Whenever anyone discusses the modern history of J&K, a person who invariably pops onto the screen for me is none other than the former PM of J&K, Mr. Ram Chandra Kak, a nondescript Kashmiri Pandit who had wheedled his way to minister-in-waiting before being the PM and whose role had allegedly been quite dubious during that whole pandemonium of late 1940s, while Britons were leaving, bag and baggage and India was having its birth pangs with some redeemable “tryst with destinies”. The new order which was emerging had engulfed the whole country.
Even J&K couldn’t remain untouched by that. And it was in this whole milieu that Kak had to witness a fair share of demonization and then some. While some scholars accused him of “hobnobbing with the Pakistanis” vis a vis J&K, few have called him a nationalist to the core. But, if I may say so, both of these accounts, are proverbial, curate’s egg, good in parts. Hence, his Hindu identity, notwithstanding, it’s essential that we analyze his role in a non-partisan fashion so that an accurate version of narrative can be presented to the people at large.
It was from Mr. VP Menon’s ‘Integration of Indian States’, that I first made the acquaintance with Mr RC Kak. As I proceeded and delved furiously deeper and further, the latter’s centrality became the
main focal point of my study, for he turned out to be the fulcrum of any event that I came across
during that period. This was the time when PM Kak under Maharaja Hari Singh was most restless. He was uncharacteristically nervous, for the task at hand was huge- 84000 square miles in size, quite contrary to Dr. Karan Singh’s description of him being “arrogant but unflinching in his adherence….He would tell me that the greatest quality one could develop was ‘poise’, a calm imperturbability in the face of any circumstance, howsoever unsettling….”.
As pointed earlier, the egress of the Britons was coinciding with a crucial phase in India, wherein the princely states had to accede to either of the dominions- India or Pakistan while a ruthless
communal carnage was underway in Punjab and Bengal. While it was easier for Hyderabad or
Junagarh to make decisions regarding their respective positions, for they were within the Indian
boundaries and had largely uniform populations but J&K had its own dilemmas -inconspicuous
geographical position, ethnical divide, which posed a serious predicament for the Maharaja. At this
time, the Maharaja was dithering to accede to either of the dominions. When Mountbatten visited the state in June 1947, he implicitly exhorted the state to join Pakistan, Kak retorted him by saying “It’s not possible for us to do that, and since that is so we cannot accede to India”.
After Mountbatten’s meeting with Maharaja couldn’t materialize, Kak, as quoted by MJ Akbar in his book ‘Kashmir: Behind the vale’ replied “H.H.’s decision was that at present he could not commit
himself… H.H. realized the various factors involved, but in any case, was not now in any way
alarmed by Pandit Nehru or disturbed by his threats”. And rightly so, this was palpable given major supply lines and communication channels to the state ran through what constitutes today’s Pakistan. It was only after Radcliffe’s award that J&K got access to India via the Gurdaspur corridor and the question of accession with India became tenable.
Additionally, the Nehru-Abdullah coterie was challenging the administration after the former’s
relations deteriorated with Kak while he arrested Nehru at the Kohala bridge in 1946, while he was
visiting his friend and Vice President of All Indian state’s people Conference Sheikh Abdullah, who
was incarcerated after he started a vilification campaign against the Dogras and launched Quit
Kashmir movement. This, however, strengthened Abdullah’s narrative within Congress’s cadres.
In the words of Kak, “Simultaneously, attempts were made by the Congress leaders to bring pressure on the government with the object of securing Sheikh Abdullah’s release”. Even Gandhi and Patel prodded him to release Abdullah. It was against this background, Kak writes “that the problem of accession was posed to the Kashmir government in 1946, and the Kashmir government’s decision not to accede was communicated to the Government of India through the resident”.
If all was well settled, then why this ‘traitor’ tag was assigned to Kak in mainstream literature. The
probable answer to this has been provided by Iqbal Chand Malhotra & Maroof Raza’s book
‘Kashmir’s untold story’. They remark that as the great game was being played at the frontiers of the state, “Kak was pursuing a pro-Pakistan agenda and sought to irrevocably manoeuvre the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan”. Additionally, Josef Korbel’s “Danger in Kashmir’ mentions that Kak through his deft handling of affairs had also arrested Muslim Conference’s leader Ch Ghulam Abbas along with Abdullah so that it would not appear that Abbas was in support of Maharaja. This helped Kak to introduce a nascent idea of Pakistan in Maharaja’s mind. More so, even Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, former PM of J&K in his autobiography “Looking back” says “Mr. Ram Chandra Kak, the Prime Minister of Kashmir at that time had, it was believed, never made any secret of his pro-Pakistan leanings”. It’s difficult to find as to what prompted Mahajan to say so. Either he was having evidence against Kak or it was mere hearsay, for Mahajan hasn’t provided any clear source for such information.
Hence, it’s safe to assume that until the very independence Kak was working in tandem with the
Maharaja in so far as the question of accession of the state to India was concerned. Then what happened later, that Kak had to be removed and the entire administration was decapitated and revamped. Was it some sort of ploy or Maharaja really wanted someone more amenable to the deal with the emerging crisis & his idea of forming a “Dograland”. While it’s no secret that Maharaja was looking for a new face for his Prime Ministership (Probably because of Kak’s Pro-Pak leaning) much before the independence as Maharani Tara Devi requested Mahajan to take over the Prime ministership of J&K state in May 1947. Scholar Prem Shankar Jha states that it represented the Maharaja’s decision sometime at the beginning of July not to accede to Pakistan and so India was his only option if independence proved impossible. He believed Kak to be an impediment to repairing relations with the Indian National Congress and hence his eviction was inevitable.
But Kak, in his defense, says that because of Maharaja’s increasing faith in Swami Sant Dev’s occult practices and growing differences between them over the future relationship of J&K with the new dominions was the major cause of his eviction. Another major issue that Kak noted was the backdoor talks between Swami Sant Dev and Congress leadership. Kak says “The Maharaja was now in the horns of a dilemma. He has to choose between his Swami and his Prime Minister. Inevitably, he chose the Swami”. This idea of expansionism which Swami ingrained in the mind of Maharaja cost Kak his seat of power and he was arrested on August 11, 1947, while he was leaving Srinagar for Delhi.
Now, I leave it upon the reader’s conscience to decide as to which side of the fence they want to put Kak in. Was he really vouching for Pakistan or just buying some time to make a politically expedient decision? But, I, in my personal capacity believe that given the circumstances – the vacillating Maharaja, invading tribals, the uncooperative Indian state, underlying communal faultlines, and burgeoning internal crisis, Kak’s decisions were more or less sagacious and, at most, were pleading for an independent state. It’s essential that we review all these facts dispassionately. Pros & cons must be evaluated and then only a fair appraisal of Kak can be presented.