Plebiscite in Kashmir – Stillborn or Killed?

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A. G. Noorani*

*The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.


(Did plebiscite ever stand a serious chance? The answer is that it did, if at all, in November 1947. Thereafter the window of opportunity was shut. The battlefield was used by each side to force a decision by a clash of arms. It is not only the people of the State who have suffered. So have the people of India and Kashmir, far more than their leaders care to admit. – Author)

Ask any Kashmiri what he wants and his answer will be “azadi”. Ask how does he seek to secure that and he will reply “through a plebiscite”. He is justifiably, understandably pained and offended if told that a plebiscite in the State of Jammu & Kashmir is no longer practical or possible today, and that both Pakistan and India have been discussing alternative solutions for long. He will pounce on those alternatives as products of betrayal of the people and will assert that a plebiscite in the State still remains the only solution to the Kashmir dispute. He has little patience for history or politics; his concern is solely with political morality and his rights

Sadly, history cannot be brushed aside. It yields lessons for the politics of today as well as for a morality that reckons with the past as well as the present. The record is recalled with a purpose. As Winston Churchill wrote in the very first pages of his Five Volume memoirs of the Second World War “it is wrong not to lay the lessons of the past before the future” (The Gathering Storm; p. vii).

It is for the reader to judge how sincere the two adversaries, India and Pakistan, were on holding a plebiscite; whether it was a still-born proposal or was killed shortly after its birth.

On one point there can be no dispute. In 1947 Plebiscite in Kashmir was a democratic necessity as well as a moral imperative. A plebiscite was held in Junagadh on 20 February 1948 after the administration of the State was taken over by the Government of India in November 1947. It was called a ‘referendum’ (White Paper on Indian States 1950: p. 114), and was conducted by an ICS officer, C.B. Nagarkar. Out of an electorate of 201,457, a total of 190,870 cast their votes. Only 91 voted for Pakistan. Of the 31,434 votes cast in Junagadh’s five princeling areas, only 39 voted for accession to Pakistan (V.P. Menon Integration of Indian States; 1.142).

A referendum was also held in Sikkim. The Election Commission of India conducted it on 14 April 1975 to confirm the resolution passed in the Sikkim Assembly on the State’s merger with India in 1973-74. Nari Rustomji, ICS, whose services were in 1954 placed with the Chogyal for appointment as his Prime Minister, opined that it would be “injudicious to assess, however, that the resolution respecting Sikkim’s merger with India … necessarily represented the wishes of the people.” He recorded the demand for a completely impartial authority to conduct the poll, and added that the army and the heavy Indian presence in Sikkim were also factors that inevitably weighed in influencing the vote (Rustomji 1987:Sikkim: The Himalaya Tragedy; pp. 148-150).

To be sure, in both these cases in which the democratic principle was formally applied, the result was a foregone conclusion. So was it in the case of Kashmir – which is why a plebiscite was never held. Indira Gandhi warned her father Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter from Srinagar on 14 May 1948, while the war was on, that ‘they say that only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite’ (Sonia Gandhi, ed. 2005:Two Together, Two Alone; 2005: p. 517).

The issue in 1947 was who was to exercise the choice, the ruler Hari Singh or the people? It came to the fore on 13 June 1947, just ten days after the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League had accepted the partition plan of 3 June 1947. On 13 June, leaders of both parties met under the Chairmanship of the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. ‘Mr. Jinnah said that in his view the States were fully entitled to say that they would join neither Constituent Assembly. Every Indian State was a sovereign state. Pandit Nehru said he differed altogether. He spoke as a lawyer. Mr. Jinnah said that he spoke as a lawyer also’. (The Transfer of Power 1942-47, Vol. XI: 320-26).

On 17 June 1947, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah went public with his stand in a formal statement. “Constitutionally and legally, the Indian States will be independent sovereign States on the termination of paramountcy and they will be free to decide for themselves to adopt any course they like; it is open to them to join the Hindustan Constituent Assembly, or decide to remain independent. In the last case, they enter into such arrangements or relationship with Hindustan or Pakistan as they may choose. The policy of All-India Muslim League has been clear from the very beginning. We do not wish to interfere with the internal affairs of any State, for that is a matter primarily to be resolved between the rulers and the peoples of the States.” (Jinnah: Speeches and Statements 1947-1948 ; Oxford University Press, Karachi p.5). He reiterated his stand in another statement on 30 July 1947 (ibid.; p.20).

This caused grave disquiet among his supporters in Kashmir. A Note by the All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference, dated 25 August 1947 and addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, stated: “Quaid-i-Azam has declared his policy towards the States a number of times – that they can join this or that Dominion or remain independent. He has not even mentioned geographical contiguity, which a State should at least consider when joining this or that Dominion. It follows, therefore, that Kashmir can join Hindustan and Quaid-i-Azam cannot have any objection to it, though geographically Kashmir may be contiguous to Pakistan. Not only that, but even though Kashmir is a nerve centre of defence of Pakistan. The policy of the Muslim League has all along been that of absolute non-intervention in the affairs of the States. In contrast to this policy of Quaid-i-Azam and the Muslim League, the Congress has directly intervened in the affairs of the States, particularly that of Kashmir.

“The National Conference Musalmans are triumphant and they now talk in the terms of a party which is victorious after a “war” and dictates its own terms. They are going so far as to suggest that Quaid-i-Azam should mend his previous attitude and should issue a statement upholding the “Quit Kashmir” slogan and placing the same interpretation on the Treaty of Amritsar as Gandhiji has done. Then, they say, they will consider helping Muslim Conference to persuade Maharja to join Pakistan. … They argue that the Muslim League stands for the sovereignty of the rulers whereas the Congress stands for the sovereignty of the people.

“As far as the Muslim Conference followers are concerned, though they resisted to believe that the Muslim League was disinterested in them, yet they are now openly giving expression to their feelings of disgust. They feel as if they are left in the lurch and that the Pakistan Government has absolutely no interest in them – at least now for her own sake, when such an important issue is there as to whether Kashmir should join Pakistan or Hindustan.

“In conclusion, the situation as at present demands most immediate attention of the Pakistan Government and her leaders to allay the fears of Musalmans of Kashmir and assure them that they are not forlorn and forgotten. The Muslim Conference is faced with a grim situation and they want to act before the Maharaja decides to join Hindustan as, if he once decides, nothing can be done. But what will be the attitude of the Pakistan Government and her leaders? That is not certain. … If, God forbid, the Pakistan Government or Muslim League does not act, Kashmir might be lost to them and the responsibility for this would be theirs.” (Z.H. Zaidi, Editor-in-Chief; Jinnah Papers; Quaid-i-Azam Papers project, Government of Pakistan; First Series; Vol IX; pp. 213-216).

The All India Congress Committee passed a resolution on 15 June 1947 which said that “the lapse (of British paramountcy) does not lead to the independence of the States” and “it is clear that the people of the States must have a dominating voice in any decisions regarding them.” (The Times of India; 16 June 1947). Since most of the States were in Indian territory and their independence was ruled out, this was not a plea for plebiscite which implies a choice.

It was first mooted after Junagadh acceded to Pakistan, on 15 August 1947. India objected and proposed a plebiscite; but on two conditions; namely, cancellation of the accession and plebiscite “under the joint supervision of the Dominion of India and Junagadh” (Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru’s telegrams to Liaquat Ali Khan of 12 September and 4 October 1947; A.G. Noorani, The Kashmir Dispute; Tulika Books; Vol. II and V.P. Menon: The Integration of Indian States; p.140).

Indian troops entered Junagadh on 6 November 1947 after a “Provisional Government” was set up in Bombay on 15 September 1947. On 22 October tribesmen from Pakistan entered Kashmir which acceded to India on 26 October. However, well before that India’s leaders had begun laying plans for its accession without any mention of a plebiscite.

Nehru tried to secure Kashmir’s accession to India while Sheikh Abdullah was still in prison, regardless of his wishes or those of the people of the State. His stand was revealingly summed up in his blunt, pithy assertion to Liaquat Ali Khan “I want Kashmir” (Lionel Carter (Ed.); Weakened States Seeking Renewal: British Official Reports from South Asia, 1 January – 30 April 1948; Manohar; Part I; pp. 176 and 416). Even before the Partition Plan was announced on 3 June, 1947, he began his campaign with a mention of Kashmir as “a difficult problem” at a formal meeting with Mountbatten and advisers on 22 April 1947. He followed it by a long note to Mountbatten on Kashmir dated 17 June 1947 in which he concluded: “If any attempt is made to push Kashmir into the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, there is likely to be much trouble because the National Conference is not in favour of it and the Maharaja’s position would also become very difficult. The normal and obvious course appears to be for Kashmir to join the Constituent Assembly of India. This will satisfy both the popular demand and the Maharaja’s wishes. It is absurd to think that Pakistan would create trouble if this happens.” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Vol. 3, p. 229). Pakistan did not count. He lavishly praised Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. On 4 July he wrote to the Maharaja, whom he detested, requesting a meeting and suggesting accession “I appreciate your difficulties” (ibid., p.253). No talk here of releasing Abdullah.

The sinister aspect of the plan became apparent when the Maharaja asked for a standstill agreement on 12 August 1947. Pakistan agreed; India declined and asked for negotiations. Nehru had himself revised the draft standstill agreement with all the States to include “foreign affairs” (item 7); a virtual Instrument of Accession. Had the Maharaja agreed, Abdullah would have been confronted on his release from prison, the very next month, with Kashmir’s accession to India – behind his back.

Nor were Nehru’s later references to the Sheikh justified. His following was confined to the Valley. In Jammu and Azad Kashmir, Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas’ Muslim Conference held sway. Even in the Valley Abdullah’s voice was not decisive on the crucial issue of accession (see Ian Copland’s essay “The Abdullah Factor: Kashmir Muslims and the Crisis of 1947”). The people followed him upto Kohala (that is, locally) and Jinnah beyond it.

Chitralekha Zutshi holds that the Muslim Conference “reigned supreme in Poonch and Jammu in 1946” while the Valley was split. Shops displayed photographs of Jinnah, Iqbal and Abdullah side by side (pp. 298 and 303). What is clear is that on the issue of accession the overwhelming view was for Pakistan. India’s leaders knew that very well. The Defence Committee of the Indian Cabinet, Nehru in particular, knew that. Hence his advice to Kashmir’s Prime Minister, Meher Chand Mahajan, even as late as on 21 October 1947, just a day before Pakistan’s tribal raids into Kashmir: “I feel it will probably be undesirable to make any declaration of adhesion (to India) at this stage” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Vol. 4; p. 274). Kashmir’s PM Janak Singh opined on 13 August 1947 that “the bulk of Muslims will not accept (a) decision to accede to India.” Nehru told the Committee on 25 October 1947 “The question was whether temporary accession would help the people in general to side with India or whether it would only act as an irritant. There was bound to be propaganda to the effect that the accession was not temporary and tempers might be inflamed”; i.e. the people would resent Kashmir’s accession to India. The next day N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar said that “immediate accession might create further opposition”. Nehru opined that he would “not mind Kashmir remaining an independent country (sic.) under India’s sphere of influence”. It was then decided to accept the accession “subject to the proviso that a plebiscite would be held in Kashmir”. The Ministry of States was directed to prepare a letter to the Maharaja on “the temporary acceptance of the Instrument of Accession” (Prem Shankar Jha; Kashmir 1947; Oxford University Press; appendices IV and V).

This explains why Mountbatten told the visiting UK Minister Arthur Henderson, on 9 January 1948, that Kashmir’s accession was “on a temporary basis and subject to a plebiscite” (Carter; Part I; p. 154).

Vallabhbhai Patel added his bit to get the ruler to accede to India; significantly even before the Radcliffe Report, which awarded to India the connecting link through Pathankot, was out. “You are aware that on 15 August, India, though divided, will be completely free, and you also know that by this time a vast majority of the States have joined the Constituent Assembly of India. I realise the peculiar difficulties of Kashmir, but looking to its History and its tradition, it has, in my opinion, no other choice.” (Durga Das; Sardar Patel’s Correspondence; p. 32. Emphasis added throughout).

He played the communal card on 18 June. “The Kashmiri Pandits and the Hindus form a very small proportion of the population, and as they are comparatively better off, the poorer majority which is getting conscious, is trying to assert itself and the conflict of interest is creating a situation in which the minority finds itself in an unenviable position and lives in a state of perpetual insecurity and fear, resulting in demoralisation. The State being a Hindu State, situated in Muslim surroundings, finds itself in a very delicate and difficult position …” In a letter of 16 June he wrote of Nehru “After all, he is also a Hindu and that a Kashmiri Hindu” (ibid. p. 3).

The Secretary in Patel’s Ministry of States, V.P. Menon, kept his head. At a meeting on 11 May 1947 Mountbatten noted that there were some States “which were geographically and ethnically almost bound to throw in their lot with Pakistan”. Nehru said that “the people of almost every State had openly declared in favour of joining the Union of India.” He asked “what would happen if Hyderabad wanted to join Pakistan”. That is when V.P. Menon fired this deadly salvo. “It would produce a very similar situation to Kashmir joining the present Constituent Assembly of India” (i.e. of India) (Transfer of Power; HMSO; Vol. X; p. 764).

During talks with the Secretary-General of Pakistan’s Cabinet, Mohammad Ali, in November 1947, the latter asked whether a plebiscite was really called for as Kashmir had a Muslim majority. V. P. Menon replied that “he entirely agreed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan”, but emphasized in view of what has passed, a “formal” (sic.) plebiscite was essential. On 3 November 1947, V. P. Menon met a delegation from Hyderabad. The minutes read: “MR. MENON opened the discussions by making reference to the Kashmir problem … the States falling within the Dominion of India should join the Indian Union and those adjoining Pakistan should go with that dominion … he believed that Kashmir should have joined the Pakistan Union and the Government of India never desired the accession of Kashmir to the Union of India. But it was impossible for the Government of India to sit silently when Kashmir and Jammu were being raided and ruined by marauders and freebooters. (Constitutional Discussions, Government of Hyderabad; Vol. 2: p.193).

In a taped interview to his predecessor as Reforms Commissioner, H.V. Hodson, in September 1964, V.P. Menon said: “As for plebiscite, we were absolutely, absolutely dishonest.” Less than a month after Kashmir’s accession and its accompanying pledge to its people of reference to them and of plebiscite, Nehru had decided to back out.

He wrote to Abdullah on 21 November 1947: “You will appreciate that it is not easy for us to back out of the stand we have taken before the world. That would create a very bad impression abroad and more specially in U.N. circles. … If we said to the U.N.O. that we no longer stand by a referendum in Kashmir, Pakistan would score a strong point and that would be harmful to our cause. On the other hand, if circumstances continue as they are and the referendum is out of the question during these next few months, then why worry about it now. … There is no difference between you and us on this issue. It is all a question of the best tactical approach. I would personally suggest to you not to say anything rejecting the idea of a referendum….” (SWJN; Vol.4; pp.336-337). This makes one doubt whether he ever intended to hold plebiscite.

Mountbatten had stipulated the “temporary” or “provisional” character of Kashmir’s accession at the very outset. He said in his reply of 27 October to Maharaja Hari Singh’s letter of 26 October 1947 accompanying the Instrument of Accession. “In the special circumstances mentioned by Your Highness, my Government have decided to accept the accession of Kashmir State to the Dominion of India. Consistently with their policy that, in the case of any State where issue of the accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State, it is my Government’s wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”

The Government of India’s White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir (1948) says (p. 3) that, “in accepting the accession the Government of India made it clear that they would regard it as purely provisional until such time as the will of the people could be ascertained.” In a public statement issued on 30 October, the Government of India, while setting out the events leading to the accession of the State, announced: “It is desirable to draw attention to the conditions on which the Government of India have accepted Kashmir’s accession” and proceeded to mention the decision that the “people of the State should decide the question of accession.”

This is the genesis of the proposal for a plebiscite which Mountbatten formally offered to Jinnah at Government House, Lahore on 1 November 1947. It covered all the three States, Junagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad. They spoke for 3 and a half hours. A record was prepared by Lord Ismay. It is not widely known hence its reproduction here in extenso. “I pointed out the similarity between the cases of Junagadh and Kashmir and suggested that plebiscites should be held under UNO as soon as conditions permitted. I told Mr. Jinnah that I had drafted out in the aeroplane a formula which I had not yet shown to my Government but to which I thought they might agree. This was the formula: “The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the State’s, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people.”

“Mr. Jinnah’s first observation was that it was redundant and undesirable to have a plebiscite when it was quite clear that States should go according to their majority population, and if we would give him the accession of Kashmir he would offer to urge the accession of Junagadh direct to India.

“I told him that my Government would never agree to changing the accession of a State against the wishes of the ruler or the Government that made the accession unless a plebiscite showed that the particular accession was not favoured by the people.

“Mr. Jinnah then went on to say that he could not accept a formula if it was so drafted as to include Hyderabad, since he pointed out that Hyderabad did not wish to accede to either Dominion and he could not be a party to coercing them to accession.” (Durga Das; Sardar Patel’s Correspondence; pp. 73-74). Appended to the formula was a set of detailed proposals which read thus:


  1. It is of paramount importance, not only to the Government of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, but also to the cause of world peace, that the fighting in Kashmir should cease at the earliest possible moment.
  1. The best, if not the only, hope of achieving this object is a very early meeting between accredited representatives of the two countries.
  1. The Government of India, for their part, have no desire to maintain troops in Kashmir, once the Valley is safe from attack and law and order have been restored. They are therefore prepared to give an undertaking to withdraw their troops immediately after the raiders have left the country and returned to their homes.
  1. It is the sincere desire of the Government of India that a plebiscite should be held in Kashmir at the earliest possible date and in the fairest possible way. They suggest that UNO might be asked to provide supervisors for this plebiscite, and they are prepared to agree that a joint India-Pakistan force should hold the ring while the plebiscite is being held.
  1. The Government of India suggest that both Governments should agree on the form of the public announcement to be made in regard to the procedure for accession of those States in which this matter is in dispute. A draft is attached as a basis of discussion. (Quoted above).
  1. They suggest that the above proposals should be the subject of a round-table discussion at the earliest possible date.” (ibid.; p. 81).

Exactly a week later, on 8 November, Nehru repeated the offer to Liaquat Ali Khan, omitting the provision for a joint India-Pakistan force. Another opportunity arose later in the month. On 8 November the Joint Defence Council met in New Delhi. The British High Commissioner in New Delhi, Terence Shone, reported to the Commonwealth Relations Office in London on 20 November: Chaudhri Mohammed Ali and V.P. Menon met in the presence of Lord Ismay, Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff and concluded a draft agreement on Kashmir that was acceptable to both sides: Both governments agree that all forces whether regular or irregular must be withdrawn from Kashmir soil at the earliest possible moment. The withdrawal will commence on the 12th of November and will be concluded by 26th November. The Government of Pakistan solemnly pledge themselves to do their utmost to assure that the tribesmen are withdrawn according to this programme and that they make no further incursions. The Government of India for their part undertakes to withdraw their forces according to programme.

In reply to Mohammed Ali’s question, Menon said that ‘he entirely agreed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan but emphasized that in view of what had passed, a formal plebiscite was essential.’ It was agreed that: ‘A plebiscite will be held as soon as possible under the aegis of two persons nominated by the Government of India and Pakistan with a person nominated by the Kashmir Government as observer. The plebiscite will be conducted by a British Officer.

Nehru rejected the draft. It was on 27 November following a meeting of the Joint Defence Council the previous day, hostilities in Kashmir would cease after the ‘Azad Kashmir’ forces (not ‘raiders’ as hitherto) withdrew, whereupon India ‘would withdraw the bulk of their forces, leaving only small contingent at certain points.’ Next, the two countries would ask the UN to send a Commission to seek their views and also those of the Kashmir Government on conducting a plebiscite. Discussion of the details was postponed to the next Joint Defence Council meeting due to be held in Lahore on 8 December. 27 November marked the highest point. But opinion on both sides hardened and it was rejected. Jinnah ‘took strong exception to the proposal.’ An entry of 30 November in his Notebook read, ‘Kashmir– no commitment should be made without my approval of terms of settlement. Mr. Liaquat has agreed and promised to abide by this understanding’. The next entry on the same page dated 16 December read: “Nehru’s proposal fundamentally different. There is no common basis or ground. There can be no solution of satisfactory nature unless the India D. [Dominion] agree to withdraw their troops and agree to replace the present administration by an independent and impartial  regime and administration with international police and military forces to restore peace and maintain Law and Order. It is only then that the question of plebiscite will have to be considered.”

On 30 December the Cabinet decided, as Hasan Zaheer records, that “no question of policy or principle would be decided except at a Cabinet meeting presided by the Quaid-i-Azam and that in the event of any difference of opinion between him and the Cabinet, the decision of the Quaid would be final and binding.” Differences between Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan were known to British and American diplomats.

Jinnah’s terms to Mountbatten on 1 November spelt, in effect, joint control of Kashmir ahead of a plebiscite. His views on 16 December were equally unrealistic quite apart from the fact that, with each passing day, India’s military position improved and Nehru’s stand hardened. But Jinnah had invested heavily, emotionally and politically on Hyderabad. (Hasan Zaheer; The Times and Trial of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1951; Oxford University Press, Karachi; pp. 121 and 159).

The deadlock was complete. India took the dispute to the United Nations Security Council but under Chapter VI of the UN’s Charter, on Pacific Settlement of Disputes, not under Chapter VII on Acts of Aggression. Nehru explained to the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 18 September 1947 “We chose Article 35 of the U.N. Charter which is meant for conciliation. Even then, in spite of our strong feelings we were anxious not to humiliate ourselves in anyway and to keep a way open for a friendly settlement. We had in view our future relations with Pakistan.” (SWJN; Volume 39; p. 503).

At the Security Council, India’s delegate, N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, former Dewan of J&K, followed the line taken in its complaint. It said: “In order to avoid any possible suggestion that India had taken advantage of the State’s immediate peril for her own political advantage, the Dominion Government made it clear that once the soil of the State had been cleared of the invader and normal conditions were restored, the people would be free to decide their future by the recognized democratic method of plebiscite or referendum, which, in order to ensure complete impartiality, may be held under international auspices.” (White Paper; p.77). The later impression that the Security Council went on to the plebiscite proposal on its own is, therefore, erroneous.

Gopalawami Ayyanagar presented the Indian Case to the Security Council. Addressing the Security council on 15 January 1948, he said: “In accepting the accession they refused to take advantage of the immediate peril in which the state found itself and informed the Ruler that the accession should be finally settled by plebiscite as soon as peace has been restored. They have subsequently made it clear that they are agreeable to the plebiscite being conducted if necessary under international auspices.”

He added; “The question of the future status of Kashmir vis-à-vis her neighbours and the world at large, and a further question, namely, whether she should withdraw from her accession to India and either accede to Pakistan or remain independent, with a right to claim admission as a member of the United Nations – all this we have recognized to be a matter for unfettered decision by the people of Kashmir after normal life is restored to them.”

He traced the history of the dispute and said that on 15 August 1947, “Jammu & Kashmir like other States became free to decide whether she would accede to one or the other dominion or remain independent.”

In a speech on 6 February 1948, Ayyangar, said; “We accepted Kashmir’s offer of accession at a time when she was in peril, in order to be able to effectively save her from extinction. We will not, in the circumstances, hold her to this accession as an unalterable decision on her part. When the emergency has passed and normal conditions are restored, she will be free, by means of a plebiscite, either to ratify her accession to India or to change her mind and accede to Pakistan or remain independent. We shall not stand in the way if she elects to change her mind.”

The White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir, Part 4, entitled “India’s Objectives”, says: “In Kashmir, as in other similar cases, the view of the Government of India has been that in the matter of disputed accession the will of the people must prevail. It was for this reason that they accepted only on a provisional basis the offer of the ruler to accede to India, backed though it was by the most important political organization in the State. The question of accession is to be decided finally in a free plebiscite; on this point there is no dispute. It is, however, impossible to hold a plebiscite so long as the State is infested by free-booters from outside. The only purpose for which the Indian troops are operating in Kashmir is to ensure that the vote of the people will not be subject to coercion by tribesmen and others from across the border who have no right to be in Kashmir.”

Half a century later, a document came to light which casts grave doubt on the sincerity of the pledges. In a letter to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, on 8 May 1948, Ayyangar wrote: “We cannot afford to let Kashmir secede from India. There are one thousand and one reasons against it, and I sincerely hope with you that Kashmir will be saved for us” (Rima Hooja Crusader for Self-Rule; Rawat Publications, Jaipur and New Delhi; 1999; p. 497).

Ayyangar could not have changed his views so completely in four months; nor could he have spoken alone. He was clearly reflecting his Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s basic policy. It is unnecessary to trace in detail the tortuous course of the proceedings at the Security Council or the mediatory body it set up, the U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan, eventually as expanded, by its Resolution of 21 April 1948. It envisaged “a free and impartial plebiscite to decide whether the State of Jammu and Kashmir is to accede to India or Pakistan” (S/667). Neither side accepted it while promising to cooperate with the UNCIP. On 18 July 1948 at their very second meeting, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan was in for a shock. The UNCIP’s Chairman Alfredo Lozano asked him “whether, if a satisfactory solution for a cease-fire were reached, the question of partition of Kashmir would be considered” adding none too convincingly that “he did not wish to commit himself to the desirability or otherwise of such a solution”, Zafrullah Khan rejected the idea and strove in subsequent meetings to inject precision, but failed.

The UNCIP adopted a Resolution on 13 August 1948 which envisaged a ceasefire (Part I); a Truce Agreement on deployment of troops (Part II); and Part III on a final settlement which studiously avoided the word plebiscite. It read: “The Government of India and the Government of Pakistan reaffirm their wish that the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be determined in accordance with the will of the people and to that end, upon acceptance of the Truce Agreement both Governments agree to enter into consultations with the Commission to determine fair and equitable conditions whereby such free expression will be assured.”

Pakistan demurred. India accepted it. The minutes of Nehru’s meeting with members of the UNCIP on 17 August read: “Turning finally to Part III, the PRIME MINISTER inquired if the Commission had any ideas as to the general lines which a final solution might take. To this, Mr. KORBEL (Czechoslovakia) replied that the Commission had no right to submit a solution to which the parties were not agreed. He said that the Commission believed it possible that a solution different than that envisaged in the Security Council resolution might be worked out and that the Commission would be quite willing to help in this respect. However, if no agreement could be reached, the Commission, he believed, would have to fall back on its instruction from the Security Council.” (First Interim Report; S/1100; Annexures 8 and 12 respectively).

The UNCIP persevered and drew up details of arrangements for a plebiscite. On 5 January 1949 (S/1196 para 15) both parties accepted it as a supplement to the one of 13 august 1948. That there was no agreement on the Truce Agreement because of India’s refusal to withdraw “the bulk” of its forces was to be expected. Nehru had met Liaquat Ali Khan on 27 October 1948 and offered two alternatives to him – “a full acceptance of then UNCIP’s resolution of 13 August on a cease-fire” or “a partition on the lines we have previously talked about, i.e. western Poonch etc., Gilgit, Chitral, most of Baltistan, etc. to go to Pakistan. Neither of these are acceptable to Liaquat Ali” (Letter of 27 October 1948 to Patel; Durga Das; Vol. 1, p.249). Thus, as far as Nehru was concerned, the idea of a plebiscite in Kashmir was dead less than a year after it was offered to Pakistan and, to the people of the State and “to the world”, as Nehru had said in a telegram to Liaquat Ali Khan on 31 October 1947 (White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir; 1948, p. 51).

One mediator, Sir Owen Dixon, came close to securing an accord; only to fail at the last moment. He convened in New Delhi a conference of Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan but was unsuccessful. “In the end I became convinced that India’s agreement would never be obtained to demilitarization in any such form, or to provisions governing the period of the plebiscite of any such character, as would in my opinion permit the plebiscite being conducted in conditions sufficiently guarding against intimidation and other forms of influence and abuse by which the freedom and fairness of the plebiscite might be imperiled. Having come to this conclusion I thought that I must either abandon all attempt to settle the dispute or turn from the plebiscite by which the destination of the whole State would be decided to some different solution.…

“I asked the prime Minister of India, the Prime Minister of Pakistan being present, what was the attitude of India: (1) to a plan for taking the plebiscite by sections or areas and the allocation of each section or area according to the result of the vote therein, or (2) to a plan by which it was conceded that some areas were certain to vote for accession to Pakistan and some for accession to India and by which, without taking a vote therein, they should be allotted accordingly and the plebiscite should be confined only to the uncertain areas, which I said appeared to be the Valley of Kashmir and perhaps some adjacent county.…

“The Indian authorities informed me that the Government of India would be prepared to discuss a settlement of the Kashmir dispute on the basis of certain principles. The principles were, first, that the areas of the State of Jammu and Kashmir where there is no apparent doubt as to the wishes of people in those areas should go to India or Pakistan without a plebiscite; secondly, that the plebiscite should be limited to those areas where there is doubt as to the result of the voting; and, thirdly, that the demarcation should have due regard to geographical features and to the requirement of an international boundary.… In the first place there should be a plebiscite in the Valley of Kashmir. The area should however include a part of the Muzaffarabad District to bring in what India regarded as the natural geographical feature provided by the river Kishanganga and its watershed on the north.

“In the second place India considered that the following areas should go to her. (1) The Province of Jammu so far as it lies east of the ceasefire line subject to minor corrections; one correction was to reduce the bulge in the cease-fire line near Gulmarg. (2) In the district of Ladakh, the tehsil of Ladakh and the tehsil of Kargil except approximately the area above the Suru River, which should go to India or Pakistan according to the result of the plebiscite of the Valley.

“In the third place India was willing that the following areas should go to Pakistan, viz. Gilgit, Gilgit Agency, Gilgit Wazarat, political districts and tribal territory and Baltistan, and so much of the Jammu Province as lies to the west of the cease-fire line as corrected. India contemplated a boundary commission to apply on the ground the division which might be decided upon. … The territorial demands which the foregoing information disclosed appeared to me to go much beyond what according to my conception of the situation was reasonable and I so stated to the Indian authorities.

“I told the Prime Minister of Pakistan of what I had learned from India as to the position she took, but, I added an expression of my own opinion that the territorial claims it involved went too far and did not represent the division of the state to which in the end India might be expected to agree. But the Government of Pakistan declined to attend a conference on the footing I proposed in order to discuss in the light of the position taken by India the possibility of settling the dispute.…

“I put forward as a last possibility of saving the situation a suggestion that I myself should prepare a plan complete except for details. The plan would be one for holding a partial plebiscite in a limited area including or consisting of the Valley of Kashmir and for partitioning the remainder of the State. I would then call a conference and lay the plan before them for acceptance or rejection, or if independently of me the parties wished to modify it by agreement, for modification accordingly.

“The Government of Pakistan agreed to comply with my request to attend a conference to consider my intended plan, notwithstanding that it was based on an alternative to an overall plebiscite. But Pakistan in her turn imposed a condition. The condition arose out of her insistence upon the view that India would not agree upon specific practical measures which would insure the freedom and fairness of the plebiscite. In fact I had decided that I would use for the limited plebiscite area one of the measures which I had proposed for the whole State on the footing that the cease-fire line might thus be terminated.…

“I then informed the Prime Minister of India by telegram of the assurances I had given Pakistan and of the kind of provision that my plan would contain for the purpose of securing the fairness of the plebiscite and its freedom from any suspicion of intimidation. I asked him to inform me if he was of the opinion that the inclusion in my plan of such a provision in order to secure the freedom and fairness of the plebiscite made it impossible for him to accept the plan as a whole. Otherwise I requested him to name a date for the meeting. The Prime Minister of India answered by telegram expressing an emphatic refusal to agree to any such provision.…

“From the date of this resolution of 5 January 1949 until the present there have been continual efforts to bring about conditions in which the preparations for taking a poll might go forward. No one has supposed that they could even begin while much of the respective territories on either side of the cease-fire line was occupied by opposed armies and their base units. There are in addition many other obstacles to the holding of a free and fair plebiscite which must be removed before the State would be ready for the organization and machinery which the taking of a poll would make necessary. Unfortunately all this has been made to depend upon the agreement of the parties. It is enough to refer to paragraphs 2, 6(a) and 10 of the resolution of 5 January 1949 and to the provisions of the resolution of 13 August 1948 which these paragraphs hang.

“There is I believe on the side of India a conception of what ought to be done to ascertain the real will of the people which is not that tacitly assumed by me. Doubtless it is a conception which Pakistan does not share. The resolution of 5 January 1949 contains some rather general provisions in relation to the holding of the plebiscite and the antecedent steps and about these more general provisions the parties were able to agree. But to apply propositions of this kind a programme of practical acts and physical events must be agreed upon. Without this it is impossible for the Plebiscite Administrator to begin the extensive and difficult work of organizing the taking of a poll.” (Report dated 15 September 1950; S/1791). The situation has not changed in the last 66 years.

It is pointless to dilate on Dr. Frank Graham’s six Reports because they did not take maters any further. (On 15 October 1951; 19 December 1951; 22 April 1952; 16 September 1952; 27 March 1953; and 31 March 1958) Gunnar V. Jarring, the last U.N. Mediator, threw in the sponge in his Report of 29 April 1957. He proposed arbitration which was a non-starter. He concluded: “In dealing with the problem under discussion as extensively as I have during the period just ended, I could not fail to take note of the concern expressed in connection with the changing political, economic and strategic factors surrounding the whole of the Kashmir question, together with the changing pattern of power relations in West and South Asia.

“The Council will, furthermore, be aware of the fact that the implementation of international agreements of an ad hoc character, which has not been achieved fairly speedily, may become progressively more difficult because the situation with which they were to cope has tended to change.”

Meanwhile the situation in the subcontinent had changed radically. The Government of Kashmir was oppressed by the sense of uncertainty which had singled out their State in the entire sub-continent. Sheikh Abdullah took his colleagues into confidence and placed the matter before the Working Committee of his National Conference which met in May 1953 under his Presidentship. The Working Committee, after prolonged discussions, came to the conclusion that it was impossible to have internal stability so long as its future was uncertain. It accordingly appointed a Committee consisting of the following eight members to explore avenues of a settlement: Sheikh Abdullah, Maulana Masoodi, Mirza Afzal Beg, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, G. M. Sadiq, Sardar Budhsingh, Pandit Girdharilal Dogra, and Pandit Shamlal Saraf.

Nehru who had come to Kashmir when the Working Committee was in session was informed about its deliberations. The minutes of the Committee’s final session held on 9 June, 1953 read:

“As a result of the discussions held in the course of various meetings, the following proposals only emerge as possible alternatives for an honourable and peaceful solution of Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan: (a) Overall plebiscite with conditions as detailed in the minutes of the meeting dated 4th June 1953 (this apparently was a reference to Maulana Masoodi’s suggestion that the choice of independence be offered in the plebiscite). (b) Independence of the whole state. (c) Independence of the whole State with joint control of foreign affairs. (d) Dixon Plan with independence for the plebiscite area.

“Bakshi Saheb was emphatically of the opinion that the proposal (d) above should be put up as first and the only practicable, advantageous and honourable solution of the dispute. Maulana Saeed, however, opined that the order of preference as given above should be adhered to.” G.M. Sadiq said: “If an agency consisting of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Soviet Russia and China could be created to supervise and conduct the plebiscite, I would suggest that we should immediately ask for an overall plebiscite. Failing this, we may ask for a supervision Commission representing all the members of the Security Council for ensuring free and fair plebiscite in the State.”

In June 1953 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Union Minister for Education, visited Kashmir and was apprised of these developments. Early in July 1953, Nehru was informed about the decision. He was shortly going to have a meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Bogra, to discuss and find out an early solution of the Kashmir question.

Nehru, in his talks, disapproved of the independence idea but, apparently, not the deliberations themselves about the future of the State. He met Mohammed Ali Bogra from 25 to 27 July, 1953, to decide the future of the State. Early in August 1953 Sheikh Abdullah called a meeting of the Working Committee of the General Council in the 3rd and 4th weeks in order to review the whole situation. On 9 August 1953, just two days before the scheduled Cabinet meeting, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested at the dead of night, and so were a number of his colleagues. (Sheikh Abdullah’s letter from Jail to G.M. Sadiq dated 26 September 1956 published in Sheikh-Sadiq Correspondence August to October 1956, p. 18, by Mridula Sarabhai, New Delhi).

Alarmed, Prime Minister, Mohammed Ali Bogra rushed to New Delhi for talks with Nehru. Their Joint Communiqué of 20 August 1953 said: “The Kashmir dispute was specially discussed at some length. It was their firm opinion that this should be settled in accordance with the wishes of the people of State with a view to promoting their well-being and causing the least disturbance to the life of the people of state. The most feasible method of ascertaining the wishes of the people was by a fair and impartial plebiscite. Such a plebiscite had been proposed and agreed to some years ago. Progress, however, could not be made because of lack of agreement in regard to certain preliminary issues. The Prime Ministers agreed that these preliminary issues should be considered by them directly in order to arrive at agreements in regard to this. These agreements would have to be given effect to and the next step would be the appointment of a Plebiscite Administrator. In order to fix some kind of a provisional time-table, it was decided that the Plebiscite Administrator should be appointed by the end of April 1954.” (K. Sarwar Hasan; The Kashmir Question, Pakistan Institute of International Relations, Karachi; 1966; p. 328).

That secured time. A Nehru who had imprisoned Sheikh Abdullah, on 9 August for advocating a plebiscite, could not have been sincere when he agreed to hold one on 20 August; this time in circumstances in which defeat was absolutely certain.

By 1958, he succeeded in seeing the back of UN mediators. Now, Pakistan began to have second thoughts on a plebiscite. On 10 February 1958, the United States’ Ambassador to the U.N. Henry Cabot Lodge met the Pakistani Prime Minister, Malik Feroz Khan Noon, at Karachi. Ambassador James M. Langley’s report on their talks is most revealing: “The Prime Minister said emphatically that Pakistan was tired of the Kashmir dispute and ready for a settlement. Agreement between India and Pakistan on Kashmir would inevitably lead to a solution of the water distribution problem. On the latter subject, he reviewed the International Bank’s first scheme for a distribution plan which he said would have involved $1 billion, which neither India nor Pakistan could find. An alternative scheme that had been suggested for an independent supranational water authority would never be accepted by either side. (On this he seemed deliberately to be speaking vaguely and it was not clear whether he referred to the later Bank proposals.) The solution to the waters problem therefore lay in a settlement of the Kashmir problem. This could automatically take care of the alignment of rivers and their output.…

“Noon made no mention of a plebiscite and it seemed to me that he was clearly thinking of a compromise which would provide for a territorial division between India and Pakistan. His reference to the rivers strengthened this impression. I inquired if he was thinking of an overall package settlement. He said that this was the case. I said that I thought this was a statesmanlike approach and one which I personally applauded. Responding to his suggestion for US pressure on India for a settlement, I said that if the opportunity arose while I was in New Delhi, I would be ready to lend any support that I could for a settlement.…

“Amjad Ali, the Finance Minister, in a separate conversation evening February 10, said that Pakistan Government was ready and anxious for a compromise settlement if a similar attitude toward compromise existed in the Indian Government. He believed that if the two countries approached the question in the same spirit, an agreement was entirely possible. He hoped that we could help.

“Everything that I have heard here and in New York before departing leads me to believe that the Pakistan Government is in a better mood for compromise than I have ever observed at any time in the past in our dealings with Noon and the Pakistan delegation in New York.” (Foreign Relations of the United States; South and South East Asia 1958-1960; Vol. XV; Department of State, Washington; 1992; pp. 58-59).

Mohammed Ali Bogra visited New Delhi again; this time with the Minister for Interior, General Iskandar Mirza. Maulana Azad and G.B. Pant joined Nehru in the talks that were held from 14-17 May 1955. On 15 May Nehru proposed partition of Kashmir and ‘a final settlement now’ in one go. A map was produced. Nehru was against war. Both visitors said that public opinion in Pakistan would not accept such an accord. On the last day they proposed partition along religious lines and produced their own map. Nehru refused to go beyond Poonch and ‘a bit of Mirpur.’ This was in keeping with his stand that ‘India would gladly discuss the question of partition’ provided Pakistan was agreeable to it. Nehru said this as far back as on 3 May 1952 to US Ambassador Chester Bowles who was reminded on 8 July 1952 that ‘India had always been interested in partition possibility as outlined in Dixon Report’, provided that it did not affect continuance in office of Abdullah’s Government. Indeed he had told Bogra himself in London in June 1954 that he was against any decision that would upset present conditions.

The next landmark is the summit which President Mohammed Ayub Khan organized at Murree on 21 September 1960 when Nehru visited Pakistan to sign the Indus Waters Treaty with the President at Karachi on 19 September 1960. Ayub’s focus was on Kashmir. He had altered Pakistan’s stand fundamentally and publicly ahead of the talks and reiterated it later as well.

On 12 March 1960 Manzur Qadir, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, made a pronouncement which publicly marked a radical break from his country’s past stand on Kashmir. In an address to the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs he said that if somebody has a solution ‘other than ours, let him suggest it. We can at least start thinking about it.’ It serves to tabulate the statements for they reveal a line which is of the utmost significance in the present context.

30 June 1960: After meeting President Ayub in Karachi, Dr. Raghu Vira, M.P., said at New Delhi that the President no longer insisted on plebiscite as the only solution. Some other ‘mutually acceptable’ way could be found which could ‘save the face’ of both the countries.

22 March 1961: President Ayub said, ‘If there is any other reasonable solution as would satisfy the people of Kashmir we should be prepared to listen.’

26 March 1961: Foreign Minister Manzur Qadir said in Calcutta that, ‘In a mood of conciliation and for the sake of settlement’ Pakistan was willing to consider fresh proposals acceptable to all the three parties.

8 July 1961: Lieutenant General K.M. Shaikh told newsmen in New Delhi that Pakistan was prepared for a solution other than a plebiscite but such a suggestion should come from India. Ayub Khan drew a blank.

Anglo-American mediation after the Sino-Indian War of October 1962 arranged for the two leaders to meet again. A joint statement, issued on 29 November 1962, recorded agreement on a renewed effort at resolving “differences” on Kashmir and other matters. The talks would be conducted initially at the ministerial level. At the appropriate stage direct talks will be held between Nehru and Ayub Khan. The words used were “discussions” and “talks”, not “negotiations”.

This was the genesis of the Swaran Singh-Zilfikar Ali Bhutto talks which were held in six rounds from 26 December 1962 to 16 May 1963. They ended in failure. The talks centred not on plebiscite, but on drawing an international boundary through Kashmir. Swaran Singh wanted to offer “the Handwara area” in the northwest of the Valley to Pakistan. Bhutto asked for the entire state bar Kathua. On offer were around 3,000 square miles of territory. Swaran Singh revealed on 16 May 1963.

The Z.A. Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks in 1963 concerned partition of the territory; the wishes of the people regardless. The record is set out quoted in extenso.

Pakistan’s draft of 19 January 1963

1.Without prejudice to the basic positions of the two parties with regard to a plebiscite in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, we should explore possibilities of a political settlement of the problem.

2.A political settlement must be just, equitable and final, and acceptable to the people of the State, taking into account the following factors:

  • India and Pakistan should seek the delineation of an international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir State.
  • The territorial division should take into account the composition of the population of the State, control of rivers, the requirements of defence, and other considerations relevant to the determination of an international boundary.
  • Disengagement of the forces of India and Pakistan in and around Kashmir with a view to removing all tensions should be an essential part of the settlement.
  • If agreement is reached on the above points, measures to facilitate freer movement of persons, development of trade across the international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir State, etc. should be considered.

3.The settlement should also embody in a solemn declaration the determination of the two countries “to live side by side in peace and friendship” and to solve all their other problems peacefully and to their mutual benefit.

4.Ways and means of developing practical cooperation between the two countries and removing      other major irritants should be considered.

Indian Draft of 19 January 1963

  1. Without prejudice to the basic stand of the two parties, we should explore possibilities of working out a political settlement for the Kashmir problem.
  1. A political settlement must be practical and realistic and must be final, taking into account the following factors:
  • India and Pakistan should seek the delineation of an international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir State.
  • Territorial readjustments as may be considered necessary for this purpose should be on a rational basis, taking into account geographic, administrative and other considerations and involving the least disturbance to the life and welfare of the people.
  • Disengagement of the forces of India and Pakistan in and around Kashmir with a view to removing all tensions should be an essential part of the settlement.
  1. The settlement should also embody in a solemn declaration the determination of the two countries “to live side by side in peace and friendship” and to solve all their other problems peacefully and to their mutual benefit.
  1. Ways and means of developing practical cooperation between the two countries and removing other major irritants should be considered.

India’s Commonwealth Secretary Y.D. Gundevia’s briefing on 21 February 1963 to the Ministry read: “In the final draft, which was agreed to on 19 January, just before the Pak Delegation left – not without a show of crisis and threats of breakdown – we got them to drop all references to a plebiscite, though there was mention of their contention that the territorial division should eventually be “acceptable to the people of the State”. The operative paragraph on the criterion for the delineation of the international line in Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan was a compromise and incorporated the point of view of both India and Pakistan. The Commonwealth Secretary emphasized there is no reference in these paragraphs to a plebiscite and this was the most important gain in the second round of talks in Delhi. The relevant territorial paragraph ran as follows:

‘The Pakistan delegation urged that the territorial division should take into account the composition of the State, control of rivers, the requirements of defence, and other considerations relevant to the determination of an international boundary, and acceptable to the people of the State. The Indian delegation urged that territorial readjustments as may be considered necessary for this purpose should be on a rational basis, taking into account geographic, administrative and other considerations and involving the least disturbance to the life and welfare of the people.’

Our expectation was that we would take quite some time to discuss the details of the final draft agreed to in New Delhi. The Pakistan delegation, on the other hand, seemed to have very little to say and, almost in the first officers’ level meeting, they asked if we were prepared to “draw lines on the map”.

On the second day, the two Ministers settled down to a discussion of a possible delineation of a boundary line. Minister Swaran Singh indicated certain areas west of the Valley and north of the Valley, and our readiness to concede in favour of Pakistan the rich forest areas in the north, on both sides of the Kishenganga River. After pretending that, this was a “shock” to Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto indicated that, according to their criteria, only a little more than the Kathua district on the Punjab border, in the extreme south of Kashmir, could be given to India, Pakistan being entitled to the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, right up to Ladakh in the north-east and including the Valley, as well as the southern areas, including Jammu, Udhampur, Aknur, Riasi, etc.

“The Pakistani offer was, obviously, ridiculous; but in the two last discussions Mr. Bhutto kept saying that unless we ‘advanced on the map’ and also agreed to discuss ‘the problem of the Valley’ in isolation, there could not be further talks. We said that we were content; and perhaps, the best course would be to report the results to our respective Governments.” The talks ended in New Delhi on 16 May 1963 after the sixth round of talks. (Avtar Singh Bhasin (Ed.);India-Pakistan Relations; 1947-2007; A Documentary Study; Geetika Publishers 2012; Vol.2, pp. 901-4; published in cooperation with Publicity Division of Ministry of External Affairs in a most useful set of 10 Volumes).

As a last resort Pakistan moved the Security Council once again in 1962. On 22 June 1962 the Soviet Union vetoed the Resolution (S/5134). All it proposed was direct talks between the parties but while endorsing the UNCIP’s resolutions of 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949. Two years later even this was abandoned. There was, instead, a Presidential Statement on 18 May 1964. It did not endorse the UNCIP’s Resolution.

Baulked, Pakistan tried to settle the issue on the battlefield; but Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam failed completely; militarily and politically. During the debates that ensued in the Security Council, neither the United States nor Britain spoke of the UNCIP’s Resolution. The Council’s cease-fire Resolution of 20 September 1965 [S/Res./211 (1965)] envisaged “a settlement of the political problem underlying the present conflict” (Para 4). The UNCIP’s resolutions were now history. At Tashkent “each of the sides put forth its respective position” (Para 1 of the Declaration of 10 January 1966) it is unlikely that Pakistan would have held a plebiscite had it won the war.

The record reveals that: (1) From June to October 1947 neither India nor Pakistan wanted a plebiscite in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. (2) There was a strong possibility of accord on a plebiscite on 1 November 1947 and perhaps on 8 November 1947 but Pakistan refused unless Hyderabad was excluded. (3) Success on the battlefield emboldened Nehru to resile from his many explicit and public pledges on plebiscite. (Vide A.G. Noorani; The Kashmir Dispute; Tulika Books, 2013; Vol. 1, pp. 124-27 for a compilation of 27 pledges, 1947-1953).

As recorded in an earlier essay in Criterion Quarterly January 2006 (pp. 26-52), events unfolded after independence, each country adopted an inconsistent stand on: (1) the worthlessness of the Instrument of Accession; (2) plebiscite; (3) territorial contiguity or the geographical factor; and (4) the religious factor. Both sides practiced deception. Both used armed forces as an instrument of policy. Members of the Indian Cabinet decided on 17 September that military action was the only answer to Junagadh’s accession to Pakistan.

In a telegram to Liaqat Ali Khan on 12 September, Nehru proposed a referendum under the joint supervision of the Dominion of India and Junagadh; not Pakistan. Mountbatten’s telegram to Jinnah on 22 September repeated this offer and cited “the principles on which the partition was agreed upon and effected.” – the religious factor.

In the entire discourse, the people of the State of Jammu & Kashmir played hardly any role although both sides swore affection for them. We must revert to the question posed earlier. Did plebiscite ever stand a serious chance? The answer is that it did, if at all, in November 1947. Thereafter the window of opportunity was shut. The battlefield was used by each side to force a decision by a clash of arms. It is not only the people of the State who have suffered. So have the people of India and Kashmir, far more than their leaders care to admit.

In 1947 Pakistan overlooked three factors – India would have to be persuaded to hold a plebiscite. Its consent, therefore, had to be obtained by offering a quid pro quo – Hyderabad – which Pakistan withheld. Secondly, time runs in favour of the party in possession. India overlooked this truth in its boundary dispute with China. Thirdly, the UNCIP’s resolution are not self-executory and the United Nations cannot enforce them. Only the offer of a major bargain would have moved Nehru to accept a compromise which Pakistan could accept.

He ruled out a plebiscite as he would have lost Kashmir and with it, possibly, his power as well. The Hindu right wing forces would have wrecked his entire policy and programme. But he had himself whipped up public opinion, inter alia for domestic political gains. Pakistan’s confrontational abrasive diplomacy suited him eminently.

Its remnants lurk still in Islamabad and Srinagar. Alternatives to a plebiscite are dismissed out of hand – and Pakistan itself abandoned plebiscite nearly sixty years ago; in 1958 to be precise. Wronged woefully, the people of Kashmir still yearn for a plebiscite and there are politicians and their henchmen in the media in Srinagar who feast on the people’s distress.

The Constitution of the United All Parties Hurriyat Conference itself envisaged alternatives to plebiscite which clause 2(i) preferred. But sub-clause (ii) added: “to make endeavours for an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute viz., (a) INDIA (b) PAKISTAN (c) PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF JAMMU AND KASHMIR, under the auspices of United Nations or any other friendly countries. Provided that such settlement reflects the will and aspirations of the people of the State. EXPLANATION: for the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that in this Article, negotiated statement shall not be deemed to include any settlement within the framework of the Constitution of India.” An accord between India and Pakistan can take care of the Explanation in this document of 1993.

Plebiscite is a mechanism based on the democratic principle. The mechanism was abandoned. The principle brooks no such fate. The UNCIP’s resolutions of 13 August 1948 and 6 January 1949 on plebiscite are, doubtless, obsolete. The UN’s mediator, Gunnar V. Jarring, noted in his Report how agreements of an ad hoc character may become difficult to implement because the situation with which they were to cope has tended to change. Half a century has elapsed since.

But no change of circumstances can dilute the UN’s Resolutions – or India’s pledges – of a fundamental rather than ad hoc character. On 30 March 1951, the Security Council affirmed (Resolution 91 of 1951) that any decision by the proposed Constituent Assembly of Kashmir on accession would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle, a disposition “made in accordance with the will of the people” and expressed through a plebiscite. The procedure and mechanism are obsolete. Not so, the fundamentals of the democratic principle. Nehru himself said in the Lok Sabha on 25 February 1955: “A question like this cannot be solved unilaterally.” A proviso to Article 253 of the Constitution of India itself envisages that a “decision affecting the disposition of the State” by the Government of India, would require “the consent of the State Government.”

The Shimla Agreement of 2 July 1972 centered on Kashmir though it sought to provide for the aftermath of the 1971 War. But that war was on Bangladesh not Kashmir. An Agreement based on the triumph of arms carries within itself the seeds of its own demise.

It froze the status quo in Kashmir but also provided in Punjab for a summit for “a final settlement of Jammu & Kashmir”. Sheikh Abdullah externed from Kashmir, protested. Para 6, however, recognizes that a “settlement is necessary”.

History has embittered feelings all round. Kashmiris feel betrayed. Pakistanis feel cheated. Indians feel insecure and afraid. Only a settlement fair to all will provide a cure. The Kashmir Dispute lies at the core of India-Pakistan relations as also the relationship between the Indian State and the people of Kashmir. Events since 8 July 2016 reveal once again that they reject Indian rule.

That India cannot accept. Nor can Pakistan accept conversion of the Line of Control into a permanent boundary. These three factors can be reckoned with but only in a compromise. Vested interests in Kashmir reject any compromise as if they have the power to eject India. Pakistan has been ready for a compromise as was India in 2006.

One thing is clear beyond doubt; there will be no peace on the subcontinent unless the Kashmir dispute is settled to the satisfaction of all, especially the oppressed people of Kashmir. A settlement necessarily involves concessions on all sides. There is no evidence of India’s willingness to make concessions.