The forgotten war that gave us J&K

By Praveen Davar

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war was observed in a befitting manner by the defence forces this year. Six years from now it will be the 50th anniversary of the 1971 war which most likely will be celebrated on a much bigger scale as it was the country’s greatest military victory ever. Unfortunately, however, the war which gave us the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though truncated, is all but forgotten.

The day India became free on August 15, 1947, the state, like Hyderabad and Junagadh, and unlike over 500 other princely states, had not acceded to either India or Pakistan. Its maharaja, Hari Singh, was reluctant to join either of the dominions and wished to keep his state independent. Anticipating a threat from Pakistan, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote to Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in September to prevail upon Hari Singh to release Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who, as leader of a popular rising against the maharaja, had been imprisoned by him. Nehru felt that without the cooperation of Abdullah, who had the full support of the people, the state administration would not be able to meet Pakistan’s imminent threat. It will also facilitate Kashmir’s accession to India.

On October 22, 1947, over 5,000 tribesmen, with weapons and transport supplied by the Pakistani Army, entered Kashmir and seized Muzaffarabad, Domel and Uri and surged towards Srinagar. Two days later, the maharaja offered to accede to India and asked for immediate military assistance. V.P. Menon, secretary in the ministry of states, flew to Jammu and got the instrument of succession signed by the maharaja on October 26. The emergency meeting of the Defence Committee comprising Nehru, Patel and defence minister Baldev Singh, despite initial resistance from Lord Mountbatten, its chairman, ordered troops in the Valley to evict the invaders.

Operation J&K commenced at first light on the morning of October 27. One after another more than a hundred planes, both civilian (BOAC) and military (RIAF), flew out of Safdarjung Airport, ferrying weapons, rations and troops of the Sikh regiment led by Lt Col Ranjit Rai who was one of the first soldiers to sacrifice his life, but not before his unit had succeeded in establishing a bridgehead on the Baramula-Srinagar road which halted the invasion and saved Srinagar.

On hearing that Indian troops had landed in Srinagar Pakistani governor general Mohammad Ali Jinnah ordered General Douglas Gracy, acting chief of the Pakistan Army (both India and Pakistan had British officers in top echelons) to move his troops into Kashmir on the Rawalpindi-Srinagar road towards the Banihal pass and cut off Kashmir from Jammu and the rest of India. Fortunately for India, Gracy refused. He did so at the behest of Mountbatten and Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck (the Supreme Commander of both Indian and Pakistani armies).

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