A Hindustan Times article by Ramachandra Guha described how Sheikh Abdullah went to Pakistan to explore possibilities of an Indo-Pak-Kashmir confederation just before Nehru died. This is old hat. It's been written about. But as a historian, Guha has authenticated the episode with valuable details.
What happened before and after the move for an Indo-Pakistan confederation is even more significant. Before the 1962 Sino-Indian border clash, Nehru had spurned President Ayub Khan's offer of joint defence with Pakistan. After it, as described by Guha, he encouraged Sheikh Abdullah to attempt making Kashmir a bridge for an Indo-Pakistan confederation.
Equally significant was the change in Nehru's attitude towards relations with America after 1962. He sought sustained military aid from America. Negotiators had almost finalised the aid package when President Kennedy was assassinated. President Johnson picked up the thread to revive the proposal. Before the pact could be signed, Nehru died. The proposal was derailed and abandoned after subsequent diversions. Former US ambassador Chester Bowles woefully recorded this in his book, Promises to Keep.
It is ironic therefore that intellectuals and Congress leaders, including Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi, identified the pre-1962 policies of Nehru as the legacy to emulate. They ignored the profound change in Nehru's post-1962 priorities. Nehru's judgement was poor. He allowed China to mislead him. But his integrity and commitment to India's national security were steady as a rock. Nehru knew what was required after the 1962 debacle and he set about to achieve it. To contemplate an independent Kashmir within an Indo-Pakistan confederation indicated how far his mind had travelled after the 1962 debacle.
I met Sheikh Abdullah those days in 1964. M.L. Sondhi was with me. I was in HT then and my editor, S. Mulgaonkar, had an excellent rapport with the Sheikh. As the latter waxed eloquent about the communalism of India's right-wing politicians, I interjected: "What about the communalism of Nehru and the Congress? They detained you without trial for 13 years! Why don't you speak about them?" The Sheikh fell silent. Mirza Afzal Beg, sitting beside him, gave a broad smile.
Nehru was of course not communal. He was merely weak. He couldn't stand up to the hardliners in his party. The same way that Vajpayee is weak. He can't stand up to the hardliners in his party. Vajpayee and his colleagues should reflect. Nehru considered an Indo-Pakistan confederation so vital that he even countenanced independence for Kashmir. But Nehru woke up too late. Will Vajpayee wake up in good time?
(Puri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)