History files:Just how close did J&K come to break-up in 1950s?

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In March 1950, the United Nations Security Council terminated the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan and, in its place, appointed a United Nations Representative for India and Pakistan. From May-September 1950, the eminent Australian High Court judge, Sir Owen Dixon, served in this position. He tried to overcome the various objections of India and Pakistan and conduct “a free and impartial plebiscite as the means by which the question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan would be decided”.

Fairly quickly, Dixon realised that both nations were unable to agree on the poll’s prerequisites. These included Pakistan’s demilitarisation from J&K and a concomitant reduction in Indian forces thereafter; what administration should exist throughout J&K during the poll; and, how to guarantee that voters would not be intimidated. Dixon also needed to address some significant political and physical obstacles to conducting a free and fair poll throughout J&K.

Electorally, while J&K would have benefited from having a united and impartial administration, in actuality, three administrations with differing agendas operated: Indian J&K had Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference administration, which was pro-India; Azad Kashmir had a pro-Pakistan administration; and, there was a pro-Pakistan official from Pakistan in the Northern Areas. Various armed entities also could have sought to “influence” the result in J&K, where people, in many ways, were still living apprehensively in a recent war zone while, concurrently, they expectedly awaited the holding of the UN-supervised plebiscite.

Physical obstacles included J&K’s difficult hilly-to-mountainous terrain, remoteness, and poor roads and communications. Two other issues were the lack of a current, inclusive electoral roll, and low levels of literacy among voters. All of these obstacles possibly were surmountable, but they required time, money, peace and stability, capable administrators, United Nations involvement, and, most challengingly, the combined goodwill and efforts of the India and Pakistan governments.

Given these factors, plus the strong India-Pakistan rivalry and antipathy and their inability to agree on very much, Dixon determined that a plebiscite throughout J&K was no longer viable.

He further realised that people in Jammu and Ladakh were happy being with India, while Azad Kashmiris and people in the Northern Areas were happy being with Pakistan. Only people in Kashmir had unclear or uncertain political desires. After a series of meetings with the leaders of India and Pakistan, Dixon therefore suggested an option that was in line with his mandate “to place before the two Governments any suggestion which in [his] opinion was likely to lead to the solution of the dispute”.

Dixon proposed that, first, in those areas of J&K where the people were strongly and clearly inclined to join either India or Pakistan, then these regions should actually join the nation to which these people were inclined; and, second, that only people in Kashmir needed to be polled. Secular India was prepared to countenance this suggestion under certain conditions, chiefly to do with its security forces and administration being in charge of Kashmir while the plebiscite was conducted.

Initially, New Delhi also wanted an area under Pakistan’s control included in the poll to be conducted for people in the Kashmir Valley. This area comprised the “part of Muzaffarabad district to bring in…the natural geographical feature provided by the river Kishenganga and its watershed to the north”. While this was unclear, it may have included Muzaffarabad town, most of which was to the south of the Kishenganga, plus some additional Kashmiri-speaking areas. Essentially, it was a bargaining position, as India quickly came to accept a plebiscite for the Kashmir Valley region only.

Pakistan, however, rejected any such regional-only plebiscite.

Rather, it wanted the plebiscite conducted for all J&K-ites. If this was not possible, then Pakistan wanted a division of J&K along religious lines – as a result of which Pakistan naturally would have obtained all Muslim-majority areas, including the prized region of Kashmir. India would not contemplate any partition that included Kashmir, chiefly because, as New Delhi saw things, this would have rewarded Pakistan’s aggression in J&K. In other words, this would have justified Pakistan’s unilateral use of force to alter or resolve this issue.

Unable to get any further agreement between the leaders of India and Pakistan despite his best efforts, Dixon left the subcontinent on 23 August 1947, after which he completed a report to the UNSC.

While Dixon had failed in his mission, two interesting matters arose from it. First, he was “inclined to the view that no method of allocating the [Kashmir] valley to one or the other of the contending parties is available except [via] a poll of the inhabitants”. Second, that any settlement to the Kashmir dispute involved an India-Pakistan agreement to divide J&K “and in some means of allocating the [Kashmir] valley rather than in an over-all plebiscite”. In these, Dixon was perceptive. His proposals also marked the first time that the idea of a break up of J&K was floated and seriously considered by India and Pakistan.

From about 1954, India lost interest in having the United Nations-supervised plebiscite held in J&K.

This was a pragmatic stance. From 1953, it was highly unlikely that India would “win” any plebiscite conducted either in J&K or, if voting was restricted to Kashmir, in that region. Noticeably, India had become unpopular in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah was sacked from office and jailed in 1953. Thereafter, New Delhi deviously sought to suggest that the government in Indian J&K represented all of the people of disputed J&K and that, therefore, the United Nations-supervised plebiscite was no longer valid or necessary.

In July 1952, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah had confirmed via their “Delhi Agreement” that Indian J&K was part of the Indian Union, but with some unique privileges. However, following Abdullah’s political demise, New Delhi steadily eroded the state’s autonomy and irreversibly integrated it into the Indian Union. Concurrently, India became disinterested in holding the People’s Plebiscite in J&K.

One major reason was because, on 6 February 1954, the Indian J&K Constituent Assembly, now led by the necessarily, and genuinely, pro-India Kashmiri politician, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, unanimously reaffirmed Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India and requested closer formal links with it. This was a farce. The Indian J&K Constituent Assembly, which claimed to represent all of the former princely state, had no mandate for such a reaffirmation. Nor did this body actually represent all J&K-ites. Those under Pakistan’s administration had neither been franchised to vote in, nor had been able to participate in, the 1951 election of representatives to the Constituent Assembly. They therefore were not represented in this body in any way.

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(The Indian J&K Constituent Assembly and in its successor from 1957, the Indian J&K Legislative Assembly, nevertheless reserved twenty-five seats for representatives from Pakistan-Administered J&K. These seats were to be filled after J&K was reunified, presumably following the plebiscite. In 1998, although the Indian J&K Legislative Assembly was enlarged, the number of seats reserved for representatives from Pakistan-Administered J&K was decreased to twenty-four seats.)

Finally, it is highly likely that the poll that elected the Indian J&K Constituent Assembly was rigged. This meant that the Constituent Assembly was not truly representative of people on the Indian-controlled side of J&K either. Nevertheless, India’s disinterest in having the People’s Plebiscite held dates from around this time. Almost certainly, India will never reverse its stance of not wanting to have this poll conducted.

The Article First Appeared In Scroll.In

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