Sati Sahni - A Conversation
is one of the most
esteemed members of Journalist profession in J&K. In a career spanning six
decades, he has combined high professionalism with deep integrity. As a
War Correspondent he holds the rare distinction of covering four major
wars--1948, 1962, 1965 and 1971. Sh. Sahni has also been an ace
photographer. His rich collection of photographs would be envy of any top
person in the profession of photo-journalism. As a respected and
veteran member of the profession he continues to guide and inspire new and
upcoming Journalists. Sh. Sahni has not only been a witness to an era, he
has also been an active participant in many events. His ringside view of
many events would be valuable for students of contemporary history of J&K.
His publications include 'My Dismissal' and 'Kashmir
Underground'. Kashmir Sentinel
had a detailed
conversation with Sh. Sati Sahni (SS). We are publishing here the
fourth part of the Conversation. The 1st, IInd & IIIrd part of Conversation
were carried in Kashmir Sentinel issues of
respectively. --The Editor
KS: Where did you spend
your early years? Do you originally belong to Kashmir?
My family originally hails
from Rawalpindi. My father Dewan Chaman Lal shifted to Srinagar
in 1916 after the death of his sister's husband, Mukand Ram Sethi. The latter
ran a business in Srinagar. His sons - Kanwar Sen Sethi ( a well-known
sportsperson) and Bajar Sen were quite young when Sh. Mukand Ram died. Dewan
Chaman Lal asked by his sister to come to Srinagar to be of help in running
family business. My father was a Govt. Contractor and Supplier. During two
months of bitter winter the family would move down to Rawalpindi. I was born in
Rawalpindi in 1922.
KS: Did you have your
I joined Lahore's Sacred
Heart School for few months, my nanihal was there. Due to Lahore
being quite hot I moved to Srinagar. I was a student of Mission School, Sheikh
Bagh during the years when Canon Tyndal Biscoe was the Principal. I finished my
Primary education in 1935, the same year Tyndal Biscoe also left Kashmir
Subsequently, his son Eric took over as the head of the institution. Mission
School, Sheikh Bagh was started years after the launching of Mission School,
Fatehkadal in 1896.
Canon Tyndal Biscoe was an
excellent teacher and very affectionate to his students. He used to take one
period everyday for teaching Bible. While teaching Bible, he made good use of
illustrations by rolling the canvas scroll mounted on a wooden stand. The scroll
depicted in a chronological sequence the life story of Jesus Christ starting
from his birth and ending at crucifixion.
Trekking and Swimming were
popular sports in the school. I did Dal cross during my school years. My
classfellows at Biscoe School included Sh. Noor Mohammad (later Chief Secretary,
J&K Govt.), Sh. KH Khurshid (later Private Secretary to Jinnah) and Sh. Ali
Mohammad Tariq. The latter came to be called Young Abdullah for his being
a staunch follower of the Kashmiri leader. Tariq was a fiery speaker in his
KS: You passed your
matriculation too from the same school.
No, after 5th class I
joined SP School. Lala Desraj was my Headmaster. My subjects were English, Urdu,
Math, Drawing and Agriculture. I used to play hockey for School XI. I was
considered to be a good scout and was selected in the first ever contingent from
J&K for All India Jamboree at Walton, Lahore in 1935. It took us four days to
reach Lahore, with halts at Banihal, Ramban and Jammu. One of my classfellows at
SP School, GC Pandey was to subsequently become a famous Sanskrit scholar. He
retired as Vice-Chancellor of Rajasthan University. His father was
Accountant-General of J&K Govt.
KS: Where did you have
your college education?
I passed my matriculation
in 1937 and joined SP College. My subjects were Physics, Chemistry, Math,
besides English. In B.A. I switched over to History, Economics, English
literature (Honours). I studied in SP College for four years. The Principals
during this period were Messers MA Ibrahim, Sunder Das Malhotra and Mohammad Din
Taseer. SP College during these years boasted of some of the best teachers
Kashmir has ever produced. These included Prof. Jaya Lal Kaul, Prof. RC Pandita,
Prof. SL Pandit, Prof. PN Qazi (all English); Prof. Sham Lal Dhar (Chemistry),
Lala Tirath Ram (Physics), Prof. BK Madan and Prof. Mehmood in History. Prof RC
Pandita was a great grammarian, he used to spend 2 hours while deliberating on
the usage of one word. Whatever perfection I have achieved in English language I
owe it to Prof. Pandita. I was quite friendly with Prof. Mufti Jalaluddin, who
was not my teacher. Mufti Sahib taught Arabic, Persian and Urdu. I had direct
access to Prof. Mehmood since he was President of the Dramatic Club. At the
College I used to spend lot of time playing Tennis.
My classmates at the
College included Sh. Lokesh Dhar, son of Prof. S.L. Dhar, who later retired as
Brigadier from the Indian Army, Aga Ashraf Ali, later Professor in Jamia Milia,
Sh. OP Malhotra, son of Principal SS Malhotra, who reached the post of Army
Chief, Charanjit Singh, who retired as Lt. General. One of my classfellows‑Mumtaz,
son of Chief Justice Abdul Qayoom was to become a Corps Commander in Pakistan at
KS: What difference you
find between the teachers in your time and today?
Our teachers were very
friendly, affectionate and had a helping attitude. In free time I used to visit
staff room and meet teachers. I had met Mufti Jalaluddin 2 to 3 times. He once
invited me for lunch at his house. Our teachers used to come to college on
bicycles. That day I had not carried my bicycle. Mufti Sahib took me on his
bicycle to home. He used to live at Fatehkadal. When he asked me how I would go
back I replied that I can manage to walk down the distance to Exchange Road,
where we lived. He didn't agree and carried me back on bicycle to Gowkadal. Our
teachers not only taught us well, they also saw to it that we become better
human beings. These teachers had a value system. The teachers would ask the
students if they had any difficulty. After College hours the students had direct
access to the teachers for removing their difficulties. Prof. Jaya Lal Koul was
a great man. I used to spend two hours daily with him at his residence.
KS: Late 1930s and
1940s were period of intense political activity in Kashmir. Did these
developments influence you anyway?
I got involved in All
India Students Federation politics. I served as J&K General Secretary of the
Organisation for two terms from 1939-43. The other General Secretary was Ali
Jawad Zaidi from
Lucknow. He later
joined Central Information Office and subsequently served as Private Secretary
to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad for some time when the latter was Prime Minister.
Students Federation aligned itself with Congress at All India level and with
National Conference, when the latter was constituted in late 1938.
KS: Did you ever came
close to the Left?
I was influenced by the
Left but never became part of the Left. Kashmir Literary League was
launched some time around 1938. Kh. GM Sadiq was President, Messers Peer Abdul
Ahad and Jia Lal Killam were two Vice-Presidents while I was made the General
Secretary. In 1939 Dr. KM Ashraf came to Kashmir.
Under the aegis of Kashmiri Literary League he delivered a lecture in SP
College. Sadiq presided over the function. Dr. KM Ashraf's lecture influenced us
greatly. He was a towering personality and an ideologue of international
stature. Soon after his lecture, many erstwhile socialist members of Communist
Party students became card holding members of Communist Party.
Shri Niranjan Nath Raina
used to take my tuitions in Mathematics in 1939-1940. After I completed my
academics he became my friend. He was one of the tallest intellectual, I have
ever come across. He had a phenomenal memory and great persuasive power. His
articulation was of a very high degree, he was able to explain and convince.
KS: Did you ever take
part in agitational politics?
I participated in the
agitation launched by NC soon after its formation. In this Latif Qureishi, a
well-known Lawyer was thrashed by police near Dhanjibhai Ka Ahta (now
Govt. Press). The place used to the stand for Tongas plying between Srinagar and
Lahore. Latif's father was a Hakim, his shop was in Maisuma-Kokerbazar area. The
family hailed from Lucknow.
KS: You were close to
Prof. MD Taseer also.
After the college studies
were over, my contact with Taseer Sahib was through Sheikh Abdullah and Hafeez
Jullundhuri. Taseer and even Hafeez Sahib were quite liberal. Everything changed
after 1947. Even a liberal and emancipated person like Hafeez Sahib turned into
KS: What impact did
Quit India Movement have in Kashmir?
Kashmir became a haven for
Congress leaders who wanted to escape arrest. Aruna Asaf Ali and Ganesh Prashad
(a Marxist) remained in hiding here. The latter first stayed in attic of Sh. DP
Dhar's house at Safakadal. When Police came to know about it, DP Dhar sent him
to his Jagir. Student Federation became the hub for Congress workers coming from
outside. In 1942 DP Dhar was President of J&K Branch of All India Student
Federation. Kashi Nath Bamzai was vice-president of J&K unit. Two incidents took
place during this time.
Some underground messenger
asked us to get in touch with Sarat Chandra Bose. The latter was serving in a
passenger liner in high seas between Calcutta
and Rangoon. He used to maintain contact with overround Congress workers under
an assumed name. I was communicated this assumed name. My letter landed with
Police Commissioner of Calcutta. British Intelligence was quite alert. The
Commissioner sent the letter to Shri Gopalswami Ayyengar, Prime Minister of J&K
for enquiry and action. Shri Ram Lal Nagpal (later secretary, J&K Assembly) was
his stenographer. Nagpal knew me but his relations with Shri DP Dhar were
better. Ram Lal called on DP Dhar and informed him that the Prime Minister had
asked Shri DP Dhar and Mr Satpal Sahni to meet him at his residence at 9:30 A.M
the next day.
The PM residence was near
Amar Singh Club. DP Dhar took me along in his Tonga, Ram Lal took us to Mr.
Ayyengar's Chamber. The Prime Minister told Sh. DP Dhar, "You are the son of a
Jagirdar. The activities you are indulging in can jeopardise your Jagir”. DP
Dhar replied,” Sir, the point is why should my father suffer for my mistake”.
Mr. Ayyenger took out the
letter and asked, “whose signature is this?” I replied, “signatures are mine”.
He enquired, “why did you write this?” I said, “I wanted to elicit some
information”. He continued, “you can be sent to jail”. I submitted, “If I
deserve it then I will go”. At the end he said in view of the complaint made by
Police Commissioner of Calcutta
some action had to be taken. The meeting lasted just five minutes. We were taken
to Kothibagh Police Station, an FIR was filed against us for indulging in
'subversive activities". In the Police Station two of my cousins came to see me,
the Tonga driver had communicated to them the news of our detention. We DP and
me were released after three days.
Around this time (Sept.
1942) Dr Zakir Hussain (later President of India) visited Kashmir. He was not
active in Quit India Movement. Our group wanted to do political activity
independent of National Conference. In this connection I was deputed by my
organisation to meet Dr. Zakir Hussain. He was staying in Bombay Guest House at
Boulevard. He refrained from participating in active politics. We had decided to
invite him for presiding over the annual anniversary of our student
organization. I said to him since the Quit India Movement had engulfed the
entire country we wanted ti to extend to our state as well. He said it was a
policy matter of Congress leadership not to involve States in it. Turning to the
convention he asked, “What will you deliberate in the convention”. I replied,
“we will express our solidarity with countrymen”. He tried to dissuade me and
turned me off saying, “They will put you in jail”. I asked, “why, we are not
raising the banner of revolt”. I told Dr. Zakir Sahib, “If Congress will not
agree to our demand we will start movement on our own”. He asked me, “what you
will do”. I told him we will indulge in activities of sabotage and our
organisation had the wherewithal. He advised, “Don't do anything that would
jeopardise your life. Don't do any work about which you do not know well.” The
meeting lasted just 30 minutes. Sardar Teja Singh had to accompany me but he
could not reach in time. Since I was alone, I had to justify to my organisation
that I had indeed met Dr. Zakir Hussain. I asked him to write a message for my
colleagues in the organisation. He wrote in the notebook, “If a thing is
worth doing it is also worthdoing well”. This advice changed the entire course
of my life. Honestly speaking, whenever I make an attempt to do a new thing,
this sentence rings my mind. And I decide to measure up myself whether I could
do the task.
KS: How did Naya
Kashmir manifesto emerge?
This idea had started
developing in Sadiq Sahib's baithak (Karra building) since 1940. This baithak
was sort of a club for NC and student activists, besides intellectuals. Punjab
communist leader Sh. BPL Bedi and his wife Freda visited Kashmir
in 1940. When Pt. Nehru came to Jammu and Srinagar in
June 1940, Bedis were already in Srinagar. It was through Sadiq that Bedis came
to know Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, and Mirza Afzal Beg but they
stayed close to Sheikh Sahib and Sadiq only. Because of DP Dhar, KN Bamzai and
JN Zutshi an intellectual group emerged which was influenced by Soviet
Constitution and Planning. Out of these discussions came out the idea of
Sh. BPL Bedi was asked by
Sheikh Abdullah to draft its manifesto. After its drafting it was discussed in
Sadiq Sahib's baithak and Working Committee of National Conference where it was
formally adopted with few changes. The manifesto was released at a function in
1943. It was distributed to NC workers, Trade Unionists, student activists etc.
Since I was standing close to Sheikh Sahib, I received its first copy with his
autograph on it. In 1969-70, I lost this document when Sardar Teja Singh took it
from me for Governor Bhagwan Sahay. It was never returned. In the original
manifesto the English and Urdu versions were bound together.
KS: What was the impact
of war in Kashmir?
Society was formed at the end of 1941 or beginning of 1942. A branch started in
J&K also. It was a non-political body. Sadiq was its President, Sh. NN Raina was
also active in it. I was its General Secretary for 18 months. Its task was to
create public awareness among the, people on the issue of Imperialist war vs
Peoples' War. Meanwhile Churchill's War Council of British empire had included
Maharaja Hari Singh as a member. For me the situation was problematic. I was
involved with anti-war effort because of my association with NC, AISF and
Indo-Soviet Friendship Society. On the other hand my father was a Darbari
(courtier). My mother was part of Maharani's Ladies Club, meant to boost war
I was closely associated
with NC leaders like Sheikh Sahib, Bakshi Gh. Mohd. Someshwar, KN Bamzai, JN
Zutshi, DP Dhar, Sadiq etc..
KS: About Jinnah's
visit in 1944.
Jinnah during his Kashmir
visit in 1944 tried to win over Sheikh Abdullah but the latter did not bite the
bait. Sheikh Sahib told Jinnah plainly that he would not allow his party to go
with Muslim League at any cost. Jinnah stayed initially in a houseboat for few
days, later he shifted to Ghulam Ahmed Jeweller's house at Shivpora. Jeweller's
son Ghulam Mohammad (later Finance Minister of PoK in Sardar Ibrahim's Cabinet)
was my friend since 1939-40. Subsequently, I developed good relations with GA
Jeweller also. Once, because of my friendship with Gh. Mohammad I had the chance
to pay a courtesy call on Jinnah. A few days later GA Jeweller threw a big
reception party for Jinnah at Amar Singh Club where all prominent citizens were
invited to meet Jinnah, 1-2 ministers also attended the party But on Sheikh
Sahib's instructions none from the NC came for reception.
Jeweller was close to NC
before Jinnah's visit. His playing host to Muslim League leader created
differences between him and Sheikh Abdullah. After his son migrated to PoK,
Jeweller again came close to Sheikh Abdullah.
It was because of the
influence of Congress that Sheikh Abdullah played cool to Jenab. Sheikh Sahib
was a PRESIDENT of States Peoples Conference and a special invitee to Congress
Working Committee. He felt it was his responsibility to honour the trust
Congress had reposed in him. Entire NC leadership sided with Sheikh Sahib. Only
Mirza Afzal Beg wanted an approach of 'Wait and See'. He had his own
reasons. Cripps Mission of 1942 had failed, Cabinet Mission was on way to India.
Also, Mirza Afzal Beg was in Maharaja's Cabinet. He wanted to see Viceroy's
attitude towards Jinnah.
ideological affinity brought Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah closer. Though Sheikh
started as a communalist, he turned secular subsequently. His involvement with
Congress had a very positive impact on him. Though he was religious, yet he was
secular in outlook.
KS: What was the impact
of Quit Kashmir Movement? How did it develop?
Simmerings within NC was
already there. Mirza Afzal Beg was Minister, Mian Ahmed Yar did not get berth in
the cabinet. Within NC there was polarization along 'pro-Maharaja' and
'anti-Maharaja' lines. Jinnah's unsuccessful visit had acted as fuel to this
polarization. In a session of NC in Jammu Province it was decided that 'We have
reached limit of our patience and there was need to start agitation against
Maharaja'. NC leadership had also in mind the Quit India Movement which had
yielded big dividends to Congress. So they thought they could replicate it in
Kashmir by launching Quit Kashmir Movement. They forgot that people had given
big sacrifices in Quit India Movement. There were few such people in Kashmir.
Many people wanted to use movement for personal aggrandizement and personal
gains. In May 1946 built further pressure on NC leadership. Under Cabinet
Mission Viceroy was engaged in discussions with Congress and Muslim League
leaders in Shimla. Sheikh Sahib felt that Kashmiris would be left high and dry
and Maharaja Hari Singh may deal with Cabinet Mission on his own, bypassing NC
leadership. NC was preparing to launch the agitation. Prime Minister RC Kak
prempted the situation by arresting overnight all the important NC workers. By
May 1946 itself all the important workers were in jails. Kh. Ahsanullah, a
businessman who owned Army Agency business, had escaped arrest. Later, he became
Trade Commissioner in Delhi in 1948. Sh. DP Dhar and KN Bamzai were in Lucknow.
Sadiq Sahib and Bakshi Sahib were in Lahore.
Sh. KN Aima, Kh. JN Zutshi etc. were in jail. Sh. Mohiddin Qarra was the real
hero of Quit Kashmir Movement.
Sheikh Abdullah's trial
started in July 1946 at Badami Bagh cantonment. Pt. Nehru constituted a
committee of defence headed by himself for Sheikh Sahib's defence. The committee
included renowned people like Sh Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali. While Pt. Nehru
was on way to Kashmir, he was arrested at Kohala by Sh. Maharaj Kishen Dhar,
District Magistrate and Governor of Kashmir. He was brought to Uri where he
stayed in Dak Bungalow for 1½ days before being sent back. Dr Rajender Prasad
paid a visit to this bungalow when he came to Kashmir as President of India. The
Bungalow, burnt down by Tribal Raiders in 1947, was reconstructed and carries a
Marble plaque commemorating Pt. Nehru's stay there. Asaf Ali and Bhula Bhai,
Desai represented Sheikh Abdullah in defence. Pt. Nehru's decision to head
Sheikh Sahib's defence defying Congress Working Committee's decision to go to
Kashmir and then courting arrest at Kohala created tremendous impact on common
Kashmiri and NC workers. One could see it visibly in Srinagar. Cabinet Mission
came to Srinagar in 1946. It met the Maharaja. NC had a plan to meet it but
because of public repression they could not meet them. They later sent
memorandum to Delhi and Lahore.
KS: Sh. Maharaj Kishen
Dhar's decision to arrest has been a matter of controversy. What are your views.
In retrospect I feel he
was committed as an administrator to discharge his duties as District Magistrate
of Kashmir in relation to political activities arising out of Quit Kashmir
Movement but his heart was sound and a nationalist one. This is substantiated by
his role when he was asked to arrest Sh RC Kak in November 1947. He was asked by
the Chief Executive of Emergency administration to handcuff the former Prime
Minister in grass ropes and then parade him through Srinagar. Sh Dhar refused to
perform this task, saying he could not meet this treatment to a former Prime
Minister. Sh Dhar was relieved of his duties.
Mr MK Dhar was a great man
for whom I have immense respect. His son Pratap Kishen was my friend. I would
spend lot of time with Sh. MK Dhar. He was kind, affectionate, a friend and a
guide to me. He was an intellectual of high order and did lot of reading. He was
a strict disciplinarian. Those days even high officials were not given official
cars. Though he had a car which his son would drive, yet he would go to office
at Tankipora from Poloview/Red Cross residence on bicycle. He had no servants.
Pt. Maharaj Kishen Dhar
was a very good officer. He would tour a lot to take stock of the situation. He
was an able, efficient administrator. Maharaja Hari Singh knew that Pt. Nehru's
cousin's daughter was married to Sh. Dhar's son Jawahar, yet he had full faith
in him and perhaps he wanted to see it as a test case.
Pt. MK Dhar handled Quit
Kashmir as per the directions given. He had no sympathy for Quit Kashmir
Movement, yet his sympathies were with overall cause of India. As friend of Sh.
MK Dhar and one who was close to NC leadership, In my own way I tried to see
that misunderstanding between the two sides did not grow. Mr Dhar was a staunch
nationalist but he had to perform his official duties.
Sh Dhar had three sons--Kishen
Kumar, Jawahar Lal and Pratap Kishen besides two daughters. After he was
relieved off his duties in November 1947 he had no place to go to. I arranged
for his accommodation at a place adjacent to my residence. He, his wife, son
Pratap and a daughter who was a doctor in a government hospital stayed for six
months in the 3-room accommodation. Later the family shifted to Udaipur when
Kishan was employed as Geology Engineer in Hindustan Zinc Corporation. It is my
regret that I never saw Dhars after May 1948.
KS: You were also a
member of Amar Singh Club?
Membership was quiet
difficult. Maharaja Hari Singh was the patron of the club. Because of my past
record and close links with Sheikh Abdullah and detention in jail getting
membership was all the more difficult. At the same time my father was a Darbari
. When my membership application came up before Maharaja in September 1944, the
latter asked me, “How do you manage to do everything. Why do you want to become
a member.” I engaged in political activities, had close ties with NC and with Sh.
Maharaj Kishen Dhar.
I replied, “Sir, I am fond
of tennis. We do not have any court to play Tennis. The Srinagar club is
reserved for the Britishers”. Then he asked me, “have you left politics”. I
said, “I am in politics but am not a part of any political group”. So I was
admitted as a member of the club.
I was not only involved in
NC politics but also in social life because of father's business. Kashmir during
1942-47 was centre of high voltage political activity. Many nawabs and princes
used to used to visit Kashmir. Important political leaders like Mian Mumtaz
Daultana, Mian Iftikharuddin, Mian Bashir Ahmed, Sheikh Sadiq, Sir Sultan Ahmed,
MD Taseer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hafeez Jullundri used to spend summers in Kashmir
and stayed either in houseboats or bungalows. Through club I came to know these
people and attended many parties. On other occasion I had the chance to play
tennis with them. It included Rajmata Gayatri Devi then Princess of Cooch Behar
State. My cousins and I would play tennis every evening at the club courts.
KS: How was the life of
Kashmiris in 1930s and 1940s?
This period was one of
peace for the majority of the people. The life of people was orderly, secure,
peaceful, easy, simple and delightful. Living was by and large inexpensive.
Consummable items were unadulterated and available at affordable rates. There
was no shortage of any kind.
KS: Can you elaborate
further on consummable items?
While I was at school in
1934-35 I used to get pocket money of 1 Anna per day. For one paisa i.e.
one-fourth of an anna I would get six pears. My father was fond of purchasing
consummables in bulk. He would take the personal
to purchase pulses and bulk vegetables from the river market at Zainakadal. You
can have an idea about the economy from the rates of different food items. Big
bag of moong which contained 2-2½ maunds was sold at Rs 2/-. The
Baramulla belt was major producer of moong in those days. Agriculture in Kashmir
was fairly well-developed and quite diversified. We would have many excellent
varieties of rice-mushkabudej, Zag etc, which are no longer easily
available. Rock salt or Nadroo (lotus stalk) would cost 50 paisa a seer. The
big bag of any of the vegetables e.g. Hak, Monji, Potato, Onions would sell for
less than a rupee. The cost of flour bag or that of 16 kg ghee cannister was Re
1 and 4 annas. Once while we were returning from Rawalpindi we halted at
Uri for a while to do some purchases. We got half a bag of maize flour for Re 1
and full bag of Kagzi walnuts for 12 annas. In Srinagar in 1920s one could get
best quality saffron for Rs 2 per tola, Pashmina for Rs 2 per yard etc.
The mouth-watering bakarkhani and Pampore speciality, called by Kashmiris
'Shumal' would sell for 64 pieces per rupee.
KS: What sort of fuel
you used those days?
We used chulha.
Hatab wood was the main fuel. We used to purchase it in bulk-150-200 khirwars
at a time. For warming ourselves in winters bukhari and kangri
were used. The finest quality coal of Chinar leaves would sell for 4 annas per
bag. Hatab was used for bukharis as well.
KS: What were the means
of Transport then?
There was no motorised
used to ply on all the routes-Srinagar to Pattan, Baramulla and within Srinagar
to Badami Bagh, Safakadal etc. Number of cars/buses were few and far between.
Traffic Police Department had just 10-15 personnel. The Department was headed by
a Parsi officer whose surname was Patel, he was its Superintendent. This
department was called Patel Police. Anyone who was employed in it got the
appellation of Patel. One Kashmiri Pandit, Dina Nath was better known as Dina
Patel because he worked under Parsi Patel.
KS: Any more details
about Parsi Patel?
His younger son Jehangir
became the principle disciple of Swami Mukta Nandji of Igatpur, Maharashtra. The
Swami had more than 117 ashrams all over India.
In 1982 when Swami Muktanandji visited Kashmir the younger Patel accompanied him
as Swami Sevanand Ji. I couldn't recognise him. It was he who made me recollect.
He had completely transformed.
KS: How did the rapid
strides in the economy of the State get reflected in life of Kashmiris?
In late 1920s cars started
coming to private life in Kashmir.
Northern Motors Company which had its headquarters in Rawalpindi opened a
showroom in what later came to be called Ganda Singh building. They sold
Cheverelet vehicles. My father had purchased a Cheverlet car in 1928 for just Rs
2700. Till then we had a Tonga.
The car ran on petrol. It had 4 seats, 4 doors. Till 1947 most of the trucks and
buses which plied in J&K were only Cheverlets. Fare from Srinagar to Rawalpindi
was Rs 5 for car and Rs 2 for bus per seat. It remained same until 1943-44. The
fare was hiked when petrol rationing was introduced in 1941-42.
KS: How did the people
keep themselves informed about the local, national and international
Means of communication
were slow, almost non-existent. By and large people lived in complete or partial
ignorance about what was happening outside their own city. In early 1930s we had
one English newspaper-Kashmir Chronicle, published and edited by Pt.
Gwash Lal Koul from Kashmir. There were a couple of Urdu newspapers. Sometimes a
copy of Ranbir (Urdu) published from Jammu was available at one or two newspaper
shops in Kashmir.
KS: Did newspapers from
outside were available in Kashmir?
mostly from Lahore - Tribune, Statesman, Civil and Military
Gazette in English and Zamindar, Inquilab, Milap, Pratap, Vir Arjun
in Urdu reached Srinagar 3-4 days after their publication. The English dailies
were of eight pages. The Urdu papers carried news/views about Ahrar and Arya
Samaj Politics. Lot was happening in Punjab. Since the newspapers were the only
instruments of public opinion the developments in Punjab had their impact on
people of J&K also.
KS: Who was the first
newspaper agent in
There was one Batra, a
one-eyed person who used to get papers from outside and also sold local
newspapers. He ran a shop selling electrical goods. Batra had his shop adjacent
to the one of Dr Jaswant Singh in the building just opposite the Khalsa Hotel.
KS: When did Radio
The Radio receiver came to
Kashmir in 1935. The initial sets were big, unwieldy. I had preserved one till
1990 as an antique item. The broadcast would be just for 2-3 hours. The first
shop for sale of Radio sets was started in Ganda Singh Building.
We bought a set for Rs 800 in 1935. It was Stewart-Warner and had valves (not
transistors) plus big sized speakers. The first broadcast I heard on my radio
still does not get out of my mind. It was the speech of King Edward VIII,
announcing his abdication because of his love and marriage to Lady Simpson. She
subsequently became Dutchess of Windsor. Though AIR broadcasts took place from
one or two stations BBC even then was most reliable for news.
KS: How popular was
Gulmarg as a Tourist spot those days for the foreign tourists?
Gulmarg was home in summer
to hundreds of British families at a time. In fact, more Britishers spent their
summer in Gulmarg than in Srinagar.
They would stay in huts and for short stay in Nedous Hotel. The latter too was
functional in a number of huts, only the dinning room/hall was common. The
Centre of most of their activities used to be Club House which had a large two
storeyed wooden structure. The ground floor had a large sized dance hall. Club
house was burnt down by the raiders in 1947. The Church was also burnt but the
Chapel escaped damage. It was rebuilt in 1975. When Germans started World War II
on September 3, 1939 I happened to be in Gulmarg. There was panic and anxiety
written on the faces of the Britishers in Gulmarg when the BBC announced
the German invasion of Czechoslovakia.
KS: What about the
There were 2,3,4 bedrooms
huts available on three or five year lease at the rent of Rs 500-800 annually.
Our family had one of the 3-bed room hut for a period of five years. During the
summer many of the local Srinagar
families who could afford used to shift from Srinagar
to Gulmarg . We too used to go for 6-8 weeks during vacations. However, we would
shuttle too often as we had the facility of a car. My father was a very good
horse rider. It would take him 20 mts. to cover the distance between Tangmarg
and Gulmarg. For us it took well over 45 minutes.
KS: How important was
Gulmarg for the local economy?
It fetched lot of revenue.
Locals would earn good amount of money. The shops dealing with medicines,
Toiletries, Wine belonged to Pandits, while those of Tailoring, Barber Saloons,
Shoesmiths/leather goods, Gunsmiths etc. belonged to the members from the
majority community. The Gunsmiths were the famous Bandokkhars from Rainawari.
Good quality leather came from outside the state. In 1939 one of the finest pair
of shoes of pure leather I bought at Gulmarg for just Rs 3. The shoesmaker would
first take the measurement, then take a try and if any alterations were still
needed he would not mind. None of the Britishers owned a shop in Gulmarg. A
photographer and chemist shop did belong to W.Lambert of Srinagar but his entire
staff at the shops was Kashmiri.
KS: Gulmarg enjoys
international reputation for Golf. Was it the only game played there?
It was the Golfer's
Paradise no doubt. Surprisingly, horse-racing and Polo was also played here.
Polo matches were staged twice a week. Gulmarg provided to the Britishers their
kind of life. There was no ban on shooting/shikar provided one had a license.
The common shikars were black bear, birds, partridge/fowls etc. 3-4 Golf
championships were spread over the whole season There used to be an annual
bawl-dancing competition at the Club. In winters Gulmarg was the Ski capital of
KS: How often did
Maharaja Hari Singh visit Gulmarg? What steps he took for its development?
The Maharaja used to visit
Gulmarg only on special occasions. He liked to play Polo at Srinagar; he was not
too fond of Golf. His interests were fishing, hunting and visits to construction
places. For fishing he had built lodges all over Kashmir.
Gulmarg was not the favourite place for shooting for Maharaja. He had an eye for
good location for constructing buildings. In Srinagar Gulab Bhavan and Oberoi Palace have such an
excellent ambience. Mr Eugene Black, the first President of World Bank visited
Srinagar in 1956 soon after Oberoi Palace was thrown open. He told me that it
had the second best site for a hotel in the world, the other being Richmond
Maharaja Hari Singh took a number of steps to promote tourism and develop
Gulmarg as a tourist resort. Tourist Department was established in India first
time by him in 1928. It used to be called as Visitors Bureau. In the same year
SKI Club of India was also started in Gulmarg. There was a piped water supply
from Springs for Gulmarg tourists. Labourers would bring daily chopped wood
pieces from forests for fuel purposes.
KS: Maharaja Hari Singh
was quite fond of Polo.
It is true but he
patronised Tennis and bridge as well. At personal level he liked to play Polo
and Bridge. Every Saturday there used to be Polo matches in Srinagar. He had
developed the ground for Polo in the capital city. There would be 2-3 games
depending upon the availability of sunshine. When no team from outside the state
was available he would ask the local players to form two teams. It was to keep
local players in good practice. The main Polo teams that came from outside were
those from Cooch-Behar, Bhopal,
Jaipur etc. Whenever matches were played, Maharaja's courtiers, ministers
alongwith their families were invited. They watched the Polo game from the two
Pavillions. The common public had no permission to watch the game from the
Pavillions. It would stand on the pavement outside the fencing. It used to be a
great sight. For many years I enjoyed Polo matches from pavement side only. It
was after 1945 onwards we got chance to see the game from the Pavilion. One of
the pavillions, where PSC office is located, housed Radio Kashmir after 1947.
For many years it used to operate from here. The other Pavilion was taken over
by the Police Department.
KS: Did Ganderbal also
have some tourist importance?
From a tourist point of
view Ganderbal was un-important but a holiday in Ganderbal was delightful. Our
family had a three bed room Houseboat moored in Dal Lake. For four summers 1935
onwards we used to spend 2-3 weeks of autumn in Ganderbal. Staying in the
house-boat and watching it being rowed across the Dal into Jehlum canal at Dal
Gate, then to Sonawar and downstream to Chattabal, Shadipur, later upstream of
Sind nullah to Ganderbal was quite exciting. I haven't enjoyed a better holiday
than this. We would ask the Hanji to row slowly. After 4 hours journey we would
halt for the night at Shadipur and then go to Ganderbal the next day.
In summers quite a few
Houseboats other than ours used to be moored in Ganderbal. The place held
attraction for two reasons. One it afforded the opportunity to live in a
Houseboat. Secondly, it was an excellent site to watch the autumn with falling
of Chinar leaves. Both the banks were lined with Chinar trees. In the ground of
Chinar Bagh there stood 50-60 Chinars. It mirrored the Chinar Bagh of Srinagar.
When we would not be in Houseboat we used to lie down on copper coloured leaves
of Chinar on the ground. What a holiday it was! Some of the regular visitors who
came to Ganderbal for holidaying were Nawab of Palanpur (Gujrat) and Maharaja of
Jind. The latter did not have his family staying with him (for whatever
reasons). He had a specially built houseboat for himself at Ganderbal. Besides
his houseboat there used to have another boat specially constructed to house his
big fleet of scores of different breeds of pet dogs. Many years later when his
son Raj Kumar Jasbir Singh came as an Army Commander of Indian troops to
Kashmir, probably in late sixties, I related all this to him. He said he had no
knowledge about it. In Ganderbal like Gulmarg life was easy, inexpensive. On
week days my father and myself used to come to Srinagar
in Tonga in the morning and return to Ganderbal in the evening.
KS: There were many
Punjabis in 1930s, 1940s in Kashmir.
What sort of social life they lived? How did it impact Kashmiris?
During Maharaja Pratap
Singh's reign for most of the senior appointments in administration the Maharaja
had to depend on educated, well-trained experienced officers from outside J&K.
Surprisingly, the Maharaja made his selection from mostly two regions-Bengal and
Punjab. Bengali ministers and officers played important role in giving shape to
social life and in developmental activities. Among Bengali officials the well
known names were Sir Albion Banerjee (Administration), Sh. LC Bose (Chief
Engineer Electrical for 11 years), Sh. JC Chatterjee (Archeology), Dr Mitra
(Health Services). Many of the engineers, judicial officers, administrators came
K.B. Abdul Qayoom was Chief Justice of State High Court. Sh Bodh Raj Sawhny was
Lahore. He was charged with creating the higher judiciary structure. Later, when
High Court was set up he was appointed as officiating Chief Justice.
KS: What were the
consequences of the monopolisation of high state jobs by Bengalis and Punjabis?
There was strong
resentment by members of the native nobility and the feudal class. A whispering
campaign was started against the officers from outside. Maharaja Hari Singh had
to promulgate a notification in 1927 laying the foundation of State Subject Law.
Under this three categories of State Subjects were created. Category A included
those who were hereditary citizens of the State and had landed property. In
category B there were people who came from outside but had acquired landed
property here. Then there was C category where the people were either employed
in J&K Government State Service or had been living here for the past ten years
but did not own any landed property.
KS: What was the impact of ‘Quit
Kashmir Movement’, launched by National Conference?
‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ did not take off the way it was envisaged. NC had
thought that they would be able to create a situation where Maharaja Hari Singh
may face a situation similar to the one faced by the British government in 1942
during ‘Quit India Movement’.
Local Kashmiris did not support to the extent
Sheikh Abdullah and NC leadership had hoped and expected. The movement did not
enthuse the masses enough. After 15-20 days the life in Srinagar was normal.
However, this movement did help National Conference to gain political space
vis-a-vis Muslim Conference.
KS: What were the reasons for the lack
of success of the movement?
The major factors were - divided
political loyalties in Kashmir between NC
and MC and pre-emptive action by the State administration headed by Prime
Minister RC Kak. The latter did not help NC to reap the rich harvest of all its
plans against Dogra ruler. Sheikh Sahib and many other leaders were arrested.
Those who went underground managed to evade arrest and operated clandestinely.
Some others like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Kh. GM Sadiq escaped to Rawalpindi and made Lahore their base. The
leadership of the underground movement went into the hands of Kh. Mohi-ud-Din
Karra. He became popular leader of the movement. The intellectual class of NC-Maulana
Masoodi, Mirza Afzal Beg, Pt. Janki Nath Zutshi, Pt. Kashi Nath Aima and others
were in jail. Due to all this the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ failed to achieve
fully its objectives. Of course, an overriding situation was the fast moving
political scene in the country. This had an impact on J&K too. In the meantime,
the Cabinet Mission had come to India and visited Srinagar for two days.
KS: How severe was the State repression
during the Quit Kashmir Movement?
There was no large-scale repression
or oppression by the State administration. The families, whose members had gone
underground to evade arrest during the movement, were put to trouble.
KS: What was the attitude of Kashmiri
Pandits and the political forces outside J&K towards ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’?
The educated intellectual class among
Kashmiri Pandits sympathised with and participated in the movement. Leaders like
Sh. Asaf Ali, Bhulabhai Desai etc. visited the State. Pt. Nehru courted arrest
to express solidarity with the movement. It were these leaders who organised the
legal defence of Sheikh Abdullah.
KS: Did Maharaja’s govt. and National
Conference meet the Cabinet Mission in Srinagar?
It was reported that Maharaja Hari
Singh had prepared a memorandum for submission but no meeting took place.
Reports current at that time did say that the memorandum was given to the leader
of the Cabinet Mission by an emissary of the Maharaja. Although no authentic
details are available the local Urdu press of Lahore said that Maharaja Hari
Singh had supported withdrawal of British from India as the only peaceful
option. In the absence of top leadership, NC was also not able to submit a
formal memorandum. The Cabinet Mission stayed at the State Guest House, near
Amar Singh Club.
KS: There were communal riots in Punjab
on 16th March 1947. What was its impact on J&K? What was Muslim League policy
towards Princely States?
Communal violence in Punjab did have
an impact here. Ch. Hameedullah Khan, Vice-President of Muslim Conference had
tried to use that situation to inflame sentiments of Muslims in Kashmir and
Jammu. He was leader of Muslim Conference in Praja Sabha. A meeting of Muslim
Conference under his chairmanship was called in Jammu on 19th July. A resolution
was adopted asking Maharaja to accede to Dominion of Pakistan, which was coming
into being. The resolution asked Maharaja to accede in three subjects - Defence,
Foreign Affairs and Communications.
Earlier, on 17th June, All India Muslim
League held a meeting in which Jinnah made a formal announcement confirming what
Indian Independence Act had proposed - that the decision of a princely state to
accede to either of the two dominions would be the exclusive right and
prerogative of the ruler to decide. This was opposite to the stand taken by the
Congress, which said that the right belonged to the people.
KS: Can you throw some light on
Mountbatten’s mission to Kashmir?
Mountbatten Plan had been announced on 3rd of
June, 1947. On 19th of June Lord Mountbatten and Lady Edwina came to Srinagar on
a four day visit. Obviously, the visit was intended to persuade Maharaja to take
a decision to accede to either of the dominions.
Situation in Kashmir
was altogether different. Maharaja Hari Singh had almost made up his mind not to
become part of either of the Dominions. There were some reasons for this.
Firstly, it was the statement of Muslim League that the ruler was the ultimate
authority to decide the issue of accession. Secondly, he feared that the Muslim
majority state would not willingly support him if he decided to accede to India. Lastly, he did not want to accede to
Pakistan for obvious reasons.
Two other major influences working on him
were - Prime Minister RC Kak, who reportedly advised him to delay decision to
accede till after the two Dominions had been created and the second influence
was Maharani Tara Devi. She was under the overpowering influence of Swami Sant
Dev, the family Raj Guru. It was reported then that Sant Dev had conveyed to the
Maharaja that he had dreamt that the Maharaja’s flag was flying over Lahore
Fort. He also reportedly conveyed to Maharani that the planetary configuration
also supported such an eventuality. All these things perhaps influenced the mind
Perhaps on this account Maharaja avoided any
meeting with Mountbatten during his 4 days stay in Kashmir.
For the first two days he sent Mountbattens to Thricker Fishing Lodge near
Mattan to enjoy fishing. On the last day when Mountbatten was to leave in the
afternoon a meeting was fixed in the forenoon.
Early in the morning Maharaja conveyed to the
Viceroy his regrets, saying he was suffering from colic. So he avoided the
meeting and the decision could not be forced on the Maharaja.
KS: Around same time the British Govt.
decided to terminate the 60-year lease of Gilgat Agency, which the Maharaja had
given to them in 1935. How did the situation evolve there subsequently?
Gilgat Agency, which had an area of
13 00 sq kms, reverted to Maharaja’s administration on 1st August, 1947.
Maharaja had decided to send Brig. Ghansara Singh, a serving officer of State
Forces, as Governor of Gilgat. On 29th July, 1947 Brig. Scott, Chief of Staff of
State Forces and Brig. Ghansara Singh flew from Srinagar
to Gilgat in Maharaja’s plane to take the charge of the leased territory
formally. Brig. Scott returned the next dayleaving Brig. Ghansara Singh to look
after the administration of the territory.
The situation was not very happy for Brig.
Ghansara Singh because local Rajas of the area - Hunza, Punial etc. did not
want a military man as Governor. In any case Brig. Ghansara Singh found that it
was not only the local Rajas but also two wily British officers of the local
levy - Gilgat Scouts he had to contend with. This area erupted with the local
revolt, which I shall take up separately.
KS: Gandhiji’s visit is considered by
many a turning point in shaping Kashmir's contemporary history. What was the
background in which his visit took place? When did he visit Srinagar?
First invitation was extended to Gandhiji by
Maharaja Partap Singh in 1915, after he came from South Africa. Though Gandhiji
accepted the invitation but he could not avail of this opportunity. Again in
1932 Gandhiji was persuaded by his followers in Lahore to visit Kashmir
to assuage the feelings of people in Kashmir in the wake of violence that took
place in July, 1931. This visit also could not take place - obviously because of
his political engagements in the rest of the country.
Following Pt. Nehru’s arrest in Kashmir
in 1946 Gandhiji was persuaded to make a visit to Kashmir
but because of intense political activity and confabulation with Viceroy on one
hand and Jinnah on the other he could find no time. In July 1947 it was made
known that Gandhi had been persuaded to visit Kashmir.
Maharaja Hari Singh wrote to Viceroy that it would be unwise for Gandhiji to
visit Kashmir at that juncture.
He added that the visit could be postponed
till after the creation of two Dominions. The Viceroy reportedly sent a copy of
this letter to Gandhiji. This seemed to have steeled the resolve of Gandhiji to
make the visit before India attained Independence.
Gandhiji travelled from New Delhi to
Rawalpindi by Frontier Mail. He was due to reach Rawalpindi on 31st July. At
Amritsar Railway Station a small black flag demonstration was staged against
him. The demonstrators were reportedly protesting against the killing of
innocent people in communal riots. On this account Rawalpindi District
Administration sent a senior Police officer to Railway Station at Chaklala, a
few miles short of Rawalpindi to advise Gandhiji to detrain at that station only
because of the fear of another demonstration at Rawalpindi Railway Station. The
District Administration wanted him to go in car from Chaklala to the place of
his residence in Rawalpindi. At Rawalpindi he stayed in the house of Dev Raj
Anand, the Congress leader who was President of Rawalpindi Municipal
Corporation. A prayer meeting was held there.
At Chaklala Gandhiji was received by National
Conference leaders - Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Kh. GM Sadiq, who also arranged
for the transportation of Gandhiji and his party to Srinagar by two cars.
Starting on 1st of August in the early morning from Rawalpindi the party reached
Kohala bridge (border between British India and J&K State). Bakshi and Sadiq
accompanied Gandhiji up to Kohala and went back to Lahore.
Representatives of Maharaja Hari Singh
received Gandhiji at Kohala with a request that he may agree to stay at Srinagar
as guest of the Maharaja. Two cars had also been sent by the Maharaja for use of
Gandhiji and his party. However, Gandhiji declined the use of Maharaja’s cars
and also his offer of hospitality at Srinagar.
Enroute he had his frugal lunch at Rampur and
continued his journey. At Baramulla there was a small demonstration by Muslim
Conference activists who raised anti-Congress slogans and madean attempt at
Normally, Gandhiji should have been guest of
NC but since Sheikh Sahib was in jail it was decided that he would stay as guest
of Seth Kishori Lal Sethi, a businessman affiliated to Congress. Originally, a
Punjabi he was associated with Kashmir
for many years as a leading Forest Lessee. His wife, a lawyer by profession, was
a Congress activist of many years. Sethi was also close to NC leadership,
including Sheikh Sahib and Bakshi Sahib.
KS: So Gandhiji stayed at Seth Kishori
Yes, Seth Kishori Lal’s rented villa
was located at Barzulla. The house had a big orchard with sprawling lawns as
well. At Barzulla a large crowd was present to receive him inspite of slight
drizzle that was taking place.
After some rest Gandhiji was taken for a
drive in a motor car around Dal Lake. Since it was first of August, the day
Gilgat Agency reverted back to Maharaja’s administration the state buildings had
Gandhiji enquired about the reasons for
illumination. When informed about reversion of Gilgat territories to Maharaja,
Gandhiji said it would have been better if the opinion of the local population
had been taken into consideration.
On return to Sethi residence Gandhiji went to
rest as he was feeling tired. He was accompanied by his Secretary, Pyare Lal and
KS: Did you do the Public Relations job
for Gandhiji during this visit?
Since Pyare Lal was unfamiliar with
local dignitaries and did not know much about Kashmir
politics Seth Kishori Lal whom I knew for many years asked me to take up the
assignment as Gandhiji’s local secretary during his stay there. This provided me
a great opportunity of having good fortune of being close to one of the greatest
human beings of this century.
KS: What are your impressions about
His physical touch sent an
electrifying effect throughout my body whenever he rested his hand on my
shoulders or when I passed something to him. I was able to watch him at close
quarters, hear his voice, feel his touch and sense a special feeling of his aura
wherever he sat or walked.
His skin glowed like polished marble, it was
smooth, shiny, without wrinkles. His toothless smile was infectious and won over
even his strong critics. He had the capacity to get down to the level of person
sitting opposite to him, be it the child, an adult or even an old person. He
read all his correspondence personally, wrote in long hand whether it was reply
to a communication, a statement for release or even an editorial for one of his
newspapers. He wrote on postcard, not on the letter-head and chose to be
brief-writing just 4-7 lines. He was a strict disciplinarian for himself,
working almost like a clock. He functioned throughout his waking hours. His
pocket watch was his constant companion.
KS: Which dignitaries met him during
He was visited twice by Prime
Minister RC Kak on the mornings of 2nd and 3rd August. Although no details were
given out, it was conjectured that Gandhiji had advised Maharaja through RC Kak
to keep in mind the views of the majority of the population and the interests of
all sections of public when deciding future affiliation of the State.
On the morning of 3rd of August, RC Kak
conveyed to Gandhiji the invitation of Maharani Tara Devi to spend sometime with
the Maharaja, herself and the Yuvraj (Dr Karan Singh). Gandhiji visited Hari Niwas Palace to meet Maharaja, Maharani
and the Yuvraj. It is obvious that not much of politics could have been
Gandhiji received Begum Abdullah and her
daughter Khalida. On former’s invitation he went to Soura residence of Sheikh
Abdullah. Begum Abdullah had for the first time forsaken Burqa and decided to
come out in open to take part in public affairs. She had laid a very elaborate
table with large number of delicacies at tea time. Gandhi admonished her-firstly
it was not correct to offer so much to a simple old man and secondly, the money
spent could have been put to better use.
KS: Did Gandhiji hold prayer meetings
during this visit?
Gandhiji stayed here for 3 days.
People in Srinagar were eager and keen to attend his regular prayer meetings. He
was informed that since prohibitory orders under Section 144 were in force no
public gathering could be organised. Gandhi, therefore, refused to address a
prayer meeting on 1st August. When Prime Minister Kak visited Gandhiji on the
morning of August 2nd he was told that no prayer meeting could be held because
of prohibitory orders. Kak immediately informed the host, Mr Sethi that the
Government will have no objection if a prayer meeting was held within premises
of his residence.
Therefore, the prayer meeting was organised
on the evening of 2nd August. A high platform was constructed on the lawns of
Sethi residence from where Gandhiji participated in Ramdhun and recited his
other favourite bhajans.
KS. Gandhiji also visited Dr. SN Peshin
‘s National Hospital.
Dr. SN Peshin was a leader of
National Conference. He had called on Gandhiji and requested him to visit his
Hospital. Gandhiji went to the Hospital and talked to patients.
KS: When did Gandhi leave Srinagar?
4th of August was Monday, Gandhiji
was observing his weekly silence. By car he left for Jammu and spent the night
there. Next day he left via Sialkot and Rawalpindi for NWFP to keep an
appointment with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.
KS: Did Gandhiji advise Maharaja Hari
Singh to replace his Prime Minister RC Kak?
It is widely believed that there was
a connection between removal from office of Pt RC Kak and Gandhiji’s meeting
with Maharaja and his family. According to information available with me
Maharaja hesitated to discuss politics with Gandhiji. The information available
to Pyare Lal, Gandhiji’s Secretary was also along these lines. Secondly,
Gandhiji did not have interest in the Maharaja’s administration. He was more
concerned with Maharaja’s thinking about alignment with one of the two
If Gandhi wanted PM Kak’s replacement then he
may have suggested somebody. Evidently, Gandhiji neither knew nor could have
recommended a nonpolitical, a retired military officer with no administrative
experience i.e. Major General Janak Singh.
KS: What then led to PM Kak’s
Recently, I have secured valuable
information to substantiate the view that Gandhiji had no hand in Kak's
Between 1943-1945 Maharaja Hari Singh had
three Prime Ministers-Raja Maharaj Singh, Col. Kailash Narain Haksar and Sir BN
Rau. As soon as he appointed one, the Maharaja started cultivating someone else
to counterbalance him. Kak was appointed in 1945 when Sir BN Rau went away.
Maharaja Hari Singh, it transpires, did not appreciate fully Kak's handling of
'Quit Kashmir Agitation' nor his views on future affiliation of Kashmir State.
It is now learnt that Kak visited Delhi in July 1947 and met Mountbatten and
Sardar Patel. According to Kak's elder brother Pt. Amarnath Sardar Patel told
Kashmir Prime Minister that Maharaja was in search of a new Prime Minister.
Patel advised Kak to write to the Maharaja that either he repose full confidence
in him or else he may retire him and appoint someone else. Again, according to
Amarnath Kak, Pt. Ramchandra Kak on 28th July conveyed this to the Maharaja. On
hearing the same the Maharaja was reportedly upset but asked for a Note to be
sent to him. The Note was sent to Maharaja on July 30th and a copy was sent to
Sardar Patel for information. There was no immediate response from Maharaja.
After Gandhiji's departure from the state on August 4, the Maharaja went out for
a shoot from where he returned to Srinagar on 10th
August. Next day he sent a letter to Kak "announcing his retirement from Prime
Ministership and having asked Thakur Janak Singh to take his place. Within half
an hour Major General Janak Singh took over as Prime Minister.
On the 11th of August in the Old Secretariat
Major General Janak Singh arrived by car from his residence. The Chief Justice
administered the oath of office to him. I was present in the audience.
Two types of slogans were being raised 'RC
Kak Muradabad', 'General Janak Singh Zindabad'. There was no mention of
KS: What then was the significance of
Gandhi’s visit? Did senior leaders of NC meet him?
In political terms Gandhi’s visit was more emotional than political because he
thought his visit would act as balm on bruised psyche of Kashmiris. It was
caused by fear of Pakistan, Maharaja’s indecision and lastly, the entire NC
leadership was in jail or in exile. Only Kh.
Ahsanullah was overground. I think except Begum Abdullah and her daughter
Khalida no NC leader met Gandhiji. The two were accompanied by K. Gh. Mohmmad
Butt (not Gulraida, who was underground).
What decisions Maharaja took soon after General Janak
Singh assumed the Office?
Maharaja’s govt sent telegraphic requests to GOI at New Delhi and the Govt. in
waiting of Pakistan at Karachi requesting them to agree to Stand Still
Agreement with J&K Govt. This agreement was to enable J&K State to receive
from either government the services, the commodities and essential supplies
being received hitherto. Karachi responded readily to this request. On 12th
August J&K Govt. announced a ‘Stand Still Agreement” with Pakistan government
to be formed two days later. New Delhi’s reply was that an authorised
representative of Maharaja’s government may be sent to New Delhi for detailed
discussions to agree to Stand Still Agreement. There is nothing on record to
indicate whether any reply was sent by J&K Govt. and the matter never got
KS: What was the Impact of
‘Stand Still Agreement’ in general?
As for as the
lives of people were concerned absence of Stand Still Agreement with New Delhi
did not affect general public All essential supplies like Petrol, Oil and
Lubricants, Food Grains, Sugar, Salt, Textiles and the like were supplied either
from or through the area that became Pakistan (via Rawalpindi). Similarly, all
essential services like Posts and Telegraph, Telephones, Banking etc. were also
directly connected with areas which formed Pakistan. Only currency which was
British currency, was a matter concerning public which was being supplied by New
The only all-weather link of
State of J&K with
British India was through Jehlum Valley to Rawalpindi which also was the rail
head for Kashmir Valley. There was the only rail service with J&K, connecting
Jammu Tawi with Sialkot which later became part of Pakistan. There was no all
weather road connecting Jammu Tawi with Kathua, on the border between J&K and
Punjab (British India). A dusty Kaccha road linked Jammu and Kathua. On it an
irregular 14 seater passenger bus or a truck used to take more than 14 hours
from Jammu to Kathua, at times it would take more than two days.
It is obvious that Pakistan government took
advantage of these facts of connectivity or lack of it. One reason for
Pakistan's prompt decision to agree to a 'Stand Still Agreement' could be that
she wanted to make J&K totally dependent for all essential supplies on Pakistan
and then use it as a weapon for coercion and intimidation against Maharaja to
accede to Pakistan.
KS: There was perhaps no
definite document on Stand Still Agreement. How did 14/15th August impact on
There is no written down “Stand Still Agreement” anywhere. Only copies of
telegrams may be in archives. On 15th August, 1947 there was
neither hoisting of India Tricolour in Srinagar nor celebrations of any sort
were organised. Instead on 14th August on the day on which Pakistan came into
being Pak flag was ceremonially hoisted over General Post Office (GPO) building,
situated at the Bund at Srinagar. The spectators saluted the flag. I was one of
the spectators present. GPO also housed one Telegraph office which technically
was being looked after by State Telegraph Office . Telegraphic system or
Telephone Exchanges within the State of J&K were under State government. Present
CTO building was built in 1960s. After accession there was administrative
transfer, it became part of All India Service.
KS: Pakistan resorted to economic
strangulation and attacks in border areas through its irregulars. Was this aimed
at coercing Maharaja into acceding to Pakistan?
The period of uncertainty started in Srinagar since the flow of
supplies became irregular from Pakistani territory. Scarcity of commodities was
felt in the market. The railway link with Jammu had been stopped, only limited
quantities were being allowed to be transported from Rawalpindi to Srinagar.
Petrol, Diesel and Kerosene rationing was started in early September. Scarcity
of sugar and salt was discernible, although rations of foodgrains were available
normally through the ration depots of the State government on family ration
tickets called by locals as ‘Chendi’. This lead to hoarding in every household
and the rates of essential goods started soaring. In the meantime under a well
thought out strategy Pak government started economic squeeze of J&K to put
public pressure on Maharaja to accede to Pakistan. In this connection two
factors are worth noting. Alongside economic strangulation the demobbed
residents of Poonch and Rajouri area from the British Indian Army were provided
arms and given direction to create law and order situation in the areas of Jammu
province adjoining Pak territory. The situation was created where there was
insufficient police force in those areas, so personnel of the State forces had
to be deployed to protect the lives of the common people and the property of
the state. The J&K State forces had just 11-12 thousand persons in uniform,
which was less than a regular division. This had to take care of vast areas of
Maharaja’s territory from Gilgat to Kathua and from Karakoram to Muzaffarabad.
Brig. (later Major General) HL Scott was Chief of Staff of State Forces on
15/8/47. Due to exigencies of requirement or may be on account of other reasons
he divided the state forces in smaller numbers like penny packets, dispersing
these along the border with Pakistan. The dispersal was such that at no place
these forces would have been able to hold any determined attack. It seems that
there was a design behind this because at no place where attack of unruly rebel
elements was launched the State forces detachments were able to defend the
general public or even themselves. In a period of 49 days 57 incidents were
reported from the State border with Pakistan
in Jammu province. These reports used to be received by the Army Headquarters
at Srinagar and a copy was passed on to the District Magistrate, Srinagar
(Sh.. MK Dhar) who was also Governor of Kashmir province. Copies of these
reports were made every evening and personally delivered at the residence of
Kunwar Nichint Chand (Maharani Tara Devi’s brother), who used to stay at Durga
Nag. He was expected to deliver them personally to Maharaja every night. It was
certain that the Maharaja was kept informed with the developing situation day
after day but it seems he was helpless. On 22nd September Brig. Scott submitted
a detailed report about the situation along the border with Pakistan. This
report painted a very bleak picture of the situation. It hinted at large-scale
incursions soon expected from across the border. Intelligence reports had been
received of large scale preparations across the border.
KS: How the pressure was
being built on Maharaja to decide the question for Accession either way?
The situation was
deteriorating day by day. Pressure was building on Maharaja Hari Singh for
reconciliation with NC leadership and secondly, to take a decision once for all
to accede to either of the two dominions. On surface it was a letter of
apology written by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to Maharaja Hari Singh expressing
his loyalty to his person and to his dynasty. The other were the circumstances
building up both at
New Delhi, Srinagar
and Jammu. Muslim Conference became active and on 22 September at a special one
day convention it passed a unanimous resolution asking Maharaja Hari Singh to
accede to dominion of Pakistan. This convention was presided over by Ch.
Hameedullah Khan, Vice-President of J&K Muslim Conference and also leader of
Muslim Conference Legislature Party in Praja Sabha.
it was Congress party which had suggested time and again that to meet the
emerging situation in Kashmir in light of perceived
threats from Pakistan Sheikh Abdullah and others facing trial for treason may be
released without condition. It was early September. Sheikh Abdullah was in jail
in Bhaderwah. He was transferred to Badami Bagh around middle of September,
restrictions were relaxed soon after his shifting to Badami Bagh. He was
finally released on 29th September from detention.
On 1st October he addressed a
massive public meeting at Hazuri Bagh, later renamed as Iqbal Park. I had the
opportunity to listen to his speech. He said three important things. One, ‘We
should sink our differences to face the situation’. Secondly, ‘the first
priority was to gain people’s rule.’. And lastly, ‘which country to accede to
people’s government will take that decision’. One thing which came out clearly
in his speech was his commitment to secularism, socialism and total opposition
to two-nation theory. Two days later he went to New Delhi.
On 4th of October Sheikh
Abdullah addressed a press conference where he reiterated his stand on
accession, secular politics and representative government.
KS: Maharaja Hari Singh
changed Major General Janak Singh as well as his Chief of State forces, Brig.
As events were moving quite
apace after Sheikh Sahib's release Maharaja Hari Singh was not too happy with
the handling of situation either on military front or on the administrative
front. Major General Janak Singh was replaced by Mr. Justice Meherchand Mahajan,
who assumed office on
15th October, 1947. After Brig. Scott's report of 22nd September the Maharaja
also replaced Brig. Scott as Chief of Staff of State Forces with the next senior
most officer Brig. Rajender Singh. Maharaja made personal request to Shri
Mahajan, asking him to take over as new Prime Minister of J&K State.
Soon after demitting the
office Brig. Scott went over to Rawalpindi to report to Pak
KS: There was Dr. Taseer
Mission to Kashmir.
What it was all about?
In the first week
of October Sheikh Sadiq Hassan, President of Provincial Committee of Muslim
and Dr. MD Taseer arrived in Srinagar and stayed for 3-4
days. Among others they had two long meetings with Sheikh Sahib. 1st meeting
was preliminary, the second one was long. The purpose behind their visit was to
meet politically important individuals including those in NC and Muslim
Conference, in the administration and among intellectuals to find out the mood
of the people, the attitude towards Pakistan and to create situation for
Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. It was learnt then that Taseer who had been
friendly with Sheikh Sahib in earlier years had turned from a liberal
intellectual into a Muslim League ideologue. He tried to pressurise Sheikh
Abdullah to join forces with Muslim Conference and visit Lahore and Karachi for
detailed negotiations. It seems Sheikh Abdullah lost his cool when Taseer
repeatedly wanted to have an assurance from him that he would throw his weight
behind Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Sheikh Abdullah stuck to his ground
that people’s government will ultimately decide about accession. Reports in Pak
press then had quoted Dr MD Taseer as saying “Sheikh Sahib, Time is running out.
If you don’t listen to us we will use other means”. Sheikh Sadiq and Dr. Taseer
Srinagar for Lahore to
report to Muslim League High Command.
KS: Col. AB Shah was also
sent to Kashmir.
On 17th October
the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan deputed Col. AB Shah,
Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs to Srinagar to meet Maharaja
and his Prime Minister, MC Mahajan. It was learnt that he had brought with him
the Instrument of Accession drawn up by Pak government for J&K’s Accession to
Pakistan. All that was left for the Maharaja was to put his signatures with
date on it. The meeting between MC Mahajan and Col. Shah was not very pleasant.
Maharaja declined to meet Col. Shah, fearing that he may be forced to put his
signatures on it. Meantime Pak government invited Prime Minister Mahajan to Karachi
for firming up relations between J&K on one hand and Pakistan on the other. It
seems on return of Col. Shah the die was cast. Pak govt, including its
Governor General, Mr Jinnah were impatient. Since all preparations had
already been made in case Col. Shah’s mission failed, early on the morning of
October 22nd invasion of J&K started at Domel. At that time it was not
Muzaffarabad but Domel which was militarily important. Simultaneous attacks were
launched at many places in Jammu province as well.
KS: Why did State Forces fail
to counter the Pakistani invasion?
Kohala and Domel only one depleted battalion of State forces under Col. Narain
Singh was stationed, this battalion consisted of Muslim personnel and officers.
Their loyalties had already been won over by Pakistan. Col. Narain Singh’s 4th
battalion was stationed at Domel, which was also battalion headquarters. This
battalion had 50% Muslim and 50% non-Muslim personnel. When Pakistan attacked
the Muslim component of the battalion revolted and joined forces with invaders
within first two hours. Col. Narain Singh was killed but before he died he was
able to send a wireless message to Srinagar State Forces Headquarters about the
Pakistani invasion and the estimated strength of the enemy. Although officially
no details came out of what happened in Domel and Kohala during the first 60 odd
hours of the invasion. Reports gathered from the soldiers and the civilians who
escaped killings and massacres spoke of barbaric behaviour of Pakistani invaders
- mostly tribals under the command of regular army officers.
KS: Brig. Rajender Singh gave
tough fight to Pak invaders. How did it help?
Muzaffarabad and occupying Domel the invaders proceeded towards Garhi. They used
motorised transport to travel along Jehlum Valley Road and also proceeded along
the two mountain ridges on either bank of river Jehlum, thus providing cover to
the main attacking forces. By the evening of October 23rd the invaders had come
close to Uri and reports reached New Delhi from Srinagar about the Pakistani
invasion and the progress they had made up the Jehlum Valley towards Baramulla.
On 23rd itself Maharaja Hari
Singh ordered the Chief of Staff, Brig. Rajender Singh to take all the available
force at Srinagar and
proceed to Uri to hold the enemy at bay. Maharaja’s orders were “hold the enemy
to the last man, to the last bullet”. The Brigadier could gather no more than
150 individuals who were transported to Baramulla and as far as possible towards
Uri. They took positions in and around Uri. On 24th evening, the day of Dussehra
late in the evening the city of Srinagar
was plunged into darkness. Rumours swept the city that Pakistanis had captured
the Mahura power station. It transpired that they had not captured it that night
but one of the Pak artillery shots had damaged major part of the power house.
The going off of the only
power station should normally have resulted in panic in Srinagar
but a stoic calm prevailed. Perhaps the general public did not realise the
magnitude of danger. That night in New Delhi it was learnt later full report had
been received about Pakistani invasion, the strength of the invaders and the
imminent danger to Baramulla and Srinagar.
KS: How did New Delhi react?
But New Delhi was
in no position to come to the assistance of Maharaja or his government because
it was not part of Indian dominion and Pakistan could have objected to any
Indian assistance as invasion of 'Independent Sovereign J&K State'.
Maharaja Hari Singh was
advised by New Delhi
to take a decision about accession to India
if he desired Indian assistance for defence of J&K State.
An emissary was sent to meet the Maharaja in Srinagar
since the Maharaja had expressed desire to discuss details of the Instrument
of Accession. We learnt a day later that Meherchand Mahajan had accompanied VP
Menon back to New Delhi the same day. VP Menon informed New Delhi about the gist
of his talks with Maharaja.
A hurried meeting of the
Defence Committee of GoI was called. It was decided to send back Mr. Menon to Jammu to get
Maharaja’s signatures on Instrument of Accession. One significant fact is
overlooked that Maharaja and his family did not “leave Srinagar in panic or out
of fear”. He was advised by Mr Menon to leave Srinagar that very night for Jammu
because of the fear that if Pakistan invaders were able to reach Srinagar before
Indian help could reach Srinagar Maharaja would have been forced to accede to
Pakistan. On the morning of 26th October the Maharaja and his family had reached
Jammu. Mr VP Menon accompanied by Meherchand Mahajan reached Jammu
by Air. Shortly later, VP Menon flew back with the Instrument of Accession
signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and a covering letter addressed to the
Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten. Later in the evening of 26th of
October the Defence Committee of Gol recommended acceptance of Accession of J&K
to Indian dominion, clearing the way for troops to be sent to defend J&K State
against aggression from Pakistan.
KS: How was Srinagar finally saved?
On the night
intervening 26/27th of October, a massive and a highly efficient mobilisation
was organised and from dawn of October 27th the Indian troops were flown to Srinagar.
In Jehlum Valley the Pakistan invaders had overcome the resistance of brave
detachment under the command of Brig. Rajender Singh, killing literally every
individual including the acting Chief of Staff of the State Forces. This
happened on the night of 25th October and 26th October.
The triumphant invaders
advanced along the road, entering Baramulla around midnight
of 26th/27th October. The rearguard action of small band of gallant soldiers of
Brig. Rajender Singh had gained four days of precious time to enable the Indian
troops to reach
Srinagar in time to prevent its occupation by Pakistanis. For this supreme
sacrifice Brig. Rajender Singh was awarded posthumously MahaVir Cha-kra, the
first one to receive in Independent India.
KS: Bara-mulla suffered the
In Bara-mulla, a
town of 14 thou-sand inhabitants the Pak invaders instead of pushing on to
Srinagar got busy in killing and looting of the local population including
Muslims and lost the golden opportunity of capturing Srinagar. Eyewitnesses
reported later that over ten thousand persons were either killed or escaped
into nearby forests from the Pakistan invaders. One of the most gruesome stories
that we were told ten days later was of NC political worker, Mohammad Maqbool
KS: How was Sherwani killed?
He used to travel
Baramulla and Sopore 2 or 3 times every day to keep NC leadership at Srinagar
posted with the latest information and situation. After Pakistanis occupied
Baramulla Sherwani was captured and was asked to lead a small force avoiding
inhabited areas towards Srinagar. On learning about the intentions of invaders
he declined to assist them. He was ordered to be killed. Sherwani was tied with
ropes to an electric pole outside the local cinema hall, Pak tribals and
soldiers pumped 14 bullets into his body killing him on the spot. He, however,
refused to respond to the Pak call to shout ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. This was told
to Bakshi Gh. Mohammad by Sherwani’s brother on liberation or Baramulla, which
took place on 7th of November.
KS: What circumstances led to
the formation of Emergency administration ?
After departure of Maharaja Hari Singh for Jammu all traces of administrative
control in Srinagar seemed to evaporate. It seemed there was virtually no
administration in control in Srinagar between 26th October and 31st of October.
It was put quite graphically later that the Kashmir administration was picked up
from Lal Chowk by NC leadership. This leadership virtually took control of
Srinagar from the moment the Maharaja departed for Jammu.
NC leadership under the command of vice-president of the party, Bakshi Gulam
Mohd. had taken charge and were operating from the building of Palladium Cinema
Hall in Lal Chowk. For three days i.e. on 27th, 28th and 29th of October the
population of Srinagar
kept staring at the skies throughout the day, because the planes bringing the
troops used to land, deposit the troops and fly back for another sortie. This
heartened the local residents who felt relieved that the danger of occupation
by Pakistani troops and the general massacre was averted.
Since before acceptance of
Instrument of Accession an informal understanding between GoI and the Maharaja
had been arrived at to galvanise the people in general in defence of J&K State,
it was agreed that a people’s representative government may be formed.
Consequently, on 31st October
an 11-member emergency administration under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad
Abdullah came into being. The oath of office was administered to Sheikh Sahib in
Secretariat building at Srinagar.
The incongruity of Meherchand Mahajan continuing to head the government as the
Prime Minister of J&K is incomprehensible. This duality lasted till March 15,
1948 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and members of his cabinet were sworn in
as the proper government of J&K under J&K Constitution by the Maharaja. Shri
Meherchand Mahajan went back to New Delhi, same day.