Ghulam Nabi Azad gives Amit Shah lesson on first war with Pakistan
BJP president Amit Shah — and possibly many other fellow citizens who were born after Independence — were on Monday given a crash course on India’s first war with Pakistan in 1947-48 and a glorious chapter in the history of the Indian Army.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Rajya Sabha leader of the Opposition, narrated in the upper House how India had won back lost ground, prompting Shah to acknowledge that he was not familiar with the details listed by the Congress veteran.
“Azadji spoke at length about the circumstances of the first war with Pakistan. It was good. My knowledge has increased. A lot of what he said, even I didn’t know. First time I learnt about them and I will try and read up more about it to improve my understanding of Kashmir,” Shah, who was born in 1964, said in Hindi.
The exchange between the two leaders came towards the end of a six-hour House discussion on extending President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir for another six months, beginning July 3, and on the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
Azad detailed how lost territory, including the heights of Kargil and Drass, had been taken back from Pakistan against all odds seven decades ago.
The place names “Kargil” and “Drass” are chiselled into the national psyche largely because of the 1999 invasion by Pakistan, which was beaten back by the Indian armed forces when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.
But Pakistan had wised up to the strategic significance of the Kargil heights soon after Independence.
In October 1947, Pakistani raiders had occupied major parts of Jammu and the Kashmir Valley. After Indian forces pushed the raiders back, Pakistan had launched a fresh offensive in February 1948 from the Northern Territories (Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan), which it had overrun in July 1947.
The Pakistani forces advanced into Kargil, realising that if they controlled the heights, the rest of India could be cut off from Ladakh.
India’s army used tanks to reclaim the Ladakh region, including Kargil. The deployment tanks made the strategic Zoji-La (Pass), located at an altitude of 11,575 feet, the highest point in recorded history where tanks were used.
Over half a century later in 1999, Pakistan would make another ill-fated attempt to occupy Kargil, only to be thwarted afresh. The 20th anniversary of the Kargil war falls this month.
In the House on Monday, Azad spoke at length on the role of the National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah in keeping Jammu and Kashmir with India.
“We have our differences with the National Conference but their contribution to Kashmir and India should never be forgotten, particularly in pushing back the invaders by raising their own militia with volunteers,’’ he said.
Largely, the discussion was more a journey into history than a stocktaking of the current situation and the way forward. It was not just the Congress and the BJP sparring over their respective versions of history, the other parties too focused more on the past.
Shah, after conceding he was not that familiar with all the aspects of the 1948 war, followed up the rare admission by firing the BJP’s oft-repeated questions why then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had agreed to a ceasefire without regaining the entire area captured by Pakistan, and why India had taken the dispute to the UN.
“But why did India agree to a ceasefire in 1949 when 1/3rd of Kashmir was still with Pakistan? This is a question that I alone am not asking but the entire country is asking,” Shah said.
The BJP president wanted to know why Nehru had subsequently arrested Sheikh Abdullah, and accused the Congress of lauding the National Conference now to keep the party in its corner.
RJD member Manoj Jha tore into the government’s “ceaseless efforts to malign Nehru”. The AAP’s Sanjay Singh stood with the Congress in articulating the older party’s role in the freedom struggle, asserting that the BJP’s ideological parent had sided with the British during the Quit India Movement.
Azad had earlier placed on record that BJP icon Syama Prasad Mookerjee had never been put in jail in Jammu and Kashmir, as is often claimed by the Sangh parivar.
“He was put up in the government guesthouse in Chashme Shahi after being taken into custody for not applying for an entry permit as was required back then. And, he remained there till his death due to heart attack,’’ he said.
The BJP benches, present in strength, did not contest this.
A question repeatedly asked by the Opposition through the discussion was why Assembly elections were not held in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Lok Sabha polls, especially since the Centre was so keen on simultaneous elections from panchayat to Parliament.
Trinamul member Derek O’Brien cited how the three Election Commission observers had said in their report that the situation in the state was conducive for polls.
Shah replied that the situation was not so conducive that the Assembly elections could be conducted without providing security to every candidate.
“We have enough governments in the country, so we really do not need to run Jammu and Kashmir through the backdoor,’’ he said, alluding to the accusation that the Centre was not holding Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir so it could keep the state under its direct charge.