Re-discovering the J&K Instrument of Accession

By Venkatesh Nayak. Dated: 10/27/2020 12:28:59 PM

On a hot and humid mid-September afternoon, I walked in to the research room of the National Archives in New Delhi to find out if my search for a “historic” document had borne results. The document in question was the original Instrument of Accession (IoA) signed in October 1947 by the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh and accepted by Lord Mountbatten of Burma, who was Governor General of India at the time. Earlier, the Union ministry of home affairs had transferred to the National Archives my RTI application seeking a copy of this document and a handful of IoAs signed by other Rulers. Subsequently, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the National Archives invited me to access the documents under the Public Records Act, 1993.
I walked towards the shelves situated at the end of the hall, my shoes squeaking across the extra smooth flooring, butterflies fluttering in my stomach. The J&K IoA lay in a cream coloured folder at one corner of a shelf waiting to be picked up. The last time I got as excited was a few days earlier, when I spotted a reference to this document in the Index of 1,847 treaties and agreements transferred by the Central government to the National Archives for safe keeping.
The J&K IoA has been the subject of one of the biggest and long drawn controversies in independent India. Does it really exist or not? One academic doubted its authenticity and reportedly dismissed its very existence. Andrew Whitehead has claimed that he was denied access to this document on the ground that it was “classified”. The retyped text of this document is currently accessible on a privately hosted website. Whitehead writes that a facsimile of the J&K IoA was displayed on the website of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for some time. I could not trace this facsimile copy on the MHA site.
Through this article, I can confirm that the J&K IoA exists for real, is safe and well preserved in the collection of the National Archives.
I have elected to place in the public domain a copy of the J&K IoA obtained legitimately from the National Archives for the purpose of facilitating informed debate amongst those interested in the subject.
I have also placed copies of the IoAs of Mysore, Manipur, Tehri Garhwal and Udaipur obtained by me from the National Archives in the public domain so that readers may compare them with the J&K IoA for ascertaining its genuineness.
Is the J&K IOA held by the National Archives a genuine document?
I am not a forensics expert, nor was I familiar with the signatures of the Maharaja of J&K and Lord Mountbatten before I looked at these five IoAs. However, at least three indicators seem to testify to the genuineness of the J&K IoA.
First, like several other IoAs, the document signed by the Maharaja of J&K is in two parts. The first three pages contain the text of the terms of the accession- this is the IoA proper. Page 2 of the document bears the signature of Maharaja Hari Singh and the acceptance of the instrument signed by Lord Mountbatten. Page 3 contains the list of subjects on which the Dominion Legislature’s powers to make laws applicable to J&K were accepted by the Maharaja by virtue of this accession instrument. Pages 4 and 5 contain the standstill agreement between J&K and the Dominion of India, as it was called in 1947 before India became a republic. IoAs signed by the several other princely States contain a standstill agreement between them and the Dominion of India as annexures.
Second, in all the IoAs signed by the rulers of Mysore, Manipur, Tehri Garhwal and Udaipur, Lord Mountbatten signed his acceptance of the instruments and mentioned the date of acceptance in green ink – just like he did while accepting the J&K IoA. Further, the overall faded appearance of this document – just like the other IoAs I picked up – clearly hints to its vintage.
Third, the appended standstill agreements are an added element confirming the authenticity of the Jammu and Kashmir IoA.
At the time of independence, various parts of the Indian sub-continent were under different kinds of administrative arrangements. Chiefly, there were two kinds of jurisdictions – the principalities – large and small which were ruled by hereditary princes and provinces which were directly under British administration. The British Raj had entered into separate treaties and agreements with several princely states for a variety of purposes, such as the construction and the maintenance of roads and power supply facilities, railway tracks, communication facilities including posts, telegraph and wireless, flights, taxation, currency and coinage, external affairs etc. With the ousting of the British Raj, these treaties would become void automatically. So the newly established Department of States drew up an agreement in consultation with the Chamber of Princes (comprising of the rulers of princely states) to ensure that these administrative arrangements would continue unaltered (i.e., standstill) until the new Constitution was drawn up. Almost all princely states that had such treaties and agreements with the British Raj signed a standstill agreement along with the Instrument of Accession to the Dominion of India.
As can be seen from the documents posted here, the Rulers of Mysore, Tehri Garhwal, Manipur and Udaipur did not sign the standstill agreements annexed to the IoAs, nor did Lord Mountbatten append his signature to the same. In all these cases, the standstill agreements were signed by the rulers’ subordinates. In the case of Mysore, the standstill agreement was signed by the dewan (prime minister) of Mysore, in the case of Manipur, it was signed by the private secretary to the maharaja, in the case of Tehri Garhwal it was signed by the chief secretary of the state and in the case of Udaipur it was signed by the then acting prime minister.
The J&K standstill agreement, however, was signed by Maharaja Hari Singh himself and for good reason. All writers commenting on the events leading to the accession of J&K to the Indian Dominion are unanimous on one fact, i.e., the then prime minister of J&K, Justice M. C. Mahajan was in New Delhi on October 26 – the date on which Maharaja Hari Singh is said to have signed the IoA. So there was probably no authority other than the Maharaja in Kashmir who could sign the standstill agreement. In all five cases, the standstill agreements were signed by Shri V. P. Menon on behalf of the Dominion of India.
Readers may ask, what about the letter that Maharaja Hari Singh is purported to have sent to Lord Mountbatten along with the signed IoA and the reply the latter sent back to the maharaja. Those documents, whose existence is not in doubt, thankfully, are not included in the file containing the IoA and the standstill agreement. They seem to remain in the custody of the Union home ministry. The text of this correspondence is published in a document published by the Political Branch of the Ministry of States.
What about the overwriting in the J&K IoA?
Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir. Credit: Wikimedia
Some writers have commented on the overwriting visible in the J&K IoA to argue that it is not a genuine document. This issue can be explained by the fact that a common template was used for the purpose of the IoAs. The printed stationery mentioned the month of August, leaving a blank space for filling up the exact date of accession at the time of signature by each Ruler. While a large number of Rulers signed their respective IoAs in August itself, Maharaja Hari Singh signed it in October when his hands were forced by the invasion from across the State’s borders. This explains the striking out of “August” to insert “October” in the IoA.
Making such minor technicalities as the basis to contest the authenticity of the J&K IoA may not help advance the debate much because overwriting is seen in at least one other IoA whose copy I was able to obtain form the National Archives. For example, in the Mysore IoA, the date of acceptance was initially mentioned as the “ninth” day of August in black ink. Lord Mountbatten seems to have put in the correct date, namely, the “sixteenth” while appending his signature. The correction is made in green ink – the same colour he used for signing his acceptance of every IoA that I have looked at. Further, in the case of the standstill agreement with Mysore, the dewan signed on the portion which was reserved for the signature of the Secretary of the States Department of the Dominion. So the designation of V. P. Menon had to be typed up manually at the bottom of this document.
While the title of the rulers of Manipur and Udaipur were type-written on the IoAs, those of their counterparts in the case of the IoAs of Mysore, Tehri Garhwal were hand written. Should this discrepancy then be used to dispute the validity of the accession of any of these princely States to the Dominion?
Interestingly, while the IoAs and the standstill agreements in the case of Mysore, Manipur, Tehri Garhwal and Udaipur indicate that they were drawn up in the names of the rulers of those states and the Dominion of India, in the case of J&K, both documents are drawn up in the name of the Jammu and Kashmir State. Should this curious titling be taken to imply that the residents of J&K had consented to the accession, when they were not even consulted on this matter? Such nitpicking does not help informed debate on the subject. Given the trying circumstances in 1947 and the sheer number of documents that had to be signed from across the country, such discrepancies are highly likely to occur, especially in a newly created department that was short staffed and had set a near impossible deadline for itself to secure the integration of India.
Is the J&K IoA a unique document?
There is a general consensus that unlike other princely states, J&K acceded to the Dominion of India under unique circumstances. I do not intend to delve into these circumstances to examine the claims and counter claims in this brief article. However, another myth that popular lore about J&K has perpetuated is that Maharaja Hari Singh signed a specially drafted Instrument of Accession that took care of his demands. Almost every layperson I met with in J&K during my travel to promote awareness and the use of the state’s RTI Act would point out during informal discussions that the maharaja had recognised the powers of the Dominion to make and implement laws only on three subjects matter, namely foreign affairs, defence and communications. Until I began my research on this subject, I had also harboured a similar misconception.
A comparison of the four IoAs of Mysore, Manipur, Tehri Garhwal and Udaipur that I accessed from the National Archives and a careful reading of V. P. Menon’s narrative account of the process by which India was integrated, indicates otherwise.
Every one of the 140 princely states that signed IoAs with the Dominion of India agreed to the same terms and conditions as J&K. All these rulers also initially acceded to the Dominion limited to the same three subjects. The remaining powers were retained by them just as the maharaja of J&K had sought to do. However, eventually some of them signed instruments of merger, to form larger administrative units such as the Matsya Union, Vindhya Pradesh, PEPSU, Travancore and Cochin etc. and finally accepted the scheme of administration laid down by the new Constitution. The then Yuvaraj of J&K who exercised all powers delegated to him by the Maharaja, issued a proclamation on November 25, 1949 stating that the soon-to-be-adopted Constitution of India would govern the relations between J&K and the Union only to such extent as its provisions would apply to J&K. Article 306a – which would later become Article 370 – laid down the terms and conditions of this relationship. Interestingly, the provisions under Article 370 were intended to be transitional and temporary in nature. Menon’s tome contains a detailed account of these developments. Subsequently, Noorani and others have extensively dwelt upon the manner in which the protection provided by Article 370 was eroded from the very beginning. I do not intend to go into those matters in this brief article.
Tabling of the IoAs in the Constituent Assembly (Legislative)
In fact, my inspiration to seek copies of the IoAs including that of J&K came from a reading of three pieces of legislation, namely, The Government of India Act, 1935 (GoI Act), the India Independence Act, 1947 and The India (Provisional Constitution) Order, 1947.
While the GOI Act had laid down the accession procedure for the princely states (to the undivided Dominion of India as was envisaged then), the provisional constitutional order made an important amendment to its provisions, amongst several others. Section 6 of the GOI Act relating to the accession of the Indian states to the Dominion was amended to incorporate several changes. Sub-section 6 of the new Section 6 required the laying of copies of the Instrument of Accession on the table of the dominion legislature soon after they were accepted by the governor general. Eventually, the dominion legislature came to be known as the Constituent Assembly-Legislative (CA-L) when it was performing legislative functions outside of its main mandate, namely the framing of a constitution for India.
When the MHA did not respond to my request for copies of the IoAs, I filed an RTI application with the Lok Sabha secretariat seeking access to the same documents and the CA-L debates. I pointed out that the IoAs were required to be tabled before the CAL and the Lok Sabha being a successor body to the CA-L, ought to have maintained copies of these documents. The CPIO of the Lok Sabha has not responded to my RTI application till date. Subsequently, I secured access to the library of Parliament and located the debates of the CA-L for the period 1947-1948.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, as the deputy prime minister, in charge of the Ministry of States, tabled the IoA of J&K along with those signed by 116 other princely states before the CA-L on 19 November 19, 1947. Kashmir is listed at #68 in Schedule I Part A of the paper laid on the table of the house. The date of signature of the IOA is mentioned as October 26, 1947 and the date of acceptance as October 27, 1947. Several writers have raised doubts about these dates. This is an area I intend to research next, so I will not offer any comment on this matter for now.
Before closing, it is necessary to dispel one more myth popularised by those who question the existence of the J&K IoA. Its origin seems to be based on the write-up attributed to Prof. Lamb. If he has truly written that the signed copy of the IoA was never attached to the White Paper on J&K that the Government issued in 1948 or included in the documents that the Indian government sent to the UN Security Council that year, that discrepancy may also be explained in simple terms. It must be remembered that during the late 1940s and 1950s, photocopying and mimeography were not available in India. So the government perhaps appended only a copy of the IoA template which was commonly used to secure the accession of the 140 princely States to these documents. I have already shown that the text of the IoA templates was retyped for the purpose of laying them before the CA-L. Of course the government could have anticipated its future acerbic and often vituperative critics and included photographs of the signed copy of the J&K IoA in all these documents. It was within its powers to so do. Why it elected not to do so, is not my job to explain. That explanation should come from the government of India.
My objective in this article is limited – to place legitimately obtained true-to-the original images of the J&K Instrument of Accession along with other comparable and supporting documents to encourage informed debate across the country and elsewhere on this subject. I trust this article has accomplished this objective.
It will not be an exaggeration to describe the IoAs and the standstill agreements as the threads that knit the disparate administrative jurisdictions into a Union. Instead of tucking them away and providing access to researchers only on demand, the National Archives should work with the government to display them in a museum which people can visit at will. Citizens have the right to know more about these building blocks that became India.
(Venkatesh Nayak is an RTI activist and a history researcher based in New Delhi. He works with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. This article was first published in 2016 in thewire.in and is being reproduced with permission)

 

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