Seventy-four years ago, India and Pakistan got their independence in the month of October 1947. It witnessed massive diplomatic and military activity in New Delhi, Karachi (then capital of Pakistan). This also happened in Srinagar, the summer capital of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan were planning to make Jammu and Kashmir join into their respective territories. However, Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority princely state, was not supporting either side. At the same time, there arose anti-Maharaja protests, primarily in Poonch and Srinagar.
The Indian Independence Act of 1947 put forth the legal basis for the departure of the British from India. Along with that, it guaranteed Partition. To make the transfer of power smooth, on 3 June 1947, the British Indian government formulated a standstill agreement. They did this so that “all the administrative arrangements that existed between the British crown and the princely state would continue unaltered between the signatory dominions (India and Pakistan) and the state until new arrangements were made”. On 12 August 1947, Jammu and Kashmir sought a standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan. Pakistan accepted the offer. They sent a communication to the state prime minister Janak Singh on 15 August 1947. But India refused to sign the agreement. Instead, they asked the Maharaja to send his representative to Delhi for further discussions.
The British departure from India had two major impacts on the state. One, the Maharaja had lost his guarantor who the British. They could not come to his aid to quell any uprising or aggression, as had happened in 1931. Secondly, Hari Singh could not keep an eye on the volatile border of Kashmir in case of any external aggression. Meanwhile, Pakistan interpreted the fact that the state’s standstill agreement with India was in limbo. This meant that the state would eventually accede to Pakistan. Pakistan Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah sent his private secretary to Srinagar to assure the Maharaja about signing an instrument of accession with Pakistan.
However, within 12 days of signing the standstill agreement with Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan wrote a warning note to the Maharaja. This warning alarmed the Maharaja. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi wanted Kashmir to join India. Nehru’s Kashmiri roots and friendship with Sheikh Abdullah made him push for it. The new prime minister of J&K, Mehr Chand Mahajan, warned: “We have decided by 25th evening to go to India if we get a plane or else to Pakistan to surrender.” V.P. Menon, secretary of the Ministry of the States, was then flown to Jammu to advise the Maharaja about the government’s view. It was then that the Maharaja finally signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October.
The Instrument of Accession guaranteed limited access to India in Jammu and Kashmir on matters of defense, communications, and foreign affairs. It stated:
- In Clause 4, the Maharaja declared the accession of the state to India.
- Clause 5 declared that terms of the instrument were invariable. They cannot be changed by amending any law/act etc. without the acceptance of the state legislature by a supplementary instrument.
- Clause 6 declared that the Union of India didn’t have any power to make laws in the state in terms of land acquisition. It also specifically mentioned that the Union could not purchase land in Jammu and Kashmir, unless the law demanded so.
- Clause 7 stated that the Maharaja didn’t have to accept the future Indian Constitution and the government of India could not force the Maharaja to do so.
- In Clause 8, it was stated in clear terms that “nothing in this instrument affects the sovereignty” of Maharaja.
- Clause 9 made it explicitly clear that he was signing that document on behalf of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, it is clear that the government of India had acknowledged the Maharaja as a legal representative of the people of the state.