The rise of Narendra Modi and the compulsory right-turn of India's polity has been matched by an astonishing amount of myth-making about Jawaharlal Nehru. The most egregious example of this is the liberal imagination about Nehru and Article 370, shared, equally liberally, on social media.
According to this version of history, Nehru was a committed democrat and was always ever-willing to bow to the will of the Kashmiri people. India's first PM carefully cultivated this image, but even his contemporaries would have been skeptical about it. Not our contemporary liberals though.
Let's begin with Nehru's statement, dated January 2, 1952, published in Amrita Bazar Patrika. It has been shared widely on social media and informs current liberal discourse on Article 370. Talking about the "Kashmiri people", Nehru said, "if they tell us to walk out, I will have no hesitation in quitting Kashmir."
The last paragraph is worth quoting in its entirety. Nehru wrote, "We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it. We have left the question of final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision."
This was Nehru's public posture. But his note to Sheikh Abdullah, written just eight months later, reveals what he actually believed, or, at least, the stand he took while negotiating with the "leaders of the Kashmir people". In this note, dated August 25, 1952, Nehru wrote, "after some experience of the UN, I came to the conclusion that nothing substantial could be expected from it. It was clear that we would not give in on any basic point, whatever the UN might say... I have not mentioned the plebiscite, because it became clear to me then that we would never get the conditions which was necessary for a plebiscite... Purely from the point of view of India's national interest, we cannot agree, unless circumstances force us, to see this part of Kashmir state (under Indian control) go to Pakistan... The United Nations cannot override our wishes in this matter. ...If the people of Kashmir clearly and definitely wish to part company from India, there the matter ends... But, as I have stated above, I see no chance of any proper plebiscite determining this question ... If the Constituent Assembly told India to get out of Kashmir, we would get out... As far as I know, the Constituent Assembly will not do any such a thing and therefore, the question does not arise." (emphasis added).
It is clear from this note that Nehru had no intention of holding any plebiscite, nor letting go of "this part of Kashmir state." In fact, the note to Sheikh Abdullah clearly outlines why Kashmir is essential for India's national security and strategic needs. One might argue that Nehru had changed his mind since January of that year. But in the same note he wrote that his "own view has been clear for the last four years or so."
Nehru's various notes and letters over the next few years point quite clearly to his pragmatic approach to Jammu and Kashmir: it was driven by India's strategic needs and prevailing geo-political conditions. If there was an underlying rhetoric of respecting the "will of the Kashmiri people", it was a hat-tip to the overall climate of self-determination as European powers withdrew from their colonies after the second World War.
Article 370, which governed the relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Union, allowed the President to extend provisions from the Indian constitution to J&K. Some provisions could be extended with just consultations with the state government, while others required the government's concurrence. However, this was only till the state's own Constituent Assembly was convened. After that, Article 370 could not be used to alter J&K's constituency through Presidential orders without the consent of the state Constituent Assembly.
Interestingly, neither Nehru nor Sheikh Abdullah had any significant problem with using Presidential orders under Article 370. It was President Rajendra Prasad, the supposed conservative, who warned against its misuse. On September 6, 1952, Prasad wrote to Nehru, "Parliament could never have intended that such an extraordinary power of amending the Constitution by executive order was to be enjoyed without any limitation as to the number of times on which it could be exercised... The conclusion, therefore, seems to me to be irresistible that clause (3) of Article 370 was not intended to be used from time to time as occasion required."
However, Nehru prevailed, and the President used his powers to amend the J&K constitution by executive order. Subsequent events were to prove that Nehru was very clear in his mind that if things didn't go according to his plan in J&K, he would use 370 to reduce its autonomy as much as possible.
The first move was Sheikh Abdullah's arrest in August 1953. Some historians argue that Nehru was not aware of this, but the Prime Minister's note on Kashmir, recorded by his private secretary MO Mathai on July 31, 1953, suggests that Nehru was already preparing for it. Ultimately, Abdullah's arrest was ordered by the Sadr-i-Riyasat Karan Singh, son of the last Dogra King Hari Singh, who had been pressured into handing over power to his son. In 1953, Karan Singh was just 22, and would have not taken the decision without New Delhi's concurrence.
After that, repeated Presidential orders under Article 370(3) extended most of India's constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. Nehru himself made this clear in his response to a Lok Sabha question on November 27, 1963. He said "...as the Home Minister has pointed out, it (Article 370) has been eroded, if I may use the word, and many things have been done in the last few years which have made the relationship of Kashmir with the Union of India very close. There is no doubt it is fully integrated... So we feel that this process of gradual erosion of Article 370 is going on. Some fresh steps are being taken and in the next month or two they will be completed. We should allow it to go on (emphasis added)."
The idea that 370 allowed the centre to take the Indian constitution to J&K continued under all Congress governments after Nehru. It is best exemplified by Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda's statement in parliament on December 4, 1964, just a few months after Nehru's death. Nanda said, "May I submit... that article 370 is neither a wall nor a mountain, but that it is a tunnel? It is through this tunnel that a good deal of traffic has already passed and more will... There is no wall between Jammu and Kashmir and India. At the most, you can say it is some kind of moveable partition. We can move it on our own. There is nothing coming in the way."
There can be very little doubt, from the very beginning, Article 370 was used by successive Congress governments to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with the Indian Union. If it remained as a constitutional provision, it was only because it empowered the executive to unilaterally amend laws in J&K, without parliament's approval.
For all practical purposes, Article 370 was killed by Jawaharlal Nehru well before it was formally buried by Narendra Modi.
(Aunindyo Chakravarty was Senior Managing Editor of NDTV's Hindi and Business news channels. He now anchors Simple Samachar on NDTV India.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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