Field Marshal Wavell was no prophet. But he was unquestionably a great soldier who admired the Indian Army. Indian troops had fought under him while he was Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, during the war, and he had been Commander-in-Chief, India, before he became the country’s Viceroy. His term in the latter office saw the intense political activity that preceded the British withdrawal. He was at the helm of affairs when the situation moved towards its climax, though it was to remain a matter of regret for him that he did not preside over the transfer of power. He relinquished office on the eve of Independence. Before leaving India, he broadcast a message to its people on 21 March 1947. It was natural for him to make a reference to the Indian Army, but what he said turned out to be a prophecy. “I believe,” he said, “that the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be a deciding factor in the future of India. It has shown how all communities may work together to meet a common danger with comradeship and devotion”.
The Indian Army has lived up to Wavell’s forecast. Its stability has without any doubt been crucial in the history of this country since the very first day of freedom. It may not appear to have played a part in much that has happened, or in preventing what could have happened. But the very fact that it was there – a strong, apolitical force at the Government’s disposal – has had a healthy influence on the course of events. The integration of princely states with the rest of the country is a good example of this.
“I believe,” he said, “that the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be a deciding factor in the future of India”¦”
The declared policy of the Government of India was voluntary accession, but at the back of every prince’s mind was the fear of the Indian Army that had once been instrumental in bringing his ancestors under the British sway. There was a big difference, though – it was now the Army of the nation to which the princes and their subjects also belonged.
The basic principle of accession was that it was vested in the personal discretion of a state’s ruler. But it was recognized that this discretion should be qualified by the geographical contiguity of the state to the successor dominion, the communal composition of the state and a plebiscite, if necessary, to ascertain the will of the people. Trouble arose wherever a ruler disregarded these considerations.
The three exceptions were Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Jammu & Kashmir.
By 14 August all except three of the states had acceded to either of the dominions. The three exceptions were Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Jammu & Kashmir. Junagadh was a small state of some 8,000 square kilometres in Kathiawar (Gujarat). It had a Muslim ruler but a predominantly Hindu population. Disregarding the wishes of his subjects and also the fact that his state fell within the Indian Union, the Nawab of Junagadh announced his accession to Pakistan. Then, claiming overlordship, he sent his troops into Mangrol, a neighbouring state that had acceded to India. To protect Mangrol, a brigade of the Indian Army was sent there. The people of Junagadh now rose against the Nawab and formed a provisional government, which repudiated the state’s accession to Pakistan. The Nawab fled to Pakistan. His Prime Minister, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), and the state council decided to accede to India. The accession was accepted subject to confirmation by a plebiscite. When held, the plebiscite was overwhelmingly in favour of joining India.
Congress leaders had no objection to this and had given indication to Mountbatten of their intention despite the strategic importance of the state and its ancient ties with India.
While the trouble in Junagadh arose from the ruler’s desire to join Pakistan against the wishes of his people, the rulers of two major states – Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad – created trouble for themselves with dreams of sovereignty. In November 1947, the Nizam of Hyderabad signed a Standstill Agreement for a year with the Indian Government. In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, the Maharaja’s vacillation brought the Indian Army its first major challenge after Independence.
The state of Jammu & Kashmir has an area of 148,445 square kilometres and lies in a region that has vital strategic importance. Many nations and cultures meet here. In the East and the North the state’s borders run alongside Tibet and China. To its North-West lies Afghanistan, and in the West and the South-West its borders touch Pakistan. In the South lie the Indian districts of Gurdaspur, Kangra, Lahaul and Spiti. In the North-West, where Afghanistan and China meet, Russia is not many kilometres away. The strategic location of the state and its beauty have attracted adventurers and invaders since the dawn of history.
Though the ruling dynasty was Hindu, the population of the state was predominantly Muslim, 77.11 per cent to be exact. Kashmir was integral to Jinnah’s dream of Pakistan and he expected the state to join it. Congress leaders had no objection to this and had given indication to Mountbatten of their intention despite the strategic importance of the state and its ancient ties with India.
While the trouble in Junagadh arose from the rulers desire to join Pakistan against the wishes of his people, the rulers of two major states ““ Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad ““ created trouble for themselves with dreams of sovereignty.
Sir Hari Singh, who had been Maharaja for 22 years, sat on the fence. In June 1947, Lord Mountbatten paid him a visit at Srinagar and advised him to accede to either of the Dominions by 14 August. He remained in Kashmir for four days, but returned without obtaining a decision from the Maharaja. All that Sir Hari Singh did was to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan. He sought a similar arrangement with India, but Nehru refused to oblige unless there was a popular government in the state. The Maharaja was out of tune with the times and had paid scant regard to the aspirations of his people. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, leader of the movement for a democratic government in the state, was in prison.
While the Maharaja wavered on the question of accession, Mr. Jinnah became impatient. His advisers had a scheme ready for ‘direct action’ and he gave the green signal. The scheme was well-conceived and was executed with considerable skill, at least in the initial stages. To begin with, a propaganda campaign was unleashed. A communal twist was given to the issue of accession and the Muslims of the state were urged to rise against their Dogra ruler. Then followed a series of raids, beginning in early September. The raids were executed by armed civilians from West Pakistan at several points on the state’s border. Major General H.L. Scott, a British officer, was Chief of Staff of the State Army. All he did, or could do, was to send out detachments of troops to deal with each raid. This dispersed his Army, which was exactly the enemy’s aim.