Thursday, June 6, 2013




                                 ( Mahatma with Begum Akbar Jahaan and her daughter in Kashmir  ) 



Immediately after his return from South Africa in 1915Gandhi was invited by Maharaja Partap Singh to visit Kashmir but this visit could not materialise on account of various urgent engagements of the Mahatma .Therafter ,Gandhi  had gone to Haridwar where the turbulent Ganges enters the plains of India. It was the year of the once-in-twelve years Kumbh Mela and thousands of pilgrims had gathered at Haridwar for the holy occasion. One of the eminent individuals who had come for the occasion was Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir. By that time Gandhi had built up a huge reputation for himself as a staunch and fearless fighter for justice and rights in South Africa. On meeting him, the Maharaja invited him to visit his state. But Gandhi could not avail the  invitation due to various engagements. Again during 1932, Gandhi wanted to visit Kashmir to sympathise with the sufferers of July 1931 violence but once again this visit could not materialise. Kashmir once again beckoned  him in 1938 when he was staying in Abbotabad with Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, and his brother Dr Khan Sahib, Sir N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the then Prime Minister of Kashmir had earnestly wanted the Mahatma to visit Srinagar. The state had made all the arrangements and Gandhi  almost decided to visit Kashmir. This visit was also cancelled due to some pressing priorities.Then again in 1946, after Pandit  Jawahar Lal Nehru was detained and not allowed to enter Kashmir, the Mahatma planned a visit to Srinagar but this also could not materialise due to his busy political engagements. Finally, on 1st August 1947, Gandhi  visited Kashmir. To a friend Gandhi wrote on 30th July, “I am going to see for myself the condition of the people. In any case I shall have a glimpse of the Himalayas. Who knows if I am going there for the first and the last time?”

 In ‘The Telegraph’ dated 16th August 2019, Ramchndra Guha writes this about the visit of  Mahatma Gandhi  to Kashmir :-

 “Gandhi’s trip had two main aims; to get the Maharaja to release Sheikh Abdullah from prison, and to get a sense of what the people of Kashmir were thinking. When he reached the valley, he received a terrific reception. On his entry into Srinagar, he was met by thousands of people on either side of the road, shouting “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai”. Since the bridge across the river Jhelum had been taken over by the crowd, Gandhi took a boat to the other side, where he addressed a public meeting of some 25,000 people, convened by Sheikh Abdullah’s wife. He spoke of spiritual rather than political matters, in Hindustani. His doctor Sushila Nayar, who was with him, wrote that “men and women flocked from the neighbouring villages to have a glimpse of the Mahatma. Friends and foes alike wonder at the hold he has on the masses. His mere presence seems to soothe them in a strange fashion .Gandhi Ji spent three days in the valley and two days in Jammu. In a short note on his Kashmir visit, that he sent both to Nehru and to Patel , Gandhi Ji wrote of his conversations with the Maharaja, Hari Singh, and his son, Karan Singh. He remarked that “both admitted that with the lapse of British paramountcy,the true paramountcy of the people of Kashmir would commence. However much they might wish to join the Union, they would have to make the choice in accordance with the wishes of the people. How that could be determined was not discussed at that interview. ”

In his Note and connected letter of August 6, 1947 to Nehru and  Patel, reproduced in biographies and many selected works of Gandhi, the Mahatma wrote , “R C Kak was unpopular and the  National Conference leaders were most sanguine that the result of the free vote of the people, would be in favour of Kashmir joining the Indian Union provided of course that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his co-prisoners were released . It was how the situation could be saved in Kashmir ” .

 He entered Kashmir from Chaklala, Rawalpindi .  In Kashmir, Gandhi  preferred to be received by National Conference leaders. Since Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was in prison, he was received at Chaklala by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Khwaja Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq as representatives of the National Conference party. Both Bakshi and Sadiq accompanied the Mahatma up to the Kohala bridge and then went back to Lahore where they lived as exiles after the launch of Quit Kashmir movement by National Conference .The National Conference leadership was either imprisoned or exiled by Maharaja’s government at that point in time. In  the Greater Kashmir dated 11th  October 2022, M J Aslam writes this :-

“Gandhi Ji entered Baramulla on 1st August, 47. The response to the Gandhi Ji’s entry into Kashmir was mixed. It was welcomed by  the National Conference supporters, while Muslim Conference supporters protested. At Baramulla and  Sangrama, Gandhi Ji faced protests from Muslim Conference activists. But, NC activists “drove Gandhi Ji’s car away from the protesting MC activists”. The two political parties of the time responded differently to the Gandhi Ji’s visit. At Baramulla, NC leaders received Gandhi Ji and at Pattan, a number of NC activists in the accompaniment of a car with a flying-NC-flag fitted on it, (which flag was gifted to the party’s Halqa Khanyar by Nehru during his last visit to Kashmir), received Gandhi Ji  with jubilation and joy.”

The Mahatma refused to be Maharaja's guest and the officials sent by Maharaja to receive him at Kohala had to return in disappointment. These officials had two cars with them meant for Gandhi and other guests accompanying him. However, the Mahatma refused all the hospitalities of Maharaja Hari Singh and stayed with one Kishori Lal Sethi, a forest lessee from Punjab who was a close associate of the Congress leaders and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Kishori Lal Sethi lived in a rented bunglow at Barzulla in Srinagar city. Gandhi  was accompanied by his secretary Pyare Lal and two nieces.

 On his arrival day, Gandhi  was taken around Dal lake . R C Kak, the then Prime Minister was the first official dignitary to visit him. He met Gandhi  on 2nd and 3rd August successively during morning hours. Kak also brought an invitation from the Maharaja to Gandhi  for a visit to Maharaja’s palace known as Hari Niwas. Gandhi  visited Hari Niwas on 3rd August 1947. No one knows what actually transpired between the Maharaja and Gandhi during that meeting but from all accounts, Gandhi  had suggested to the Maharaja to keep in mind the interests of the people of the state while deciding his accession to any dominion. He is reported to have refused the glass of milk that the Maharani brought for him. There is a note from R C Kak’s ( the then  Prime Minister of J&K ) diary in  Siddharth Kak ‘s latest book, “Love Exile . Redemption  that deals  with Mahatma  Gandhi’s meeting with the Maharaja and Maharani . The note from R C Kak’s diary reads this :- 

 "The Mahatma had an interview with the Maharaja and the Maharani at which I was not  present . I asked the Mahatma , who honoured me by calling at my house on his way back from the palace , whether he had a satisfactory talk. He replied , ‘ we only talked of this and that –idhar udhar ki baatein hui’. According to the report published in the papers after he left the state ,he had advised the Maharaja and the Maharani to transfer power to the people ,which , as it was Mahatma Gandhi who was advising , in effect meant to Sheikh Abdullah . The report added that Mahatma Gandhi had said the Maharaja and the Maharani  had agreed. The Maharaja when asked whether this was so, replied in the negative .”

In his prayer meeting of 29th July 1947 held in Delhi,  the Mahatma  had  said this :-

” I am not going to suggest to the Maharaja to accede to India and not to Pakistan. The real sovereign of the state are the people. The ruler is a servant of the people. If he is not so then he is not the ruler. This is my firm belief, and that is why I became a rebel against the British - because the British claimed to be the rulers of India, and I refused to recognize them as such. In Kashmir too the power belongs to the public. Let them do as they want...I do not want to do anything in public when I am in Kashmir. I do not even want a public prayer, though I may have it, as prayer is part of my life.”

Begum Akbar Jahan , wife of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and her daughter Khalida kept visiting Barzulla frequently to seek blessings from the Mahatma. Begum Akbar Jahan had organised a reception for Gandhi on his arrival in Srinagar with about 500 women activists joining this grand event. Gandhi  also went to the Soura residence of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for a tea party invitation. He was not happy with Begum Akbar Jahan for having organised a lavish tea party. ”Mahatma Ji, if Sheikh Sahib had been out of prison, he would have arranged a grand party. I and my children shall be happy if you take a cup of tea with us “ Begum Akbar Jahan told Gandhi  after she sensed his displeasure.  “ This is not good. Why have you purchased so many eatables for this tea party? How much can an old man consume? I don't like this at all. You need to save money. ”Gandhi  told Begum Akbar Jahan.

 The Mahatma  held prayer meetings every day during his stay in Kashmir. These meetings were attended by large crowds. He also visited Dr Peshin’s hospital and interacted with patients over there. He was also brought to Sheetal Nath by some Kashmiri Pandit leaders. Gandhi did not address any public meeting in Kashmir but whatever he had to say, he conveyed it in his evening prayer meetings held in the spacious lawn of Kishori Lal Sethi's residence at Barzulla.

 My friend Mohammad Yaseen informs me that his father Khwaja Ahsaanullah was the only leader in Kashmir who was not exiled or put behind bars by the Maharaja at that time. He also came to Gandhi's prayer meetings once. Khwaja Ahsanullah 's family lived in Gogji Bagh and had a shop in Maisuma Chowk under the name and style of 'Miraj And Co '.Khwaja Ahsanullah was J&K's Trade Commissioner in Delhi during Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad's rule.

 The noted  Persian scholar and writer, Dr Kashi Nath Pandita told me this :-

 " in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh was going through a tough time. At that critical turn of the history, Gandhi Ji and Pandit Nehru rallied with National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah. To an extent, both tried to ignore the Maharaja. This created problems for the Maharaja in arriving at some solution to the issue of accession. The Maharaja had categorically declined accession to Pakistan. He had declined entry of Jinnah to Kashmir in August 1947 the way he had previously declined entry of Pandit Nehru to Kashmir. The Maharaja had some formula with him. Carrying that formula with him, Prime Minister R C Kak was actively engaged in negotiations with various leaders. The Maharaja was working on a solution. He had written a letter to viceroy seeking some time for accession given the peculiarities of his state. He had conveyed it to Sardar Patel as well. To  the viceroy, the Maharaja had written that it would be unwise for Gandhi Ji to visit Kashmir at that moment in 1947. Gandhi and Nehru wanted Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah to be released and accession issue of Kashmir dealt with Sheikh Abdullah only. Both Gandhi Ji and Pandit Nehru were putting more pressure on Maharaja than Jinnah on this aspect." 

 About RC Kak's efforts for a peaceful and just settlement of Kashmir, Dr Karan Singh writes in his autobiography as under:-

 " Ram Chand Kak, the one man who had the intellectual capacity to make coherent efforts towards an acceptable settlement, had resigned after being humiliated by my father. "

 About Gandhi's visit to Kashmir, the reputed journalist Sati Sahni has written this:-

 " I was Gandhi Ji's secretary in Kashmir for four days of his stay from 1st August 1947 to 4rth August 1947. He came via Jhelum Valley Road from Rawalpindi and left via Banihal Cart Road for Jammu and then to Rawalpindi. My name was recommended to Pyare Lal Ji by Mr Sethi, Gandhi Ji's Srinagar host. Gandhi Ji travelled by frontier Mail to Rawalpindi. At Amritsar station, a small black flag demonstration was staged against him. At Rawalpindi, he stayed in the house of Dev Raj Anand a respectable Congress leader. A small demonstration was also held against Gandhi Ji by some Muslim Conference activists at Baramulla. In Kashmir, on his arrival day ie; 1st August 1947, Gandhi Ji was surprised to see all official buildings illuminated in Srinagar. Gilgit had been restored to Maharaja's administration by the British. At this, Gandhi Ji enquired whether the Maharaja had sought the opinion of the people of Gilgit on the issue. Gandhi Ji had a magnetic personality. His skin glowed like polished marble. His pocket watch was his constant companion. He read all his correspondence and replied everything personally. During those four days, I saw an aura of his personality from close quarters. Gandhi Ji had not come for any political purpose but he wanted to apply balm to the bruised psyche of Kashmiris on account of fear of Pakistan, Maharaja Hari Singh's indecision and banishment of entire National Conference leadership from the state. The visit of the Mahatama had an emotional purpose than serving any concrete political objective."

 The Mahatma’s charismatic personality attracted notably three eminent Muslim leaders of the subcontinent .They were: Abdul Gaffar Khan of Frontier, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai of Baluchistan and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah of Kashmir. They were known as Sarhadi Gandhi, Baluchi Gandhi and Kashmir Ka  Gandhi  respectively. Incidentally , “Kashmir Ka Gandhi” was the first book written by Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz in 1935 when he was closely associated with Sheikh  Mohammad Abdullah. At that point in time, Bazaz was all praise for Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for following the ideology of Gandhi Ji in Kashmir and  bringing about communal harmony which Bazaz thought was ‘disturbed’ by the 1931-developments.

During this visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja, Hari Singh and Maharani Tara Devi accorded traditional welcome with Arti and Tilak by the Royal couple and also then young prince, Karan Singh. These details have been recorded by Dr Karan Singh in his book titled , “Heir Apparent”.  The Mahatma left for Jammu on 4th August 1947. During his brief stay in Kashmir, he met scores of people from all walks of life. He also conveyed his observations in a free and frank manner. Some observation  are as under:-

 “ It is really difficult for me to distinguish between a Hindu Kashmiri and a Muslim Kashmiri. You people speak one language and have one culture .”

 “  While the rest of the country burns in the communal fire, I see a shining ray of hope in Kashmir only.”

 “ We all are children of the same God. Fighting amongst ourselves on issues of religion is nothing short of disrespect to our creator. ”

 “ In this struggle for freedom from the monarchy in Kashmir, I am with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who stands by the high principles and peaceful methods and upholds the Hindu-Muslim unity at all cost. The monarchy must go .”

 “ I treat the Amritsar Treaty of 1846, under which Kashmir was given to Maharaja Gulab Singh as a sale deed. ”

 “ An eye for an eye ends up in making the whole world blind. The world moves ahead only because a large number of people try to forget and forgive. ”


 ( Avtar Mota)


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