By Bikash C Paul
For BJP and Sangh Parivar, Jawaharlal Nehru has been the favourite whipping boy on Jammu and Kashmir in India. The ‘Parivar’ never sighed away to blame the first Prime Minister of India for his alleged ‘soft approach’ towards Pakistan, even when it was attacked in 1947. An oft-repeated charge against Nehru is that he did not show enough courage to push back the Pakistani invaders who descended on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). BJP stalwart Amit Shah recently re-ignited the old debate saying “Sarder Patel united 630 provinces. Nehru had just one job (to unite J&K with India).” Shah went further to term Nehru’s decision to move to UN a ‘Himalayan blunder.’
It is not only the rightist parties or organizations, in fact, there are many writers who time and again have criticized Nehru for not going full length in taking back the territory of J&K that had been seized by Pakistan in 1947.
But is it so straightforward as perceived? No, for sure. Some recent documents, availed through RTI, depict somewhat a contrary picture. Nehru was not really soft towards Pakistan as it is propagated. In fact, at some point of time post-Pakistani invasion, Nehru even wanted to attack Pakistan. An interview of the then Indian Army Chief Sir Francis Robert Roy Bucher with noted biographer B R Nanda highlighted Nehru’s belligerent mood.
A few pages of the 20-page interview are accessed through an RTI from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) while rest remained inaccessible as the museum refused to divulge it declaring “closed.” The interview does make for very interesting reading with tidbits about what happened in J&K narrated from memory and also his love for India and the respect he had for top leaders like Nehru, Sardar Patel and C. Rajagopalachari the first Governor General of independent India.
On the specific issue of Pakistani attack in Jammu and Kashmir and subsequent events in 1947, Sir Roy Bucher said: “He (Nehru) had become very perturbed about the shelling of Akhnur and the Beripattan Bridge by Pakistan heavy artillery from just within Pakistan; he enjoined me to do all I could to counteract this. There was nothing which one could do except counter-shell. In one of his letters Panditji wrote: “I do not know what the United Nations”- I am quoting – “are going to propose. They may propose a cease-fire and what the conditions are going to be I do not know. If there isn’t going to be a cease-fire, then it seems to me that we may be faced with an advance into Pakistan and for that we must be prepared. I assured my Prime Minister that all steps would be taken to meet any eventuality.”
However, it seems things changed dramatically after that. The former army chief received a call from the then Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh: “The next happening so far as I was concerned, was when Sarder Baldev Singh rang me up on the telephone and said: “Go ahead.”
I asked: “Go ahead with what?”
He replied: Go ahead with the cease-fire.”
My reply was: “Well it is a jolly difficult job for me as a Commander-in-Chief to tackle and you have the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan in the country.”
The answer (from the Defence Minister) was that I have to go ahead (with the ceasefire).”
“So I drafted out a signal to General Gracey, the Commander-in-Chief in Pakistan; a copy of this is, I know, in the file in the Museum now. The signal was kept purposely short and merely stated that my Government was of the opinion that senseless moves and counter-moves with loss of life and everything else were achieving nothing in Kashmir; that I had my Government’s authority to order Indian troops to cease firing as from a minute or so before midnight of the 31st December 1948.”
“The signal was very carefully drafted and was addressed to General Gracey”, said Sir Roy Bucher, adding, “as I have already said I took it along to Pandit Nehru in the Lok Sabha before dispatch and showed it to him. He read it two or three times, counter-signed it and told me to get it sent off; he took a copy for his own file. The signal was despatched”.
“I knew if General Gracey understood that Pandit Nehru had approved the message that he would immediately inform his own Prime Minister, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan. By permission of the Government of India I could telephone to Army Headquarters Pakistan; I used this permission to inform General Gracey that my signal had Pandit Nehru’s agreement.”
“The ceasefire came in. Indian troops stopped firing, and as I have already narrated, the United Nations Commission was apprised of this a day or two later; they were told that what they come out for had been achieved two days or so ago. I do not think Commission knew anything about the cease-rife signal before that,” the former army chef chronicled the chain of events.
What prompted Nehru to change his mind to ‘advance into Pakistan’, was not even clear to Sir Roy Bucher. He said, “What went on within Indian Cabinet I do not know.” Neither Sir Roy Bucher knew it nor he wanted to speculate it. After 72 years, we should also stop speculating and bar ourselves looking at the issue through the prism of ideology. Only evidence-based historical perspective can evaluate an historical event, nothing less than that.