October 26, 2006 10:17:08 pm
It is a date that signifies high drama. On October 27, 1947, a small contingent of the Indian Armed Forces landed in an old Dakota at Srinagar and saved the Valley from Pakistani marauders. A diabolical plan, code-named Operation Gulmarg, executed under Pakistan’s prime minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, and with full knowledge of Governor-General M.A. Jinnah and Governor George Cunningham of NWFP, was frustrated. Jinnah did not calculate the efficiency with which India could take action. The action thrilled the nation. Even Gandhiji could not detach himself from the excitement. In his prayer meeting of October 28, he — as Alan Campbell-Johnson put it — “struck an almost Churchillian note on Kashmir: He would not shed a tear if the little Union force was wiped out like the Spartans bravely defending Thermopylae…”
At the time of Independence, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir faced an uncertain future with a number of complex forces at work. There was the National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah; Maharaja Hari Singh and, finally, there was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. All three men were to play their part in the Kashmir drama. The Maharaja was indecisive; Jinnah was impatient; Nehru was caught between his idealism and the reality. The first serious lapse occurred when Nehru insisted the state’s administration be handed over to Abdullah before Hari Singh’s request for accession to India could be accepted. The second grave mistake was committed when Hari Singh flirted with the idea of independence.
On October 22, a full-scale tribal invasion backed by Pakistan regulars was launched. The state forces, under Brigadier Rajinder Singh, fought to the “last man and last bullet” at Uri, delaying the advance of the raiders for two crucial days. The brigadier died like a hero. Hari Singh got the time to seek and obtain India’s help. In his letter of October 26/27, he asked for accession and “attached the instrument of accession for acceptance by the Government of India”. Mountbatten accepted it. But in a separate letter wrote: “It is my Government’s wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invaders, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.” This letter was the third major mistake.
Baramulla fell into the hands of the raiders on October 24-26. They indulged in looting, burning, raping and killing, hardly realising that the time they spent on their abominable crimes would contribute crucially to their defeat. On October 27, the first batch of troops under the command of Lt Colonel Ranjit Rai, landed in Srinagar. He led the small contingent towards Baramulla and lost his life in the operation. But it unnerved the raiders. In another bold move, Major Som Nath Sharma engaged the raiders at Badgam very near the airport. He was outnumbered seven to one but inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. He was killed.
With the raiders on Srinagar’s outskirts, and with Rai and Sharma dead, Sardar Patel, accompanied by Defence Minister Baldev Singh, flew to Srinagar and ordered reinforcements. The timely arrival of reinforcements enabled Brigadier L.P. Sen to lure the raiders into the net of the Indian forces, near Shalteng. The Pakistani raiders were attacked on November 5 from three sides and were routed.
It would appear that the country has all but forgotten her heroes of this remarkable period. As a nation we need to recall October 27 as the day India saved the Kashmir Valley.
The writer is a former J&K governor and a former Union minister
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