DR. SYAMA Prasad Mookerjee, founder-president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, whose death anniversary was observed by its present incarnation, the BJP, with added fervour on June 23, had played a seminal role in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. His death in 1953, in fact, marked the beginning of what has come to be known as the Kashmir problem. The formula he suggested on the status of the State could have satisfied the aspirations of the regions of Kashmir and Jammu and reconciled them with the national interest. It was acceptable to Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru. But before he offered that formula, he had taken up a position that had provoked them both.
Having blessed the agitation of the Praja Parishad, Jammu affiliate of the Jana Sangh for ``ek pradhan, ek vidhan and ek nishan'' and led a campaign in the whole country against the special status of the State under Article 370 of the Constitution, Mookerjee was engaged in an animated correspondence with Nehru and Abdullah between January and February 1953. He started from an extreme position. But in a sudden climbdown, he offered to Nehru, in his letter dated February 17, 1953, to withdraw the Praja Parishad movement provided the Delhi Agreement signed by Nehru and Abdullah in July 1952 ``was implemented in the next session of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly'' and both sides reiterated that ``the unity of the State will be maintained and that the principle of autonomy will apply to the province of Jammu as a whole and of course also to Ladakh and Kashmir Valley.''
Mookerjee's differences with Nehru and Abdullah had started when they signed the Delhi agreement. He also wanted the State to be split into two States ``in case Kashmir wanted a loose integration and people of Jammu wanted full accession''. For ``Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh represent different types of people; their language, their outlook, their environment, their habits and modes of life, their occupations differ from one another in many vital respects'' (Letter to Pandit Nehru with a copy to Sheikh Abdullah dated January 9, 1953).
On the eve of the Nehru-Abdullah talks on Centre-State relations, I met Nehru on July 15, 1952 and, in a written memorandum, demanded regional autonomy as a way out of the deterioration in the relations between different regions of the State. Nehru's response was positive. After consulting Abdullah, in his presence, he declared at a press conference on July 24, 1952, while releasing the Delhi Agreement that ``the State Government was considering regional autonomies within the larger State.'' Abdullah added, ``the Constitution of the State, when complete, would give limited regional autonomy to Jammu and Ladakh.''
The series of letters that Mookerjee wrote to Nehru and Abdullah in the first two months of 1953 indicate a gradual shift in his position on the Delhi Agreement, regional autonomy and unity of the State. In his final position, stated in his letter of February 17, 1953, he had veered around to the solution that I had been campaigning for during the preceding years and which was accepted by Nehru and Abdullah. Thus eventually the three leaders agreed on the basic principles of Kashmir policy. The only difference was on how to withdraw the Praja Parishad agitation.
Mookerjee suggested to Nehru that he should ``agree to meet some selected representatives of the Praja Parishad and this should be followed by an immediate suspension of the movement''. Nehru had, in his letter to Mookerjee, warned him about ``the far-reaching repercussions'' of the agitation on the people not only in Kashmir but also on the people in Pakistan-held territory whose liberation Mookerjee had demanded. He therefore rejected the suggestion of Mookerjee to meet Praja Parishad representatives and said, ``this agitation is not of our seeking and the first step should be to withdraw the agitation completely.''
In retrospect it does appear that if Mookerjee had taken the stand in July 1952 which he took in February 1953, on the Delhi Agreement providing autonomy to the State within India and of regions within the State, there would not have been any Kashmir problem except perhaps in the sense of liberating the Pakistan- held parts. For there was overwhelming support within Kashmir for its association with India and the Delhi Agreement fully reflected the aspirations of the people of the Valley. It also guaranteed safeguards for the interests and aspirations of the other two regions of the State.
The people of Kashmir who had sought accession to India, as they felt their identity was threatened by Pakistan, found a new threat to their identity and autonomy in the demand for ``full accession'' by the agitation in Jammu, supported by ``Hindu communalists of India''. Giving vent to the reaction of his people to the new threat, Abdullah asserted that having fought against Muslim communalists, he would never submit to the dictates of Hindu communalism. Eventually he started equivocating on the issue of accession if the Hindu communal threat persisted. For, ``he had acceded to Gandhi's India''. A number of factors are responsible for Abdullah's equivocations but surely the change in the popular Kashmiri mood due to the threat posed by the Jana Sangh-supported Parishad agitation was not a mean factor.
It must have been the realisation of these realities that touched the patriotic nerve of Mookerjee when he offered to accept the Delhi Agreement and its corollary of region autonomy, seven months after it was signed; to prevent further damage to the situation in Kashmir.
The unfortunate death of Mookerjee in Abdullah's jail swept north-India from Calcutta to Amritsar with an anti-Nehru and more stridently an anti-Abdullah wave. The latter started getting bagfuls of hate mail, containing threats to his life, from various parts of the country. Was this the reward for thwarting Pakistan's design on Kashmir and for leading his people to accession to India, he would ask.
The State Government sent a 45-page draft on regional autonomy to the dictator of the Praja Parishad agitation, Durga Dass Verma, who after the approval of his party returned the draft. Nehru appealed to the people of Jammu to withdraw their agitation on July 2, 1953, ``as the State Government was considering grant of autonomy to its regions, particularly Jammu, while framing the Constitution of the State. ``Thereafter, the leaders of the Praja Parishad were released and were invited by the Prime Minister to meet him. The Jammu agitation of 1952-53 was formally withdrawn on the assurance of regional autonomy.
Meanwhile, fresh complications were added to the situation in Kashmir which led to the dismissal from power and indefinite detention of Abdullah, which needs a separate treatment. But what made it difficult to recover the lost ground was the fact that the Jana Sangh repudiated the offer of Mookerjee made in his letter to Nehru in February 1953 and the Praja Parishad's agreement with the State and Union Governments in accordance with it within a few months after the death of its founder- president; on a directive from the RSS, according to one of its former presidents. It resumed its onslaught against State autonomy and regional autonomy and those who campaigned for it. The regional tensions that have accumulated ever since played a major role in making the Kashmir problem intractable. Now when the latest incarnation of the Jana Sangh and the Parishad is heading the Government at the Centre, would it consider the formula on which Nehru, Abdullah and Mookerjee had eventually agreed about Centre- State and State-regions relations, which might mark a major breakthrough in solving the Kashmir problem?
This article was published in Hindu newspaper's online edition. It was written by Balraj Puri .