his scheming became too dangerous for India. In August 1953, he was finally dismissed by Karan Singh, the sadar-i-riyasat. Two months earlier, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who had been arrested by Abdullah and left without medical care in Srinagar, died in mysterious circumstances. Nehru had visited the capital of Kashmir a few days earlier, but did not find the time to call on his former Cabinet colleague. He later wrote to Mookerjee's mother: 'Indeed, I hoped that the healthy climate of Kashmir might lead to an improvement in Shyama Babu's health.'

Though in the following years Nehru hardened his position when different UN commissions (Dixon, Graham, Jarring) visited Delhi, it was too late. Pakistan was certainly not interested in vacating the so-called 'Azad Kashmir', rendering the plans for a plebiscite mentioned in the UN resolutions of August 1948 and January 1949 irrelevant.

A few days before his death Nehru sent a freshly released Abdullah to meet Ayub Khan with a proposal to have a confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The proposal was contemptuously rejected as 'absurd' by the Pakistani military ruler. It was Nehru's last attempt to solve the issue and it failed.

In retrospect, despite Nehru's love for great principles, his incapacity to take decisions in time, his inability to work with colleagues like Patel, and his friendship with individuals such as the Mounbattens or Abdullah, who had their own interests, blinded him so much that he did not further India's national interests. The consequences have been tragic and the muddle created 57 years ago remains far from being sorted out.

Full text of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's Letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on November 7, 1950 not only deploring Indian Ambassador KM Panikkar's action but also warning about dangers from China

My dear Jawaharlal,

Ever since my return from Ahmedabad and after the cabinet meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically fifteen minutes' notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all the papers, I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind.

I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese Government. I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador and the Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study. The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instill into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. There can be no doubt that during the period covered by this correspondence the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama. Our Ambassador has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions. As the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on our behalf. It is impossible to imagine any sensible person believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American machinations in Tibet. Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in this, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken us as tools or stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your direct approaches to them, indicates that even though we regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. With the Communist mentality of "whoever is not with them being against them", this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note. During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, we have practically been alone in championing the cause of Chinese entry into UN and in securing from the Americans assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done everything we could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay its apprehensions and to defend its legitimate claims in our discussions and correspondence with America and Britain and in the UN. Inspite of this, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism perhaps mixed with a little hostility. I doubt if we can go any further than we have done already to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and goodwill. In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for putting across the friendly point of view. Even he seems to have failed to convert the Chinese. Their last telegram to us is an act of gross discourtesy not only in the summary way it disposes of our protest against the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet but also in the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by foreign influences. It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that language but a potential enemy.

In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we knew it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. Throughout history we have seldom been worried about our north-east frontier. The Himalayas have been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were divided. They had their own domestic problems and never bothered us about frontiers. In 1914, we entered into a convention with Tibet which was not endorsed by the Chinese. We seem to have regarded Tibetan autonomy as extending to independent treaty relationship. Presumably, all that we required was Chinese counter-signature. The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different. We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the past. That throws into the melting pot all frontier and commercial settlements with Tibet on which we have been functioning and acting during the last half a century. China is no longer divided. It is united and strong. All along the Himalayas in the north and north-east, we have on our side of the frontier a population ethnologically and culturally not different from Tibetans and Mongoloids. The undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our side of a population with its affinities to the Tibetans or Chinese have all the elements of the potential trouble between China and ourselves. Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield against imperialism and that the communists are as good or as bad imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include the important part of Assam. They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the added difficulty that it has no McMahon Line round which to build up even the semblance of an agreement. Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie concealed racial, national or historical claims. The danger from the north and north-east, therefore, becomes both communist and imperialist. While our western and north-western threat to security is still as prominent as before, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east. Thus, for the first time, after centuries, India's defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on the calculations of superiority over Pakistan. In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with communist China in the north and in the north-east, a communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us.

Let us also consider the political conditions on this potentially troublesome frontier. Our northern and north-eastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal areas in Assam. From the point of view of communication, there are weak spots. Continuous defensive lines do not exist. There is almost an unlimited scope for infiltration. Police protection is limited to a very small number of passes. There, too, our outposts do not seem to be fully manned. The contact of these areas with us is by no means close and intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India. Even Darjeeling and Kalimpong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices. During the last three years, we have not been able to make any appreciable approaches to the Nagas and other hill tribes in Assam. European missionaries and other visitors had been in touch with them, but their influence was in no way friendly to India or Indians. In Sikkim, there was political ferment some time ago. It is quite possible that discontent is smouldering there. Bhutan is comparatively quiet, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a handicap. Nepal has a weak oligarchic regime based almost entirely on force: it is in conflict with a turbulent element of the population as well as with enlightened ideas of the modern age. In these circumstances, to make people alive to the new danger or to make them defensively strong is a very difficult task indeed and that difficulty can be got over only by enlightened firmness, strength and a clear line of policy. I am sure the Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Union, would not miss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in support of their ideology and partly in support of their ambitions. In my judgement the situation is one which we cannot afford either to be complacent or to be vacillating. We must have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve and also of the methods by which we should achieve it. Any faltering or lack of decisiveness in formulating our objectives or in pursuing our policies to attain those objectives is bound to weaken us and increase the threats which are so evident.

Side by side with these external dangers, we shall now have to face serious internal problems as well. I have already asked Iengar to send to the External Affairs Ministry a copy of the Intelligence Bureau's appreciation of these matters. Hitherto, the Communist Party of India has found some difficulty in contacting communists abroad, or in getting supplies of arms, literature, etc., from them. They had to contend with the difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontiers on the east or with the long seaboard. They shall now have a comparatively easy means of access to Chinese communists and through them to other foreign communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists and communists would now be easier. Instead of having to deal with isolated communist pockets in Telengana and Warrangal we may have to deal with communist threats to our security along our northern and north-eastern frontiers, where, for supplies of arms and ammunition, they can safely depend on communist arsenals in China. The whole situation thus raises a number of problems on which we must come to an early decision so that we can, as I said earlier, formulate the objectives of our policy and decide the method by which those objectives are to be attained. It is also clear that the action will have to be fairly comprehensive, involving not only our defence strategy and state of preparations but also problem of internal security to deal with which we have not a moment to lose. We shall also have to deal with administrative and political problems in the weak spots along the frontier to which I have already referred.

It is of course, impossible to be exhaustive in setting out all these problems. I am, however, giving below some of the problems which, in my opinion, require early solution and round which we have to build our administrative or military policies and measures to implement them.

a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and to internal security.

b) An examination of military position and such redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be the subject of dispute.

c) An appraisement of the strength of our forces and, if necessary, reconsideration of our retrenchment plans for the Army in the light of the new threat.

d) A long-term consideration of our defence needs. My own feeling is that, unless we assure our supplies of arms, ammunition and armour, we would be making our defence perpetually weak and we would not be able to stand up to the double threat of difficulties both from the west and north-west and north and north-east.

e) The question of China's entry into the UN. In view of the rebuff which China has given us and the method which it has followed in dealing with Tibet, I am doubtful whether we can advocate its claim any longer. There would probably be a threat in the UN virtually to outlaw China, in view of its active participation in the Korean war. We must determine our attitude on this question also.

f) The political and administrative steps which we should take to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontier. This would include the whole of the border, ie. Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal territory in Assam.

g) Measures of internal security in the border areas as well as the states flanking those areas such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Assam.

h) Improvement of our communication, road, rail, air and wireless, in these areas and with the frontier outposts.

i) The future of our mission at Lhasa and the trade posts at Gyangtse and Yatung and the forces which we have in operation in Tibet to guard the trade routes.

j) The policy in regard to the McMahon Line.

These are some of the questions which occur to my mind. It is possible that a consideration of these matters may lead us into wider question of our relationship with China, Russia, America, Britain and Burma. This, however, would be of a general nature, though some might be basically very important, e.g., we might have to consider whether we should not enter into closer association with Burma in order to strengthen the latter in its dealings with China. I do not rule out the possibility that, before applying pressure on us, China might apply pressure on Burma. With Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the Chinese territorial claims are more substantial. In its present position, Burma might offer an easier problem to China, and therefore, might claim its first attention.

I suggest that we meet early to have a general discussion on these problems and decide on such steps as we might think to be immediately necessary and direct, quick examination of other problems with a view to taking early measures to deal with them.

Vallabhbhai Patel
7th November 1950