Portraying Sardar Patel Wrongly

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With reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi statement in Parliament on February 7, 2018 that if the country’s first Prime Minister was Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, then part of my Kashmir would not have been with Pakistan today, an article has appeared in the media on February 9, 2018, titled ”Sardar Patel Would Not Have Handled Kashmir Any Differently Even As Prime Minister in 1947’ (http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/4/12973/sardar-patel-would-not-have-handled-kashmir-any-differently-even-as-prime-minister-in-1947), authored by Vappala Balachandran, former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, quoting the book by VP Menon ‘The Story of Integration of Indian States’ published in 1956.

VP Menon, an ICS officer was Constitutional Advisor and Political Reforms Commissioner to the last three Viceroys during British India, who post Partition advised Nehru and Patel on relations with Pakistan and Kashmir. As per the above article, Menon’s book (surmised to be “official his) brings out following: Faced with integrating 562 princely states in 1947, Menon advised Patel to get accession only on defence, external affairs and communications, due to “shortage of time”; Patel persuaded Menon in June 1947 not to retire on August 15, 1947 and become a governor (as desired by Mountbatten) but take charge of the “States’ Department”; Patel was given “a free hand” in handling this huge responsibility; when Indian troops chased Pakistani infiltrators away, Jinnah invited Mountbatten and Nehru to visit Lahore to discuss Kashmir, Patel firmly objected to Nehru accompanying Mountbatten, so Mountbatten went alone on November 1, 1947; India formally appealed to the UN under advice of Mountbatten.

Menon’s book further says: Mountbatten told Maharaja Hari Singh that, “if he acceded to Pakistan, India would not take it amiss and that he had the firm assurance on this from Sardar Patel himself”; when Hari Singh appealed India for help on October 22, 1947, which was not possible without accession, Menon was sent to Srinagar to assess the situation; with Pakistani raiders two day away from Srinagar, Menon advised Hari Singh to move to Jammu, himself returning to Delhi; Hari Singh then invited Sheikh Abdullah to head the interim government; Menon was again sent to Hari Singh in Jammu on October 26, 1947 and obtained the accession letter; Sardar Patel and Menon both went to the Defence Committee’s meeting which decided to accept the accession subject to the proviso that a plebiscite would be held in the state when law and order situation allowed – like Nehru, Patel also was party to this decision.

With reference to the decision not to pursue the fleeing Pakistanis out of POK, Balachandran says: that since India was “still a “Dominion” under the India Independence Act 1947 with a Governor General as the Crown’s representative; only the Governor General had full powers to decide such policy matters including waging wars…. Hence, even if Patel as prime minister had wanted to continue the War, he could not have ordered our Army; Menon says that it was Lord Mountbatten who persuaded Gandhiji and Nehru to refer the dispute to UN after the Lahore meeting on November 1, 1947. Till then it was not an open war; Menon says that our defence strategy was overseen by Sardar Patel too who along with Defence Minister Baldev Singh had visited Srinagar on November 3, 1947 to review the military position; none have gone on record about any reservations on the Cease fire agreement which was signed on July 27, 1949 at Karachi. It will be speculative to guess whether C. Rajagopalachari would have permitted our army to continue the War as Governor General. It would not have been possible to do that even if he had wanted, since Governor General would have had to take permission from London.

Balachandran appears to be a Congress stooge far harping about “Saffron Scholars” while talking about JN Dixit in the same breath, unless he also considered JN Dixit a saffron scholar. His postulations that none have read or are in the know of official history (perhaps other than himself and Menon) are laughable since he obviously considers Menon’s book as the official record. Again, he belies the fact that JN Dixit would have been far more in the know of official history than him working with external intelligence. His assertion is cleverly placed because he writes that Raja ji to the best of his knowledge left no records and JN Dixit is not alive to respond it to him. Menon too would have been under the influence of Nehru and Congress till he joined the Swatantrata Party formed by C Rajagoplachari in 1959. Were that not the case, Menon would have not continued under Nehru in the position he held.
But even if VP Menon was alive, he and Balachandran would be hard pressed to explain the following:

  • Mountbatten may have told Hari Singh he had assurance from Patel that if he acceded to Pakistan, India would not take it amiss, but how is that not hearsay? Was Menon privy to such conversation between Mountbatten and Patel? Strangely, he doesn’t mention such assurance being given by Mountbatten to Hari Singh with respect to Nehru.
  • Why was the accession of Kashmir accepted subject to the proviso that a plebiscite would be held in the state when law and order situation allowed? When Hari Singh had signed the accession ‘unconditionally’, why was such a condition put – was it suggested by Mountbatten or Nehru.
  • To say that war had not broken out till November 1, 1947 and that decision for war could only be taken by Governor General through London is a load of bullshit when Pakistani regulars and raiders were two-days away from Srinagar on November 22, 1947 and Kashmir acceded to India on October 26, 1947. If the ensuing fighting was not war, what is? Or was it that Indian Army pursuing fleeing Pakistanis constituted war? Besides, if only Mountbatten had that authority, why would he advise going to the UN, not order it?
  • Sure, Nehru took Mountbatten’s advice to go to a toothless UN but why did he not delay the ‘unilateral’ ceasefire with Pakistanis on the run and British treachery in virtually handing over Skardu to Pakistan breaking forever India’s land link to Afghanistan?
  • Balachandran says that Menon never changed his memoirs. But then he did not have to because he knew that these would be published much after Patel had passed away.
  • If Patel actually had a free-hand, he never would have reigned in the Indian Army when pursuing fleeing Pakistanis. This can be said with certainity, after his firm action in Hyderabad and Junagarh. In this case Kashmir had unconditionally acceded to India, war was already on and it was a question of taking the war to its logical conclusion by the winning side, which was India.
  • Menon didn’t have to mention in his book Gandhi Ji asking Patel to withdraw his nomination for premiership because Nehru threatened to split the Congress. That would have been out of context. But it is strange that while Menon was dealing with Kashmir, he makes no mention of Article 370, which Nehru introduced without reference to Patel who was also looking after Home, and when Patel questioned it, Nehru told him it was a “temporary” measure.

Sure Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India and acknowledged globally but the biggest disservice he did to the nation was giving Pakistan a border with China it never had, changing the geostrategic equation of the Subcontinent forever. Patel’s November 7, 1950 letter to Nehru had detailed that after the disappearance of Tibet, Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism were different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers, dangers from north and north-east had become both communist and imperialist, and for the first time, after centuries, India’s defence had to concentrate on two fronts simultaneously. Balachandran, with his penchant for official records, should read this letter, least he writes next that Patel as Prime Minister would have handled Tibet and China no differently than Nehru.

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post retirement has published over 1300 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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