KS: Where did you spend your early years? Do you originally belong to Kashmir?
SS: My family originally hails from Rawalpindi. My father Dewan Chaman Lal shifted to Srinagar in 1916 after the death of his sister’s husband, Mukand Ram Sethi. The latter ran a business in Srinagar. His sons – Kanwar Sen Sethi ( a well-known sportsperson) and Bajar Sen were quite young when Sh. Mukand Ram died. Dewan Chaman Lal asked by his sister to come to Srinagar to be of help in running family business. My father was a Govt. Contractor and Supplier. During two months of bitter winter the family would move down to Rawalpindi. I was born in Rawalpindi in 1922.
KS: Did you have your schooling in Rawalpindi?
SS: I joined Lahore’s Sacred Heart School for few months, my nanihal was there. Due to Lahore being quite hot I moved to Srinagar. I was a student of Mission School, Sheikh Bagh during the years when Canon Tyndal Biscoe was the Principal. I finished my Primary education in 1935, the same year Tyndal Biscoe also left Kashmir for England. Subsequently, his son Eric took over as the head of the institution. Mission School, Sheikh Bagh was started years after the launching of Mission School, Fatehkadal in 1896.
Canon Tyndal Biscoe was an excellent teacher and very affectionate to his students. He used to take one period everyday for teaching Bible. While teaching Bible, he made good use of illustrations by rolling the canvas scroll mounted on a wooden stand. The scroll depicted in a chronological sequence the life story of Jesus Christ starting from his birth and ending at crucifixion.
Trekking and Swimming were popular sports in the school. I did Dal cross during my school years. My classfellows at Biscoe School included Sh. Noor Mohammad (later Chief Secretary, J&K Govt.), Sh. KH Khurshid (later Private Secretary to Jinnah) and Sh. Ali Mohammad Tariq. The latter came to be called Young Abdullah for his being a staunch follower of the Kashmiri leader. Tariq was a fiery speaker in his youth.
KS: You passed your matriculation too from the same school.
SS: No, after 5th class I joined SP School. Lala Desraj was my Headmaster. My subjects were English, Urdu, Math, Drawing and Agriculture. I used to play hockey for School XI. I was considered to be a good scout and was selected in the first ever contingent from J&K for All India Jamboree at Walton, Lahore in 1935. It took us four days to reach Lahore, with halts at Banihal, Ramban and Jammu. One of my classfellows at SP School, GC Pandey was to subsequently become a famous Sanskrit scholar. He retired as Vice-Chancellor of Rajasthan University. His father was Accountant-General of J&K Govt.
KS: Where did you have your college education?
SS: I passed my matriculation in 1937 and joined SP College. My subjects were Physics, Chemistry, Math, besides English. In B.A. I switched over to History, Economics, English literature (Honours). I studied in SP College for four years. The Principals during this period were Messers MA Ibrahim, Sunder Das Malhotra and Mohammad Din Taseer. SP College during these years boasted of some of the best teachers Kashmir has ever produced. These included Prof. Jaya Lal Kaul, Prof. RC Pandita, Prof. SL Pandit, Prof. PN Qazi (all English); Prof. Sham Lal Dhar (Chemistry), Lala Tirath Ram (Physics), Prof. BK Madan and Prof. Mehmood in History. Prof RC Pandita was a great grammarian, he used to spend 2 hours while deliberating on the usage of one word. Whatever perfection I have achieved in English language I owe it to Prof. Pandita. I was quite friendly with Prof. Mufti Jalaluddin, who was not my teacher. Mufti Sahib taught Arabic, Persian and Urdu. I had direct access to Prof. Mehmood since he was President of the Dramatic Club. At the College I used to spend lot of time playing Tennis.
My classmates at the College included Sh. Lokesh Dhar, son of Prof. S.L. Dhar, who later retired as Brigadier from the Indian Army, Aga Ashraf Ali, later Professor in Jamia Milia, Sh. OP Malhotra, son of Principal SS Malhotra, who reached the post of Army Chief, Charanjit Singh, who retired as Lt. General. One of my classfellows‑Mumtaz, son of Chief Justice Abdul Qayoom was to become a Corps Commander in Pakistan at Karachi.
KS: What difference you find between the teachers in your time and today?
SS: Our teachers were very friendly, affectionate and had a helping attitude. In free time I used to visit staff room and meet teachers. I had met Mufti Jalaluddin 2 to 3 times. He once invited me for lunch at his house. Our teachers used to come to college on bicycles. That day I had not carried my bicycle. Mufti Sahib took me on his bicycle to home. He used to live at Fatehkadal. When he asked me how I would go back I replied that I can manage to walk down the distance to Exchange Road, where we lived. He didn’t agree and carried me back on bicycle to Gowkadal. Our teachers not only taught us well, they also saw to it that we become better human beings. These teachers had a value system. The teachers would ask the students if they had any difficulty. After College hours the students had direct access to the teachers for removing their difficulties. Prof. Jaya Lal Koul was a great man. I used to spend two hours daily with him at his residence.
KS: Late 1930s and 1940s were period of intense political activity in Kashmir. Did these developments influence you anyway?
SS: I got involved in All India Students Federation politics. I served as J&K General Secretary of the Organisation for two terms from 1939-43. The other General Secretary was Ali Jawad Zaidi from Lucknow. He later joined Central Information Office and subsequently served as Private Secretary to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad for some time when the latter was Prime Minister. Students Federation aligned itself with Congress at All India level and with National Conference, when the latter was constituted in late 1938.
KS: Did you ever came close to the Left?
SS: I was influenced by the Left but never became part of the Left. Kashmir Literary League was launched some time around 1938. Kh. GM Sadiq was President, Messers Peer Abdul Ahad and Jia Lal Killam were two Vice-Presidents while I was made the General Secretary. In 1939 Dr. KM Ashraf came to Kashmir. Under the aegis of Kashmiri Literary League he delivered a lecture in SP College. Sadiq presided over the function. Dr. KM Ashraf’s lecture influenced us greatly. He was a towering personality and an ideologue of international stature. Soon after his lecture, many erstwhile socialist members of Communist Party students became card holding members of Communist Party.
Shri Niranjan Nath Raina used to take my tuitions in Mathematics in 1939-1940. After I completed my academics he became my friend. He was one of the tallest intellectual, I have ever come across. He had a phenomenal memory and great persuasive power. His articulation was of a very high degree, he was able to explain and convince.
KS: Did you ever take part in agitational politics?
SS: I participated in the agitation launched by NC soon after its formation. In this Latif Qureishi, a well-known Lawyer was thrashed by police near Dhanjibhai Ka Ahta (now Govt. Press). The place used to the stand for Tongas plying between Srinagar and Lahore. Latif’s father was a Hakim, his shop was in Maisuma-Kokerbazar area. The family hailed from Lucknow.
KS: You were close to Prof. MD Taseer also.
SS: After the college studies were over, my contact with Taseer Sahib was through Sheikh Abdullah and Hafeez Jullundhuri. Taseer and even Hafeez Sahib were quite liberal. Everything changed after 1947. Even a liberal and emancipated person like Hafeez Sahib turned into a communalist.
KS: What impact did Quit India Movement have in Kashmir?
SS: Kashmir became a haven for Congress leaders who wanted to escape arrest. Aruna Asaf Ali and Ganesh Prashad (a Marxist) remained in hiding here. The latter first stayed in attic of Sh. DP Dhar’s house at Safakadal. When Police came to know about it, DP Dhar sent him to his Jagir. Student Federation became the hub for Congress workers coming from outside. In 1942 DP Dhar was President of J&K Branch of All India Student Federation. Kashi Nath Bamzai was vice-president of J&K unit. Two incidents took place during this time.
Some underground messenger asked us to get in touch with Sarat Chandra Bose. The latter was serving in a passenger liner in high seas between Calcutta and Rangoon. He used to maintain contact with overround Congress workers under an assumed name. I was communicated this assumed name. My letter landed with Police Commissioner of Calcutta. British Intelligence was quite alert. The Commissioner sent the letter to Shri Gopalswami Ayyengar, Prime Minister of J&K for enquiry and action. Shri Ram Lal Nagpal (later secretary, J&K Assembly) was his stenographer. Nagpal knew me but his relations with Shri DP Dhar were better. Ram Lal called on DP Dhar and informed him that the Prime Minister had asked Shri DP Dhar and Mr Satpal Sahni to meet him at his residence at 9:30 A.M the next day.
The PM residence was near Amar Singh Club. DP Dhar took me along in his Tonga, Ram Lal took us to Mr. Ayyengar’s Chamber. The Prime Minister told Sh. DP Dhar, “You are the son of a Jagirdar. The activities you are indulging in can jeopardise your Jagir”. DP Dhar replied,” Sir, the point is why should my father suffer for my mistake”.
Mr. Ayyenger took out the letter and asked, “whose signature is this?” I replied, “signatures are mine”. He enquired, “why did you write this?” I said, “I wanted to elicit some information”. He continued, “you can be sent to jail”. I submitted, “If I deserve it then I will go”. At the end he said in view of the complaint made by Police Commissioner of Calcutta some action had to be taken. The meeting lasted just five minutes. We were taken to Kothibagh Police Station, an FIR was filed against us for indulging in ‘subversive activities”. In the Police Station two of my cousins came to see me, the Tonga driver had communicated to them the news of our detention. We DP and me were released after three days.
Around this time (Sept. 1942) Dr Zakir Hussain (later President of India) visited Kashmir. He was not active in Quit India Movement. Our group wanted to do political activity independent of National Conference. In this connection I was deputed by my organisation to meet Dr. Zakir Hussain. He was staying in Bombay Guest House at Boulevard. He refrained from participating in active politics. We had decided to invite him for presiding over the annual anniversary of our student organization. I said to him since the Quit India Movement had engulfed the entire country we wanted ti to extend to our state as well. He said it was a policy matter of Congress leadership not to involve States in it. Turning to the convention he asked, “What will you deliberate in the convention”. I replied, “we will express our solidarity with countrymen”. He tried to dissuade me and turned me off saying, “They will put you in jail”. I asked, “why, we are not raising the banner of revolt”. I told Dr. Zakir Sahib, “If Congress will not agree to our demand we will start movement on our own”. He asked me, “what you will do”. I told him we will indulge in activities of sabotage and our organisation had the wherewithal. He advised, “Don’t do anything that would jeopardise your life. Don’t do any work about which you do not know well.” The meeting lasted just 30 minutes. Sardar Teja Singh had to accompany me but he could not reach in time. Since I was alone, I had to justify to my organisation that I had indeed met Dr. Zakir Hussain. I asked him to write a message for my colleagues in the organisation. He wrote in the notebook, “If a thing is worth doing it is also worthdoing well”. This advice changed the entire course of my life. Honestly speaking, whenever I make an attempt to do a new thing, this sentence rings my mind. And I decide to measure up myself whether I could do the task.
KS: How did Naya Kashmir manifesto emerge?
SS: This idea had started developing in Sadiq Sahib’s baithak (Karra building) since 1940. This baithak was sort of a club for NC and student activists, besides intellectuals. Punjab communist leader Sh. BPL Bedi and his wife Freda visited Kashmir in 1940. When Pt. Nehru came to Jammu and Srinagar in June 1940, Bedis were already in Srinagar. It was through Sadiq that Bedis came to know Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, and Mirza Afzal Beg but they stayed close to Sheikh Sahib and Sadiq only. Because of DP Dhar, KN Bamzai and JN Zutshi an intellectual group emerged which was influenced by Soviet Constitution and Planning. Out of these discussions came out the idea of Naya Kashmir.
Sh. BPL Bedi was asked by Sheikh Abdullah to draft its manifesto. After its drafting it was discussed in Sadiq Sahib’s baithak and Working Committee of National Conference where it was formally adopted with few changes. The manifesto was released at a function in 1943. It was distributed to NC workers, Trade Unionists, student activists etc. Since I was standing close to Sheikh Sahib, I received its first copy with his autograph on it. In 1969-70, I lost this document when Sardar Teja Singh took it from me for Governor Bhagwan Sahay. It was never returned. In the original manifesto the English and Urdu versions were bound together.
KS: What was the impact of war in Kashmir?
SS: Indo-Soviet Friendship Society was formed at the end of 1941 or beginning of 1942. A branch started in J&K also. It was a non-political body. Sadiq was its President, Sh. NN Raina was also active in it. I was its General Secretary for 18 months. Its task was to create public awareness among the, people on the issue of Imperialist war vs Peoples’ War. Meanwhile Churchill’s War Council of British empire had included Maharaja Hari Singh as a member. For me the situation was problematic. I was involved with anti-war effort because of my association with NC, AISF and Indo-Soviet Friendship Society. On the other hand my father was a Darbari (courtier). My mother was part of Maharani’s Ladies Club, meant to boost war effort.
I was closely associated with NC leaders like Sheikh Sahib, Bakshi Gh. Mohd. Someshwar, KN Bamzai, JN Zutshi, DP Dhar, Sadiq etc..
KS: About Jinnah’s visit in 1944.
SS: Jinnah during his Kashmir visit in 1944 tried to win over Sheikh Abdullah but the latter did not bite the bait. Sheikh Sahib told Jinnah plainly that he would not allow his party to go with Muslim League at any cost. Jinnah stayed initially in a houseboat for few days, later he shifted to Ghulam Ahmed Jeweller’s house at Shivpora. Jeweller’s son Ghulam Mohammad (later Finance Minister of PoK in Sardar Ibrahim’s Cabinet) was my friend since 1939-40. Subsequently, I developed good relations with GA Jeweller also. Once, because of my friendship with Gh. Mohammad I had the chance to pay a courtesy call on Jinnah. A few days later GA Jeweller threw a big reception party for Jinnah at Amar Singh Club where all prominent citizens were invited to meet Jinnah, 1-2 ministers also attended the party But on Sheikh Sahib’s instructions none from the NC came for reception.
Jeweller was close to NC before Jinnah’s visit. His playing host to Muslim League leader created differences between him and Sheikh Abdullah. After his son migrated to PoK, Jeweller again came close to Sheikh Abdullah.
It was because of the influence of Congress that Sheikh Abdullah played cool to Jenab. Sheikh Sahib was a PRESIDENT of States Peoples Conference and a special invitee to Congress Working Committee. He felt it was his responsibility to honour the trust Congress had reposed in him. Entire NC leadership sided with Sheikh Sahib. Only Mirza Afzal Beg wanted an approach of ‘Wait and See’. He had his own reasons. Cripps Mission of 1942 had failed, Cabinet Mission was on way to India. Also, Mirza Afzal Beg was in Maharaja’s Cabinet. He wanted to see Viceroy’s attitude towards Jinnah.
Circumstances and ideological affinity brought Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah closer. Though Sheikh started as a communalist, he turned secular subsequently. His involvement with Congress had a very positive impact on him. Though he was religious, yet he was secular in outlook.
KS: What was the impact of Quit Kashmir Movement? How did it develop?
SS: Simmerings within NC was already there. Mirza Afzal Beg was Minister, Mian Ahmed Yar did not get berth in the cabinet. Within NC there was polarization along ‘pro-Maharaja’ and ‘anti-Maharaja’ lines. Jinnah’s unsuccessful visit had acted as fuel to this polarization. In a session of NC in Jammu Province it was decided that ‘We have reached limit of our patience and there was need to start agitation against Maharaja’. NC leadership had also in mind the Quit India Movement which had yielded big dividends to Congress. So they thought they could replicate it in Kashmir by launching Quit Kashmir Movement. They forgot that people had given big sacrifices in Quit India Movement. There were few such people in Kashmir. Many people wanted to use movement for personal aggrandizement and personal gains. In May 1946 built further pressure on NC leadership. Under Cabinet Mission Viceroy was engaged in discussions with Congress and Muslim League leaders in Shimla. Sheikh Sahib felt that Kashmiris would be left high and dry and Maharaja Hari Singh may deal with Cabinet Mission on his own, bypassing NC leadership. NC was preparing to launch the agitation. Prime Minister RC Kak prempted the situation by arresting overnight all the important NC workers. By May 1946 itself all the important workers were in jails. Kh. Ahsanullah, a businessman who owned Army Agency business, had escaped arrest. Later, he became Trade Commissioner in Delhi in 1948. Sh. DP Dhar and KN Bamzai were in Lucknow. Sadiq Sahib and Bakshi Sahib were in Lahore. Sh. KN Aima, Kh. JN Zutshi etc. were in jail. Sh. Mohiddin Qarra was the real hero of Quit Kashmir Movement.
Sheikh Abdullah’s trial started in July 1946 at Badami Bagh cantonment. Pt. Nehru constituted a committee of defence headed by himself for Sheikh Sahib’s defence. The committee included renowned people like Sh Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali. While Pt. Nehru was on way to Kashmir, he was arrested at Kohala by Sh. Maharaj Kishen Dhar, District Magistrate and Governor of Kashmir. He was brought to Uri where he stayed in Dak Bungalow for 1½ days before being sent back. Dr Rajender Prasad paid a visit to this bungalow when he came to Kashmir as President of India. The Bungalow, burnt down by Tribal Raiders in 1947, was reconstructed and carries a Marble plaque commemorating Pt. Nehru’s stay there. Asaf Ali and Bhula Bhai, Desai represented Sheikh Abdullah in defence. Pt. Nehru’s decision to head Sheikh Sahib’s defence defying Congress Working Committee’s decision to go to Kashmir and then courting arrest at Kohala created tremendous impact on common Kashmiri and NC workers. One could see it visibly in Srinagar. Cabinet Mission came to Srinagar in 1946. It met the Maharaja. NC had a plan to meet it but because of public repression they could not meet them. They later sent memorandum to Delhi and Lahore.
KS: Sh. Maharaj Kishen Dhar’s decision to arrest has been a matter of controversy. What are your views.
SS: In retrospect I feel he was committed as an administrator to discharge his duties as District Magistrate of Kashmir in relation to political activities arising out of Quit Kashmir Movement but his heart was sound and a nationalist one. This is substantiated by his role when he was asked to arrest Sh RC Kak in November 1947. He was asked by the Chief Executive of Emergency administration to handcuff the former Prime Minister in grass ropes and then parade him through Srinagar. Sh Dhar refused to perform this task, saying he could not meet this treatment to a former Prime Minister. Sh Dhar was relieved of his duties.
Mr MK Dhar was a great man for whom I have immense respect. His son Pratap Kishen was my friend. I would spend lot of time with Sh. MK Dhar. He was kind, affectionate, a friend and a guide to me. He was an intellectual of high order and did lot of reading. He was a strict disciplinarian. Those days even high officials were not given official cars. Though he had a car which his son would drive, yet he would go to office at Tankipora from Poloview/Red Cross residence on bicycle. He had no servants.
Pt. Maharaj Kishen Dhar was a very good officer. He would tour a lot to take stock of the situation. He was an able, efficient administrator. Maharaja Hari Singh knew that Pt. Nehru’s cousin’s daughter was married to Sh. Dhar’s son Jawahar, yet he had full faith in him and perhaps he wanted to see it as a test case.
Pt. MK Dhar handled Quit Kashmir as per the directions given. He had no sympathy for Quit Kashmir Movement, yet his sympathies were with overall cause of India. As friend of Sh. MK Dhar and one who was close to NC leadership, In my own way I tried to see that misunderstanding between the two sides did not grow. Mr Dhar was a staunch nationalist but he had to perform his official duties.
Sh Dhar had three sons–Kishen Kumar, Jawahar Lal and Pratap Kishen besides two daughters. After he was relieved off his duties in November 1947 he had no place to go to. I arranged for his accommodation at a place adjacent to my residence. He, his wife, son Pratap and a daughter who was a doctor in a government hospital stayed for six months in the 3-room accommodation. Later the family shifted to Udaipur when Kishan was employed as Geology Engineer in Hindustan Zinc Corporation. It is my regret that I never saw Dhars after May 1948.
KS: You were also a member of Amar Singh Club?
SS: Membership was quiet difficult. Maharaja Hari Singh was the patron of the club. Because of my past record and close links with Sheikh Abdullah and detention in jail getting membership was all the more difficult. At the same time my father was a Darbari . When my membership application came up before Maharaja in September 1944, the latter asked me, “How do you manage to do everything. Why do you want to become a member.” I engaged in political activities, had close ties with NC and with Sh. Maharaj Kishen Dhar.
I replied, “Sir, I am fond of tennis. We do not have any court to play Tennis. The Srinagar club is reserved for the Britishers”. Then he asked me, “have you left politics”. I said, “I am in politics but am not a part of any political group”. So I was admitted as a member of the club.
I was not only involved in NC politics but also in social life because of father’s business. Kashmir during 1942-47 was centre of high voltage political activity. Many nawabs and princes used to used to visit Kashmir. Important political leaders like Mian Mumtaz Daultana, Mian Iftikharuddin, Mian Bashir Ahmed, Sheikh Sadiq, Sir Sultan Ahmed, MD Taseer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hafeez Jullundri used to spend summers in Kashmir and stayed either in houseboats or bungalows. Through club I came to know these people and attended many parties. On other occasion I had the chance to play tennis with them. It included Rajmata Gayatri Devi then Princess of Cooch Behar State. My cousins and I would play tennis every evening at the club courts.
KS: How was the life of Kashmiris in 1930s and 1940s?
SS: This period was one of peace for the majority of the people. The life of people was orderly, secure, peaceful, easy, simple and delightful. Living was by and large inexpensive. Consummable items were unadulterated and available at affordable rates. There was no shortage of any kind.
KS: Can you elaborate further on consummable items?
SS: While I was at school in 1934-35 I used to get pocket money of 1 Anna per day. For one paisa i.e. one-fourth of an anna I would get six pears. My father was fond of purchasing consummables in bulk. He would take the personal tonga to purchase pulses and bulk vegetables from the river market at Zainakadal. You can have an idea about the economy from the rates of different food items. Big bag of moong which contained 2-2½ maunds was sold at Rs 2/-. The Baramulla belt was major producer of moong in those days. Agriculture in Kashmir was fairly well-developed and quite diversified. We would have many excellent varieties of rice-mushkabudej, Zag etc, which are no longer easily available. Rock salt or Nadroo (lotus stalk) would cost 50 paisa a seer. The big bag of any of the vegetables e.g. Hak, Monji, Potato, Onions would sell for less than a rupee. The cost of flour bag or that of 16 kg ghee cannister was Re 1 and 4 annas. Once while we were returning from Rawalpindi we halted at Uri for a while to do some purchases. We got half a bag of maize flour for Re 1 and full bag of Kagzi walnuts for 12 annas. In Srinagar in 1920s one could get best quality saffron for Rs 2 per tola, Pashmina for Rs 2 per yard etc. The mouth-watering bakarkhani and Pampore speciality, called by Kashmiris ‘Shumal’ would sell for 64 pieces per rupee.
KS: What sort of fuel you used those days?
SS: We used chulha. Hatab wood was the main fuel. We used to purchase it in bulk-150-200 khirwars at a time. For warming ourselves in winters bukhari and kangri were used. The finest quality coal of Chinar leaves would sell for 4 annas per bag. Hatab was used for bukharis as well.
KS: What were the means of Transport then?
SS: There was no motorised public transport. Tongas used to ply on all the routes-Srinagar to Pattan, Baramulla and within Srinagar to Badami Bagh, Safakadal etc. Number of cars/buses were few and far between. Traffic Police Department had just 10-15 personnel. The Department was headed by a Parsi officer whose surname was Patel, he was its Superintendent. This department was called Patel Police. Anyone who was employed in it got the appellation of Patel. One Kashmiri Pandit, Dina Nath was better known as Dina Patel because he worked under Parsi Patel.
KS: Any more details about Parsi Patel?
SS: His younger son Jehangir became the principle disciple of Swami Mukta Nandji of Igatpur, Maharashtra. The Swami had more than 117 ashrams all over India. In 1982 when Swami Muktanandji visited Kashmir the younger Patel accompanied him as Swami Sevanand Ji. I couldn’t recognise him. It was he who made me recollect. He had completely transformed.
KS: How did the rapid strides in the economy of the State get reflected in life of Kashmiris?
SS: In late 1920s cars started coming to private life in Kashmir. Northern Motors Company which had its headquarters in Rawalpindi opened a showroom in what later came to be called Ganda Singh building. They sold Cheverelet vehicles. My father had purchased a Cheverlet car in 1928 for just Rs 2700. Till then we had a Tonga. The car ran on petrol. It had 4 seats, 4 doors. Till 1947 most of the trucks and buses which plied in J&K were only Cheverlets. Fare from Srinagar to Rawalpindi was Rs 5 for car and Rs 2 for bus per seat. It remained same until 1943-44. The fare was hiked when petrol rationing was introduced in 1941-42.
KS: How did the people keep themselves informed about the local, national and international developments?
SS: Means of communication were slow, almost non-existent. By and large people lived in complete or partial ignorance about what was happening outside their own city. In early 1930s we had one English newspaper-Kashmir Chronicle, published and edited by Pt. Gwash Lal Koul from Kashmir. There were a couple of Urdu newspapers. Sometimes a copy of Ranbir (Urdu) published from Jammu was available at one or two newspaper shops in Kashmir.
KS: Did newspapers from outside were available in Kashmir?
SS: Newspapers published mostly from Lahore – Tribune, Statesman, Civil and Military Gazette in English and Zamindar, Inquilab, Milap, Pratap, Vir Arjun in Urdu reached Srinagar 3-4 days after their publication. The English dailies were of eight pages. The Urdu papers carried news/views about Ahrar and Arya Samaj Politics. Lot was happening in Punjab. Since the newspapers were the only instruments of public opinion the developments in Punjab had their impact on people of J&K also.
KS: Who was the first newspaper agent in Kashmir?
SS: There was one Batra, a one-eyed person who used to get papers from outside and also sold local newspapers. He ran a shop selling electrical goods. Batra had his shop adjacent to the one of Dr Jaswant Singh in the building just opposite the Khalsa Hotel.
KS: When did Radio come?
SS: The Radio receiver came to Kashmir in 1935. The initial sets were big, unwieldy. I had preserved one till 1990 as an antique item. The broadcast would be just for 2-3 hours. The first shop for sale of Radio sets was started in Ganda Singh Building. We bought a set for Rs 800 in 1935. It was Stewart-Warner and had valves (not transistors) plus big sized speakers. The first broadcast I heard on my radio still does not get out of my mind. It was the speech of King Edward VIII, announcing his abdication because of his love and marriage to Lady Simpson. She subsequently became Dutchess of Windsor. Though AIR broadcasts took place from one or two stations BBC even then was most reliable for news.
KS: How popular was Gulmarg as a Tourist spot those days for the foreign tourists?
SS: Gulmarg was home in summer to hundreds of British families at a time. In fact, more Britishers spent their summer in Gulmarg than in Srinagar. They would stay in huts and for short stay in Nedous Hotel. The latter too was functional in a number of huts, only the dinning room/hall was common. The Centre of most of their activities used to be Club House which had a large two storeyed wooden structure. The ground floor had a large sized dance hall. Club house was burnt down by the raiders in 1947. The Church was also burnt but the Chapel escaped damage. It was rebuilt in 1975. When Germans started World War II on September 3, 1939 I happened to be in Gulmarg. There was panic and anxiety written on the faces of the Britishers in Gulmarg when the BBC announced the German invasion of Czechoslovakia.
KS: What about the locals?
SS: There were 2,3,4 bedrooms huts available on three or five year lease at the rent of Rs 500-800 annually. Our family had one of the 3-bed room hut for a period of five years. During the summer many of the local Srinagar families who could afford used to shift from Srinagar to Gulmarg . We too used to go for 6-8 weeks during vacations. However, we would shuttle too often as we had the facility of a car. My father was a very good horse rider. It would take him 20 mts. to cover the distance between Tangmarg and Gulmarg. For us it took well over 45 minutes.
KS: How important was Gulmarg for the local economy?
SS: It fetched lot of revenue. Locals would earn good amount of money. The shops dealing with medicines, Toiletries, Wine belonged to Pandits, while those of Tailoring, Barber Saloons, Shoesmiths/leather goods, Gunsmiths etc. belonged to the members from the majority community. The Gunsmiths were the famous Bandokkhars from Rainawari. Good quality leather came from outside the state. In 1939 one of the finest pair of shoes of pure leather I bought at Gulmarg for just Rs 3. The shoesmaker would first take the measurement, then take a try and if any alterations were still needed he would not mind. None of the Britishers owned a shop in Gulmarg. A photographer and chemist shop did belong to W.Lambert of Srinagar but his entire staff at the shops was Kashmiri.
KS: Gulmarg enjoys international reputation for Golf. Was it the only game played there?
SS: It was the Golfer’s Paradise no doubt. Surprisingly, horse-racing and Polo was also played here. Polo matches were staged twice a week. Gulmarg provided to the Britishers their kind of life. There was no ban on shooting/shikar provided one had a license. The common shikars were black bear, birds, partridge/fowls etc. 3-4 Golf championships were spread over the whole season There used to be an annual bawl-dancing competition at the Club. In winters Gulmarg was the Ski capital of India.
KS: How often did Maharaja Hari Singh visit Gulmarg? What steps he took for its development?
SS: The Maharaja used to visit Gulmarg only on special occasions. He liked to play Polo at Srinagar; he was not too fond of Golf. His interests were fishing, hunting and visits to construction places. For fishing he had built lodges all over Kashmir. Gulmarg was not the favourite place for shooting for Maharaja. He had an eye for good location for constructing buildings. In Srinagar Gulab Bhavan and Oberoi Palace have such an excellent ambience. Mr Eugene Black, the first President of World Bank visited Srinagar in 1956 soon after Oberoi Palace was thrown open. He told me that it had the second best site for a hotel in the world, the other being Richmond Hotel in Switzerland. Maharaja Hari Singh took a number of steps to promote tourism and develop Gulmarg as a tourist resort. Tourist Department was established in India first time by him in 1928. It used to be called as Visitors Bureau. In the same year SKI Club of India was also started in Gulmarg. There was a piped water supply from Springs for Gulmarg tourists. Labourers would bring daily chopped wood pieces from forests for fuel purposes.
KS: Maharaja Hari Singh was quite fond of Polo.
SS: It is true but he patronised Tennis and bridge as well. At personal level he liked to play Polo and Bridge. Every Saturday there used to be Polo matches in Srinagar. He had developed the ground for Polo in the capital city. There would be 2-3 games depending upon the availability of sunshine. When no team from outside the state was available he would ask the local players to form two teams. It was to keep local players in good practice. The main Polo teams that came from outside were those from Cooch-Behar, Bhopal, Jaipur etc. Whenever matches were played, Maharaja’s courtiers, ministers alongwith their families were invited. They watched the Polo game from the two Pavillions. The common public had no permission to watch the game from the Pavillions. It would stand on the pavement outside the fencing. It used to be a great sight. For many years I enjoyed Polo matches from pavement side only. It was after 1945 onwards we got chance to see the game from the Pavilion. One of the pavillions, where PSC office is located, housed Radio Kashmir after 1947. For many years it used to operate from here. The other Pavilion was taken over by the Police Department.
KS: Did Ganderbal also have some tourist importance?
SS: From a tourist point of view Ganderbal was un-important but a holiday in Ganderbal was delightful. Our family had a three bed room Houseboat moored in Dal Lake. For four summers 1935 onwards we used to spend 2-3 weeks of autumn in Ganderbal. Staying in the house-boat and watching it being rowed across the Dal into Jehlum canal at Dal Gate, then to Sonawar and downstream to Chattabal, Shadipur, later upstream of Sind nullah to Ganderbal was quite exciting. I haven’t enjoyed a better holiday than this. We would ask the Hanji to row slowly. After 4 hours journey we would halt for the night at Shadipur and then go to Ganderbal the next day.
In summers quite a few Houseboats other than ours used to be moored in Ganderbal. The place held attraction for two reasons. One it afforded the opportunity to live in a Houseboat. Secondly, it was an excellent site to watch the autumn with falling of Chinar leaves. Both the banks were lined with Chinar trees. In the ground of Chinar Bagh there stood 50-60 Chinars. It mirrored the Chinar Bagh of Srinagar. When we would not be in Houseboat we used to lie down on copper coloured leaves of Chinar on the ground. What a holiday it was! Some of the regular visitors who came to Ganderbal for holidaying were Nawab of Palanpur (Gujrat) and Maharaja of Jind. The latter did not have his family staying with him (for whatever reasons). He had a specially built houseboat for himself at Ganderbal. Besides his houseboat there used to have another boat specially constructed to house his big fleet of scores of different breeds of pet dogs. Many years later when his son Raj Kumar Jasbir Singh came as an Army Commander of Indian troops to Kashmir, probably in late sixties, I related all this to him. He said he had no knowledge about it. In Ganderbal like Gulmarg life was easy, inexpensive. On week days my father and myself used to come to Srinagar in Tonga in the morning and return to Ganderbal in the evening.
KS: There were many Punjabis in 1930s, 1940s in Kashmir. What sort of social life they lived? How did it impact Kashmiris?
SS: During Maharaja Pratap Singh’s reign for most of the senior appointments in administration the Maharaja had to depend on educated, well-trained experienced officers from outside J&K. Surprisingly, the Maharaja made his selection from mostly two regions-Bengal and Punjab. Bengali ministers and officers played important role in giving shape to social life and in developmental activities. Among Bengali officials the well known names were Sir Albion Banerjee (Administration), Sh. LC Bose (Chief Engineer Electrical for 11 years), Sh. JC Chatterjee (Archeology), Dr Mitra (Health Services). Many of the engineers, judicial officers, administrators came from Punjab. K.B. Abdul Qayoom was Chief Justice of State High Court. Sh Bodh Raj Sawhny was Barrister from Lahore. He was charged with creating the higher judiciary structure. Later, when High Court was set up he was appointed as officiating Chief Justice.
KS: What were the consequences of the monopolisation of high state jobs by Bengalis and Punjabis?
SS: There was strong resentment by members of the native nobility and the feudal class. A whispering campaign was started against the officers from outside. Maharaja Hari Singh had to promulgate a notification in 1927 laying the foundation of State Subject Law. Under this three categories of State Subjects were created. Category A included those who were hereditary citizens of the State and had landed property. In category B there were people who came from outside but had acquired landed property here. Then there was C category where the people were either employed in J&K Government State Service or had been living here for the past ten years but did not own any landed property.
KS: What was the impact of ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’, launched by National Conference?
SS: ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ did not take off the way it was envisaged. NC had thought that they would be able to create a situation where Maharaja Hari Singh may face a situation similar to the one faced by the British government in 1942 during ‘Quit India Movement’.
Local Kashmiris did not support to the extent Sheikh Abdullah and NC leadership had hoped and expected. The movement did not enthuse the masses enough. After 15-20 days the life in Srinagar was normal. However, this movement did help National Conference to gain political space vis-a-vis Muslim Conference.
KS: What were the reasons for the lack of success of the movement?
SS: The major factors were – divided political loyalties in Kashmir between NC and MC and pre-emptive action by the State administration headed by Prime Minister RC Kak. The latter did not help NC to reap the rich harvest of all its plans against Dogra ruler. Sheikh Sahib and many other leaders were arrested. Those who went underground managed to evade arrest and operated clandestinely. Some others like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Kh. GM Sadiq escaped to Rawalpindi and made Lahore their base. The leadership of the underground movement went into the hands of Kh. Mohi-ud-Din Karra. He became popular leader of the movement. The intellectual class of NC-Maulana Masoodi, Mirza Afzal Beg, Pt. Janki Nath Zutshi, Pt. Kashi Nath Aima and others were in jail. Due to all this the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ failed to achieve fully its objectives. Of course, an overriding situation was the fast moving political scene in the country. This had an impact on J&K too. In the meantime, the Cabinet Mission had come to India and visited Srinagar for two days.
KS: How severe was the State repression during the Quit Kashmir Movement?
SS: There was no large-scale repression or oppression by the State administration. The families, whose members had gone underground to evade arrest during the movement, were put to trouble.
KS: What was the attitude of Kashmiri Pandits and the political forces outside J&K towards ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’?
SS: The educated intellectual class among Kashmiri Pandits sympathised with and participated in the movement. Leaders like Sh. Asaf Ali, Bhulabhai Desai etc. visited the State. Pt. Nehru courted arrest to express solidarity with the movement. It were these leaders who organised the legal defence of Sheikh Abdullah.
KS: Did Maharaja’s govt. and National Conference meet the Cabinet Mission in Srinagar?
SS: It was reported that Maharaja Hari Singh had prepared a memorandum for submission but no meeting took place. Reports current at that time did say that the memorandum was given to the leader of the Cabinet Mission by an emissary of the Maharaja. Although no authentic details are available the local Urdu press of Lahore said that Maharaja Hari Singh had supported withdrawal of British from India as the only peaceful option. In the absence of top leadership, NC was also not able to submit a formal memorandum. The Cabinet Mission stayed at the State Guest House, near Amar Singh Club.
KS: There were communal riots in Punjab on 16th March 1947. What was its impact on J&K? What was Muslim League policy towards Princely States?
SS: Communal violence in Punjab did have an impact here. Ch. Hameedullah Khan, Vice-President of Muslim Conference had tried to use that situation to inflame sentiments of Muslims in Kashmir and Jammu. He was leader of Muslim Conference in Praja Sabha. A meeting of Muslim Conference under his chairmanship was called in Jammu on 19th July. A resolution was adopted asking Maharaja to accede to Dominion of Pakistan, which was coming into being. The resolution asked Maharaja to accede in three subjects – Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications.
Earlier, on 17th June, All India Muslim League held a meeting in which Jinnah made a formal announcement confirming what Indian Independence Act had proposed – that the decision of a princely state to accede to either of the two dominions would be the exclusive right and prerogative of the ruler to decide. This was opposite to the stand taken by the Congress, which said that the right belonged to the people.
KS: Can you throw some light on Mountbatten’s mission to Kashmir?
SS: Mountbatten Plan had been announced on 3rd of June, 1947. On 19th of June Lord Mountbatten and Lady Edwina came to Srinagar on a four day visit. Obviously, the visit was intended to persuade Maharaja to take a decision to accede to either of the dominions.
Situation in Kashmir was altogether different. Maharaja Hari Singh had almost made up his mind not to become part of either of the Dominions. There were some reasons for this. Firstly, it was the statement of Muslim League that the ruler was the ultimate authority to decide the issue of accession. Secondly, he feared that the Muslim majority state would not willingly support him if he decided to accede to India. Lastly, he did not want to accede to Pakistan for obvious reasons.
Two other major influences working on him were – Prime Minister RC Kak, who reportedly advised him to delay decision to accede till after the two Dominions had been created and the second influence was Maharani Tara Devi. She was under the overpowering influence of Swami Sant Dev, the family Raj Guru. It was reported then that Sant Dev had conveyed to the Maharaja that he had dreamt that the Maharaja’s flag was flying over Lahore Fort. He also reportedly conveyed to Maharani that the planetary configuration also supported such an eventuality. All these things perhaps influenced the mind of Maharaja.
Perhaps on this account Maharaja avoided any meeting with Mountbatten during his 4 days stay in Kashmir. For the first two days he sent Mountbattens to Thricker Fishing Lodge near Mattan to enjoy fishing. On the last day when Mountbatten was to leave in the afternoon a meeting was fixed in the forenoon.
Early in the morning Maharaja conveyed to the Viceroy his regrets, saying he was suffering from colic. So he avoided the meeting and the decision could not be forced on the Maharaja.
KS: Around same time the British Govt. decided to terminate the 60-year lease of Gilgat Agency, which the Maharaja had given to them in 1935. How did the situation evolve there subsequently?
SS: Gilgat Agency, which had an area of 13 00 sq kms, reverted to Maharaja’s administration on 1st August, 1947. Maharaja had decided to send Brig. Ghansara Singh, a serving officer of State Forces, as Governor of Gilgat. On 29th July, 1947 Brig. Scott, Chief of Staff of State Forces and Brig. Ghansara Singh flew from Srinagar to Gilgat in Maharaja’s plane to take the charge of the leased territory formally. Brig. Scott returned the next dayleaving Brig. Ghansara Singh to look after the administration of the territory.
The situation was not very happy for Brig. Ghansara Singh because local Rajas of the area – Hunza, Punial etc. did not want a military man as Governor. In any case Brig. Ghansara Singh found that it was not only the local Rajas but also two wily British officers of the local levy – Gilgat Scouts he had to contend with. This area erupted with the local revolt, which I shall take up separately.
KS: Gandhiji’s visit is considered by many a turning point in shaping Kashmir’s contemporary history. What was the background in which his visit took place? When did he visit Srinagar?
SS: First invitation was extended to Gandhiji by Maharaja Partap Singh in 1915, after he came from South Africa. Though Gandhiji accepted the invitation but he could not avail of this opportunity. Again in 1932 Gandhiji was persuaded by his followers in Lahore to visit Kashmir to assuage the feelings of people in Kashmir in the wake of violence that took place in July, 1931. This visit also could not take place – obviously because of his political engagements in the rest of the country.
Following Pt. Nehru’s arrest in Kashmir in 1946 Gandhiji was persuaded to make a visit to Kashmir but because of intense political activity and confabulation with Viceroy on one hand and Jinnah on the other he could find no time. In July 1947 it was made known that Gandhi had been persuaded to visit Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh wrote to Viceroy that it would be unwise for Gandhiji to visit Kashmir at that juncture.
He added that the visit could be postponed till after the creation of two Dominions. The Viceroy reportedly sent a copy of this letter to Gandhiji. This seemed to have steeled the resolve of Gandhiji to make the visit before India attained Independence.
Gandhiji travelled from New Delhi to Rawalpindi by Frontier Mail. He was due to reach Rawalpindi on 31st July. At Amritsar Railway Station a small black flag demonstration was staged against him. The demonstrators were reportedly protesting against the killing of innocent people in communal riots. On this account Rawalpindi District Administration sent a senior Police officer to Railway Station at Chaklala, a few miles short of Rawalpindi to advise Gandhiji to detrain at that station only because of the fear of another demonstration at Rawalpindi Railway Station. The District Administration wanted him to go in car from Chaklala to the place of his residence in Rawalpindi. At Rawalpindi he stayed in the house of Dev Raj Anand, the Congress leader who was President of Rawalpindi Municipal Corporation. A prayer meeting was held there.
At Chaklala Gandhiji was received by National Conference leaders – Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Kh. GM Sadiq, who also arranged for the transportation of Gandhiji and his party to Srinagar by two cars. Starting on 1st of August in the early morning from Rawalpindi the party reached Kohala bridge (border between British India and J&K State). Bakshi and Sadiq accompanied Gandhiji up to Kohala and went back to Lahore.
Representatives of Maharaja Hari Singh received Gandhiji at Kohala with a request that he may agree to stay at Srinagar as guest of the Maharaja. Two cars had also been sent by the Maharaja for use of Gandhiji and his party. However, Gandhiji declined the use of Maharaja’s cars and also his offer of hospitality at Srinagar.
Enroute he had his frugal lunch at Rampur and continued his journey. At Baramulla there was a small demonstration by Muslim Conference activists who raised anti-Congress slogans and madean attempt at stone throwing.
Normally, Gandhiji should have been guest of NC but since Sheikh Sahib was in jail it was decided that he would stay as guest of Seth Kishori Lal Sethi, a businessman affiliated to Congress. Originally, a Punjabi he was associated with Kashmir for many years as a leading Forest Lessee. His wife, a lawyer by profession, was a Congress activist of many years. Sethi was also close to NC leadership, including Sheikh Sahib and Bakshi Sahib.
KS: So Gandhiji stayed at Seth Kishori Lal’s house.
SS: Yes, Seth Kishori Lal’s rented villa was located at Barzulla. The house had a big orchard with sprawling lawns as well. At Barzulla a large crowd was present to receive him inspite of slight drizzle that was taking place.
After some rest Gandhiji was taken for a drive in a motor car around Dal Lake. Since it was first of August, the day Gilgat Agency reverted back to Maharaja’s administration the state buildings had been illuminated.
Gandhiji enquired about the reasons for illumination. When informed about reversion of Gilgat territories to Maharaja, Gandhiji said it would have been better if the opinion of the local population had been taken into consideration.
On return to Sethi residence Gandhiji went to rest as he was feeling tired. He was accompanied by his Secretary, Pyare Lal and two nieces.
KS: Did you do the Public Relations job for Gandhiji during this visit?
SS: Since Pyare Lal was unfamiliar with local dignitaries and did not know much about Kashmir politics Seth Kishori Lal whom I knew for many years asked me to take up the assignment as Gandhiji’s local secretary during his stay there. This provided me a great opportunity of having good fortune of being close to one of the greatest human beings of this century.
KS: What are your impressions about him?
SS: His physical touch sent an electrifying effect throughout my body whenever he rested his hand on my shoulders or when I passed something to him. I was able to watch him at close quarters, hear his voice, feel his touch and sense a special feeling of his aura wherever he sat or walked.
His skin glowed like polished marble, it was smooth, shiny, without wrinkles. His toothless smile was infectious and won over even his strong critics. He had the capacity to get down to the level of person sitting opposite to him, be it the child, an adult or even an old person. He read all his correspondence personally, wrote in long hand whether it was reply to a communication, a statement for release or even an editorial for one of his newspapers. He wrote on postcard, not on the letter-head and chose to be brief-writing just 4-7 lines. He was a strict disciplinarian for himself, working almost like a clock. He functioned throughout his waking hours. His pocket watch was his constant companion.
KS: Which dignitaries met him during his visit?
SS: He was visited twice by Prime Minister RC Kak on the mornings of 2nd and 3rd August. Although no details were given out, it was conjectured that Gandhiji had advised Maharaja through RC Kak to keep in mind the views of the majority of the population and the interests of all sections of public when deciding future affiliation of the State.
On the morning of 3rd of August, RC Kak conveyed to Gandhiji the invitation of Maharani Tara Devi to spend sometime with the Maharaja, herself and the Yuvraj (Dr Karan Singh). Gandhiji visited Hari Niwas Palace to meet Maharaja, Maharani and the Yuvraj. It is obvious that not much of politics could have been discussed.
Gandhiji received Begum Abdullah and her daughter Khalida. On former’s invitation he went to Soura residence of Sheikh Abdullah. Begum Abdullah had for the first time forsaken Burqa and decided to come out in open to take part in public affairs. She had laid a very elaborate table with large number of delicacies at tea time. Gandhi admonished her-firstly it was not correct to offer so much to a simple old man and secondly, the money spent could have been put to better use.
KS: Did Gandhiji hold prayer meetings during this visit?
SS: Gandhiji stayed here for 3 days. People in Srinagar were eager and keen to attend his regular prayer meetings. He was informed that since prohibitory orders under Section 144 were in force no public gathering could be organised. Gandhi, therefore, refused to address a prayer meeting on 1st August. When Prime Minister Kak visited Gandhiji on the morning of August 2nd he was told that no prayer meeting could be held because of prohibitory orders. Kak immediately informed the host, Mr Sethi that the Government will have no objection if a prayer meeting was held within premises of his residence.
Therefore, the prayer meeting was organised on the evening of 2nd August. A high platform was constructed on the lawns of Sethi residence from where Gandhiji participated in Ramdhun and recited his other favourite bhajans.
KS. Gandhiji also visited Dr. SN Peshin ‘s National Hospital.
SS: Dr. SN Peshin was a leader of National Conference. He had called on Gandhiji and requested him to visit his Hospital. Gandhiji went to the Hospital and talked to patients.
KS: When did Gandhi leave Srinagar?
SS: 4th of August was Monday, Gandhiji was observing his weekly silence. By car he left for Jammu and spent the night there. Next day he left via Sialkot and Rawalpindi for NWFP to keep an appointment with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.
KS: Did Gandhiji advise Maharaja Hari Singh to replace his Prime Minister RC Kak?
SS: It is widely believed that there was a connection between removal from office of Pt RC Kak and Gandhiji’s meeting with Maharaja and his family. According to information available with me Maharaja hesitated to discuss politics with Gandhiji. The information available to Pyare Lal, Gandhiji’s Secretary was also along these lines. Secondly, Gandhiji did not have interest in the Maharaja’s administration. He was more concerned with Maharaja’s thinking about alignment with one of the two Dominions.
If Gandhi wanted PM Kak’s replacement then he may have suggested somebody. Evidently, Gandhiji neither knew nor could have recommended a nonpolitical, a retired military officer with no administrative experience i.e. Major General Janak Singh.
KS: What then led to PM Kak’s resignation ?
SS: Recently, I have secured valuable information to substantiate the view that Gandhiji had no hand in Kak’s displacement.
Between 1943-1945 Maharaja Hari Singh had three Prime Ministers-Raja Maharaj Singh, Col. Kailash Narain Haksar and Sir BN Rau. As soon as he appointed one, the Maharaja started cultivating someone else to counterbalance him. Kak was appointed in 1945 when Sir BN Rau went away. Maharaja Hari Singh, it transpires, did not appreciate fully Kak’s handling of ‘Quit Kashmir Agitation’ nor his views on future affiliation of Kashmir State. It is now learnt that Kak visited Delhi in July 1947 and met Mountbatten and Sardar Patel. According to Kak’s elder brother Pt. Amarnath Sardar Patel told Kashmir Prime Minister that Maharaja was in search of a new Prime Minister. Patel advised Kak to write to the Maharaja that either he repose full confidence in him or else he may retire him and appoint someone else. Again, according to Amarnath Kak, Pt. Ramchandra Kak on 28th July conveyed this to the Maharaja. On hearing the same the Maharaja was reportedly upset but asked for a Note to be sent to him. The Note was sent to Maharaja on July 30th and a copy was sent to Sardar Patel for information. There was no immediate response from Maharaja. After Gandhiji’s departure from the state on August 4, the Maharaja went out for a shoot from where he returned to Srinagar on 10th August. Next day he sent a letter to Kak “announcing his retirement from Prime Ministership and having asked Thakur Janak Singh to take his place. Within half an hour Major General Janak Singh took over as Prime Minister.
On the 11th of August in the Old Secretariat Major General Janak Singh arrived by car from his residence. The Chief Justice administered the oath of office to him. I was present in the audience.
Two types of slogans were being raised ‘RC Kak Muradabad’, ‘General Janak Singh Zindabad’. There was no mention of Maharaja.
KS: What then was the significance of Gandhi’s visit? Did senior leaders of NC meet him?
SS: In political terms Gandhi’s visit was more emotional than political because he thought his visit would act as balm on bruised psyche of Kashmiris. It was caused by fear of Pakistan, Maharaja’s indecision and lastly, the entire NC
leadership was in jail or in exile. Only Kh. Ahsanullah was overground. I think except Begum Abdullah and her daughter Khalida no NC leader met Gandhiji. The two were accompanied by K. Gh. Mohmmad Butt (not Gulraida, who was underground).
KS: What decisions Maharaja took soon after General Janak Singh assumed the Office?
SS: Maharaja’s govt sent telegraphic requests to GOI at New Delhi and the Govt. in waiting of Pakistan at Karachi requesting them to agree to Stand Still Agreement with J&K Govt. This agreement was to enable J&K State to receive from either government the services, the commodities and essential supplies being received hitherto. Karachi responded readily to this request. On 12th August J&K Govt. announced a ‘Stand Still Agreement” with Pakistan government to be formed two days later. New Delhi’s reply was that an authorised representative of Maharaja’s government may be sent to New Delhi for detailed discussions to agree to Stand Still Agreement. There is nothing on record to indicate whether any reply was sent by J&K Govt. and the matter never got finalised.
KS: What was the Impact of ‘Stand Still Agreement’ in general?
SS: As for as the lives of people were concerned absence of Stand Still Agreement with New Delhi did not affect general public All essential supplies like Petrol, Oil and Lubricants, Food Grains, Sugar, Salt, Textiles and the like were supplied either from or through the area that became Pakistan (via Rawalpindi). Similarly, all essential services like Posts and Telegraph, Telephones, Banking etc. were also directly connected with areas which formed Pakistan. Only currency which was British currency, was a matter concerning public which was being supplied by New Delhi.
The only all-weather link of State of J&K with British India was through Jehlum Valley to Rawalpindi which also was the rail head for Kashmir Valley. There was the only rail service with J&K, connecting Jammu Tawi with Sialkot which later became part of Pakistan. There was no all weather road connecting Jammu Tawi with Kathua, on the border between J&K and Punjab (British India). A dusty Kaccha road linked Jammu and Kathua. On it an irregular 14 seater passenger bus or a truck used to take more than 14 hours from Jammu to Kathua, at times it would take more than two days.
It is obvious that Pakistan government took advantage of these facts of connectivity or lack of it. One reason for Pakistan’s prompt decision to agree to a ‘Stand Still Agreement’ could be that she wanted to make J&K totally dependent for all essential supplies on Pakistan and then use it as a weapon for coercion and intimidation against Maharaja to accede to Pakistan.
KS: There was perhaps no definite document on Stand Still Agreement. How did 14/15th August impact on J&K?
SS: There is no written down “Stand Still Agreement” anywhere. Only copies of telegrams may be in archives. On 15th August, 1947 there was neither hoisting of India Tricolour in Srinagar nor celebrations of any sort were organised. Instead on 14th August on the day on which Pakistan came into being Pak flag was ceremonially hoisted over General Post Office (GPO) building, situated at the Bund at Srinagar. The spectators saluted the flag. I was one of the spectators present. GPO also housed one Telegraph office which technically was being looked after by State Telegraph Office . Telegraphic system or Telephone Exchanges within the State of J&K were under State government. Present CTO building was built in 1960s. After accession there was administrative transfer, it became part of All India Service.
KS: Pakistan resorted to economic strangulation and attacks in border areas through its irregulars. Was this aimed at coercing Maharaja into acceding to Pakistan?
SS: The period of uncertainty started in Srinagar since the flow of supplies became irregular from Pakistani territory. Scarcity of commodities was felt in the market. The railway link with Jammu had been stopped, only limited quantities were being allowed to be transported from Rawalpindi to Srinagar. Petrol, Diesel and Kerosene rationing was started in early September. Scarcity of sugar and salt was discernible, although rations of foodgrains were available normally through the ration depots of the State government on family ration tickets called by locals as ‘Chendi’. This lead to hoarding in every household and the rates of essential goods started soaring. In the meantime under a well thought out strategy Pak government started economic squeeze of J&K to put public pressure on Maharaja to accede to Pakistan. In this connection two factors are worth noting. Alongside economic strangulation the demobbed residents of Poonch and Rajouri area from the British Indian Army were provided arms and given direction to create law and order situation in the areas of Jammu province adjoining Pak territory. The situation was created where there was insufficient police force in those areas, so personnel of the State forces had to be deployed to protect the lives of the common people and the property of the state. The J&K State forces had just 11-12 thousand persons in uniform, which was less than a regular division. This had to take care of vast areas of Maharaja’s territory from Gilgat to Kathua and from Karakoram to Muzaffarabad. Brig. (later Major General) HL Scott was Chief of Staff of State Forces on 15/8/47. Due to exigencies of requirement or may be on account of other reasons he divided the state forces in smaller numbers like penny packets, dispersing these along the border with Pakistan. The dispersal was such that at no place these forces would have been able to hold any determined attack. It seems that there was a design behind this because at no place where attack of unruly rebel elements was launched the State forces detachments were able to defend the general public or even themselves. In a period of 49 days 57 incidents were reported from the State border with Pakistan in Jammu province. These reports used to be received by the Army Headquarters at Srinagar and a copy was passed on to the District Magistrate, Srinagar (Sh.. MK Dhar) who was also Governor of Kashmir province. Copies of these reports were made every evening and personally delivered at the residence of Kunwar Nichint Chand (Maharani Tara Devi’s brother), who used to stay at Durga Nag. He was expected to deliver them personally to Maharaja every night. It was certain that the Maharaja was kept informed with the developing situation day after day but it seems he was helpless. On 22nd September Brig. Scott submitted a detailed report about the situation along the border with Pakistan. This report painted a very bleak picture of the situation. It hinted at large-scale incursions soon expected from across the border. Intelligence reports had been received of large scale preparations across the border.
KS: How the pressure was being built on Maharaja to decide the question for Accession either way?
SS: The situation was deteriorating day by day. Pressure was building on Maharaja Hari Singh for reconciliation with NC leadership and secondly, to take a decision once for all to accede to either of the two dominions. On surface it was a letter of apology written by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to Maharaja Hari Singh expressing his loyalty to his person and to his dynasty. The other were the circumstances building up both at New Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu. Muslim Conference became active and on 22 September at a special one day convention it passed a unanimous resolution asking Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to dominion of Pakistan. This convention was presided over by Ch. Hameedullah Khan, Vice-President of J&K Muslim Conference and also leader of Muslim Conference Legislature Party in Praja Sabha.
From Delhi it was Congress party which had suggested time and again that to meet the emerging situation in Kashmir in light of perceived threats from Pakistan Sheikh Abdullah and others facing trial for treason may be released without condition. It was early September. Sheikh Abdullah was in jail in Bhaderwah. He was transferred to Badami Bagh around middle of September, restrictions were relaxed soon after his shifting to Badami Bagh. He was finally released on 29th September from detention.
On 1st October he addressed a massive public meeting at Hazuri Bagh, later renamed as Iqbal Park. I had the opportunity to listen to his speech. He said three important things. One, ‘We should sink our differences to face the situation’. Secondly, ‘the first priority was to gain people’s rule.’. And lastly, ‘which country to accede to people’s government will take that decision’. One thing which came out clearly in his speech was his commitment to secularism, socialism and total opposition to two-nation theory. Two days later he went to New Delhi.
On 4th of October Sheikh Abdullah addressed a press conference where he reiterated his stand on accession, secular politics and representative government.
KS: Maharaja Hari Singh changed Major General Janak Singh as well as his Chief of State forces, Brig. Scott.
SS: As events were moving quite apace after Sheikh Sahib’s release Maharaja Hari Singh was not too happy with the handling of situation either on military front or on the administrative front. Major General Janak Singh was replaced by Mr. Justice Meherchand Mahajan, who assumed office on 15th October, 1947. After Brig. Scott’s report of 22nd September the Maharaja also replaced Brig. Scott as Chief of Staff of State Forces with the next senior most officer Brig. Rajender Singh. Maharaja made personal request to Shri Mahajan, asking him to take over as new Prime Minister of J&K State.
Soon after demitting the office Brig. Scott went over to Rawalpindi to report to Pak headquarters.
KS: There was Dr. Taseer Mission to Kashmir. What it was all about?
SS: In the first week of October Sheikh Sadiq Hassan, President of Provincial Committee of Muslim League, Punjab and Dr. MD Taseer arrived in Srinagar and stayed for 3-4 days. Among others they had two long meetings with Sheikh Sahib. 1st meeting was preliminary, the second one was long. The purpose behind their visit was to meet politically important individuals including those in NC and Muslim Conference, in the administration and among intellectuals to find out the mood of the people, the attitude towards Pakistan and to create situation for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. It was learnt then that Taseer who had been friendly with Sheikh Sahib in earlier years had turned from a liberal intellectual into a Muslim League ideologue. He tried to pressurise Sheikh Abdullah to join forces with Muslim Conference and visit Lahore and Karachi for detailed negotiations. It seems Sheikh Abdullah lost his cool when Taseer repeatedly wanted to have an assurance from him that he would throw his weight behind Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Sheikh Abdullah stuck to his ground that people’s government will ultimately decide about accession. Reports in Pak press then had quoted Dr MD Taseer as saying “Sheikh Sahib, Time is running out. If you don’t listen to us we will use other means”. Sheikh Sadiq and Dr. Taseer hurriedly left Srinagar for Lahore to report to Muslim League High Command.
KS: Col. AB Shah was also sent to Kashmir.
SS: On 17th October the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan deputed Col. AB Shah, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs to Srinagar to meet Maharaja and his Prime Minister, MC Mahajan. It was learnt that he had brought with him the Instrument of Accession drawn up by Pak government for J&K’s Accession to Pakistan. All that was left for the Maharaja was to put his signatures with date on it. The meeting between MC Mahajan and Col. Shah was not very pleasant. Maharaja declined to meet Col. Shah, fearing that he may be forced to put his signatures on it. Meantime Pak government invited Prime Minister Mahajan to Karachi for firming up relations between J&K on one hand and Pakistan on the other. It seems on return of Col. Shah the die was cast. Pak govt, including its Governor General, Mr Jinnah were impatient. Since all preparations had already been made in case Col. Shah’s mission failed, early on the morning of October 22nd invasion of J&K started at Domel. At that time it was not Muzaffarabad but Domel which was militarily important. Simultaneous attacks were launched at many places in Jammu province as well.
KS: Why did State Forces fail to counter the Pakistani invasion?
SS: At Muzaffarabad, Kohala and Domel only one depleted battalion of State forces under Col. Narain Singh was stationed, this battalion consisted of Muslim personnel and officers. Their loyalties had already been won over by Pakistan. Col. Narain Singh’s 4th battalion was stationed at Domel, which was also battalion headquarters. This battalion had 50% Muslim and 50% non-Muslim personnel. When Pakistan attacked the Muslim component of the battalion revolted and joined forces with invaders within first two hours. Col. Narain Singh was killed but before he died he was able to send a wireless message to Srinagar State Forces Headquarters about the Pakistani invasion and the estimated strength of the enemy. Although officially no details came out of what happened in Domel and Kohala during the first 60 odd hours of the invasion. Reports gathered from the soldiers and the civilians who escaped killings and massacres spoke of barbaric behaviour of Pakistani invaders – mostly tribals under the command of regular army officers.
KS: Brig. Rajender Singh gave tough fight to Pak invaders. How did it help?
SS: After pillaging Muzaffarabad and occupying Domel the invaders proceeded towards Garhi. They used motorised transport to travel along Jehlum Valley Road and also proceeded along the two mountain ridges on either bank of river Jehlum, thus providing cover to the main attacking forces. By the evening of October 23rd the invaders had come close to Uri and reports reached New Delhi from Srinagar about the Pakistani invasion and the progress they had made up the Jehlum Valley towards Baramulla.
On 23rd itself Maharaja Hari Singh ordered the Chief of Staff, Brig. Rajender Singh to take all the available force at Srinagar and proceed to Uri to hold the enemy at bay. Maharaja’s orders were “hold the enemy to the last man, to the last bullet”. The Brigadier could gather no more than 150 individuals who were transported to Baramulla and as far as possible towards Uri. They took positions in and around Uri. On 24th evening, the day of Dussehra late in the evening the city of Srinagar was plunged into darkness. Rumours swept the city that Pakistanis had captured the Mahura power station. It transpired that they had not captured it that night but one of the Pak artillery shots had damaged major part of the power house.
The going off of the only power station should normally have resulted in panic in Srinagar but a stoic calm prevailed. Perhaps the general public did not realise the magnitude of danger. That night in New Delhi it was learnt later full report had been received about Pakistani invasion, the strength of the invaders and the imminent danger to Baramulla and Srinagar.
KS: How did New Delhi react?
SS: But New Delhi was in no position to come to the assistance of Maharaja or his government because it was not part of Indian dominion and Pakistan could have objected to any Indian assistance as invasion of ‘Independent Sovereign J&K State’.
Maharaja Hari Singh was advised by New Delhi to take a decision about accession to India if he desired Indian assistance for defence of J&K State. An emissary was sent to meet the Maharaja in Srinagar since the Maharaja had expressed desire to discuss details of the Instrument of Accession. We learnt a day later that Meherchand Mahajan had accompanied VP Menon back to New Delhi the same day. VP Menon informed New Delhi about the gist of his talks with Maharaja.
A hurried meeting of the Defence Committee of GoI was called. It was decided to send back Mr. Menon to Jammu to get Maharaja’s signatures on Instrument of Accession. One significant fact is overlooked that Maharaja and his family did not “leave Srinagar in panic or out of fear”. He was advised by Mr Menon to leave Srinagar that very night for Jammu because of the fear that if Pakistan invaders were able to reach Srinagar before Indian help could reach Srinagar Maharaja would have been forced to accede to Pakistan. On the morning of 26th October the Maharaja and his family had reached Jammu. Mr VP Menon accompanied by Meherchand Mahajan reached Jammu by Air. Shortly later, VP Menon flew back with the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and a covering letter addressed to the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten. Later in the evening of 26th of October the Defence Committee of Gol recommended acceptance of Accession of J&K to Indian dominion, clearing the way for troops to be sent to defend J&K State against aggression from Pakistan.
KS: How was Srinagar finally saved?
SS: On the night intervening 26/27th of October, a massive and a highly efficient mobilisation was organised and from dawn of October 27th the Indian troops were flown to Srinagar. In Jehlum Valley the Pakistan invaders had overcome the resistance of brave detachment under the command of Brig. Rajender Singh, killing literally every individual including the acting Chief of Staff of the State Forces. This happened on the night of 25th October and 26th October.
The triumphant invaders advanced along the road, entering Baramulla around midnight of 26th/27th October. The rearguard action of small band of gallant soldiers of Brig. Rajender Singh had gained four days of precious time to enable the Indian troops to reach Srinagar in time to prevent its occupation by Pakistanis. For this supreme sacrifice Brig. Rajender Singh was awarded posthumously MahaVir Cha-kra, the first one to receive in Independent India.
KS: Bara-mulla suffered the worse.
SS: In Bara-mulla, a town of 14 thou-sand inhabitants the Pak invaders instead of pushing on to Srinagar got busy in killing and looting of the local population including Muslims and lost the golden opportunity of capturing Srinagar. Eyewitnesses reported later that over ten thousand persons were either killed or escaped into nearby forests from the Pakistan invaders. One of the most gruesome stories that we were told ten days later was of NC political worker, Mohammad Maqbool Sherwani.
KS: How was Sherwani killed?
SS: He used to travel between Srinagar, Baramulla and Sopore 2 or 3 times every day to keep NC leadership at Srinagar posted with the latest information and situation. After Pakistanis occupied Baramulla Sherwani was captured and was asked to lead a small force avoiding inhabited areas towards Srinagar. On learning about the intentions of invaders he declined to assist them. He was ordered to be killed. Sherwani was tied with ropes to an electric pole outside the local cinema hall, Pak tribals and soldiers pumped 14 bullets into his body killing him on the spot. He, however, refused to respond to the Pak call to shout ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. This was told to Bakshi Gh. Mohammad by Sherwani’s brother on liberation or Baramulla, which took place on 7th of November.
KS: What circumstances led to the formation of Emergency administration ?
SS: After departure of Maharaja Hari Singh for Jammu all traces of administrative control in Srinagar seemed to evaporate. It seemed there was virtually no administration in control in Srinagar between 26th October and 31st of October. It was put quite graphically later that the Kashmir administration was picked up from Lal Chowk by NC leadership. This leadership virtually took control of Srinagar from the moment the Maharaja departed for Jammu. NC leadership under the command of vice-president of the party, Bakshi Gulam Mohd. had taken charge and were operating from the building of Palladium Cinema Hall in Lal Chowk. For three days i.e. on 27th, 28th and 29th of October the population of Srinagar kept staring at the skies throughout the day, because the planes bringing the troops used to land, deposit the troops and fly back for another sortie. This heartened the local residents who felt relieved that the danger of occupation by Pakistani troops and the general massacre was averted.
Since before acceptance of Instrument of Accession an informal understanding between GoI and the Maharaja had been arrived at to galvanise the people in general in defence of J&K State, it was agreed that a people’s representative government may be formed.
Consequently, on 31st October an 11-member emergency administration under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah came into being. The oath of office was administered to Sheikh Sahib in Secretariat building at Srinagar. The incongruity of Meherchand Mahajan continuing to head the government as the Prime Minister of J&K is incomprehensible. This duality lasted till March 15, 1948 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and members of his cabinet were sworn in as the proper government of J&K under J&K Constitution by the Maharaja. Shri Meherchand Mahajan went back to New Delhi, same day.