Perhaps there is something in the foreign air which brings out the worst in Rahul Gandhi. In his bid to corner the Bharatiya Janata Party and especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he ends up saying things abroad that boomerang on his own party and help little in embellishing his public profile. Take the Congress president’s most recent remarks while addressing an audience at the Lee Kuan School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Let’s consider two points he made: “In 2014, when I went to J&K, I felt like crying. I saw what a bad political decision can do to years of policy-making.” The second was that the Congress had been handed over a “burning” Kashmir when it came to power in May 2004. Taken together, these remarks make it evident that the Congress chief was targeting the BJP for the mess in Kashmir. Either Rahul Gandhi does not know his history or he is deliberately obfuscating historical facts. The second possibility is remote because even obfuscation requires a level of competence which he does not possess. Obviously then, he does not know enough of history, else he would have realised that the Kashmir mess is not just the Congress’s doing but also that the foundations of the blunder were laid by the tallest leader of his party and family icon, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Incidentally, this is perhaps one reason why the party has been so active over the decades in downplaying Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, because the Iron Man of India had most resolutely warned of the disaster that Nehru had unleashed through his Kashmir policy. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: India’s Iron Man, a biography by Balraj Krishna, offers priceless insights on how Nehru messed up the issue. Rahul Gandhi would do well to read it. (While at it, he could also peruse Rajmohan Gandhi’s book, Patel: A Life, which too offers details of Nehru’s disastrous approach to Kashmir and Sardar Patel’s various cautions.) It must be remembered that Nehru had taken away the charge of Kashmir from Sardar Patel and handled it himself through an intermediary.
Krishna wonders in his book, “What would have been the fate of Kashmir under Patel?” He then goes on to quote the observations of prominent leader Jayaprakash Narayan (a socialist). Narayan felt that the Kashmir issue, being left to Nehru, “proved to be unfortunate for the nation” because Nehru’s “mishandling” ensured that the matter did not “remain an internal affair, as it should be…” He added that several leaders of the time believed that a satisfactory solution that could have prevented the issue from becoming become a “perennial headache”, would have been found had Sardar Patel been allowed to tackle the problem. This wasn’t a sycophant speaking; Jayaprakash Narayan was no admirer of Patel’s politics.
Yet another important political figure and a staunch opponent of the Sardar, the communist leader MN Roy, held a similar opinion. On Patel’s position over Kashmir, he said that he was “inclined to believe that it was as realistic as his attitude towards partition. Nevertheless, once the die was cast by the gambler’s megalomania, the Sardar had no choice but to play the game. But one could be sure that he loathes the stupidity clothed in the glamour of popular heroes”. No prizes for guessing who the “gambler” was.
Even Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the man Nehru chose to handle Kashmir and report directly to him, admitted to the mistake in his letter to Patel after India foolishly took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. He wrote, “As you say, we have entangled ourselves with a set of persons who will not see things straight”. The Sardar had been vehemently opposed to Nehru’s decision to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
It is now common knowledge that Nehru’s bias in favour of Sheikh Abdullah was the trigger for many of the blunders on Kashmir policy by the Union Government. Nehru’s taking charge of Kashmir affairs was also due to the Sheikh’s discomfort with Sardar Patel’s straight talk and the latter’s ability to see through the deceit being played out. Patel had once bluntly remarked to Ayyangar, “Whenever Sheikh Sahib wants to back out, he always confronts us with his duty the people. Of course, he owes no duty to India or to the Indian Government, or even on a personal basis to you and the Prime Minister who had gone all out to accommodate him.” Patel’s apprehensions were to come true later, with Nehru himself admitting to an intelligence chief of the Sheikh’s “communal activities throughout the period he had acted as the National Conference leader”.
Unlike Nehru, Sardar Patel did not see any reason to handle Sheikh Abdullah with kid gloves. Balraj Krishna provides an instance of this in his book when he relates an incident during the discussions in the Constituent Assembly in October-November 1948. Nehru was on a trip abroad and Patel was officiating for him. The Constituent Assembly was discussing the provision of Article 370, and at one point Sheikh Abdullah walked out out of the House in a huff and with a threat that he was returning to Kashmir — thus jeopardising the crucial discussion on the Article. Just as he was seated in his train compartment, an emissary from Sardar Patel arrived and told him, “Sheikh, sahib, the Sardar says that you could leave the House but you cannot leave Delhi.” The author notes that “a speechless Abdullah got down from the train, cancelling his departure”.
There is no doubt that the dangerous manner in which Nehru had been conducting the Kashmir policy had Patel worried. But the Sardar was also hurt by the way he had been sidelined, to the nation’s detriment. Balraj Krishna writes, “Evidently, Patel alone, not Nehru, could strike such fear in Abdullah; and he alone could have tamed the ‘Lion of Kashmir’ if he so desired. But he did not. He preferred to ignore, with apparent unconcern, Abdullah’s arrogance, high-handedness and self-righteousness; he even reluctantly accepted Abdullah’s anti-Indian outbursts.” The Sardar had adopted a “bystander’s” attitude, and refused to engage in a full-blown confrontation with Nehru. Had that public confrontation happened, it can be said with some amount of certainty that Sardar Patel would have found adequate support from the rank and file of the Congress leadership. But Patel was too decent a person to do so.
Rahul Gandhi should feel like crying over the series of grave mistakes his illustrious ancestor made as Prime Minister — from the impact of which the country continues to suffer to this date.