Kashmir and Beyond 1966-84 ? Select Correspondence Between Indira Gandhi and Karan Singh

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Item Code: NAC125
Author: Jawaid Alam
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9780670085682
Pages: 410 (14 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 9.5 Inch X 6.3 Inch
Weight 740 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir merged with India in 7947. Two years later, Karan Singh, son of the states last maharaja, Hari Singh, was appointed its regent. After eighteen years at the helm—during which he was, successively, regent, Sadar—i—Riyasat and governor of Jammu and Kashmir—Karan Singh became a member of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's cabinet as minister for tourism and civil aviation. Karan Singh worked closely with Mrs Gandhi for almost the entire duration of her tenure as prime minister of India. They held each other in high esteem and shared great rapport as cabinet colleagues as well as mutual regard on a personal level.

Kashmir and Beyond 7966-84 brings together more than three hundred letters from the correspondence between Indira Gandhi and Karan Singh. It provides an exclusive insight into historic events such as the signing of the Tashkent Declaration, the Emergency and Operation Blue star. And even as these letters map the important landmarks of recent Indian history, they provide a fascinating glimpse of the inner workings of the government and the magnitude of the effort of running a country that houses 'one-seventh of the human race'.

Kashmir and Beyond 7966-84 is an immensely important book, not just for scholars but for anyone who wants to make sense of the knotty issues that confront contemporary India.

A Padma Vibhushan, KARAN SINGH has held the tourism and civil aviation, health and family planning and the education and culture portfolios in the Indian government. He also served briefly as ambassador to the United States. He is currently chairman of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Karan Singh has been chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, Jammu and Kashmir University, as well as Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has also served as chairman of the Indian Board of Wildlife and is associated with several other cultural and academic institutions. He composes and recites devotional songs in Dogri and is a connoisseur of Indian classical music.

His published works include his Autobiography, Essays on Hinduism and A Treasury of Indian Wisdom.

Jawaid Alam teaches modern Indian history at Jamia Millia Islamia.


Five years ago, Penguin India published my extensive correspondence with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whom I considered my political guru, in a book titled Jammu & Kashmir 1949-64. During this period, I also came in touch with Indira Gandhi, both as hostess at Teen Murti House, which was the prime minister’s official residence and where I was a fairly regular visitor, and when she accompanied her father on his greatly cherished visits to Kashmir. Like Pandit ji, Indira Gandhi also loved Kashmir with its lakes and mountains, and trekked extensively along with young Rajiv and Sanjay. I recall that the first time I met her was when Pandit ji invited me to have breakfast with him at Teen Murti House. Indira and both the boys were there, and though I did not realize it at that time, it was an A extraordinary occasion as at the breakfast table were one incumbent and two future prime ministers of the country.

Despite the initial public perception that Indira Gandhi was apolitical, those of us who knew her well were aware that the reverse was true. Having been brought up in a passionately political family, and having thrived on the famous letters of her father from jail, Indira Gandhi was inexorably drawn into politics and, indeed. Played a significant role in the emerging political situation long before she became prime minister. After India’s debacle in the conflict with China in l962 and Panditji’s saddening cerebral stroke, she was inevitably pushed into a more active role, closely supporting him both emotionally and politically. Earlier in 1959, she was elected Congress president and the highlight of her tenure was the confrontation with the first elected Communist government in the country in Kerala. Though she was somewhat left-of-centre in her political thinking, she took a firm stand in this matter.

I do not consider it necessary to recount here the dramatic situation leading to her ascent to absolute political power. Several historians and biographers have written about it in detail. I would only like to say that, despite her reputation as the “Iron Lady’, she had a genuinely soft side. This expressed itself in her deep love for nature and art. She always made it a point to meet with intellectuals and artists during her official visits abroad. She had an innate sense of aesthetics that came out vividly in floral arrangements, interior decorations and her choice of apparel. She also practised meditation and yoga, and visited temples much more frequently than her father. She had a steely will and was capable of strong emotions, which she kept under close check. The only time I can recall her revealing them publicly was when she entered the Lok Sabha to dramatically announce the fall of Dhaka to the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini. I was sitting immediately behind her in the House, which, of course, exploded in joyful tumult and had to be adjourned for the day.

In fact, the Bangladesh war was her finest hour. During that year she had sent her ministers around the world to impress upon world leaders the seriousness of the situation developing in East Pakistan and the urgency to work towards a political solution. I was deputed to West Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, where I met up with President Tito with whom I had toured the country during his visit to India in l968. During the emerging crisis, when millions of refugees were pouring in from East Pakistan, Indira Gandhi held her nerve and then, when all political options had failed, struck decisively and successfully. The liberation of Bangladesh will remain a high point of her life and of modern Indian history and, to an extent, compensate for India’s defeat at the hands of the Chinese a decade earlier.

If the Bangladesh war was her zenith, the Emergency, which she herself later admitted to have been a mistake, was the nadir. The Allahabad High Court’s decision to unseat her on what appeared to be a mere technicality, sent reverberations through the nation’s entire political structure. Her evidently deep sense of insecurity was exacerbated by the aggressive activities of her political opponents led by Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and others who sensed an opportunity and went in for the political kill. On 25 June 1975, the fateful day when the Emergency was declared, I was woken up at the crack of dawn by my household staff knocking frantically on my bedroom door to tell me about the cabinet meeting at 7 o’clock. When I reached her residence there was funereal silence as the announced that the Emergency had been proclaimed and the opposition leaders had been arrested in a night—long swoop around the country and put behind bars.

The post-Emergency election in March 1977 saw a massive defeat for the Congress including Indira Gandhi herself] her son Sanjay and her senior cabinet colleagues from north India. I was the only exception, and was re—e1ected for the third time from the Udhampur parliamentary constituency, one among only five Congress MPs elected from the north. South India stood firm with the Congress and returned 150 MPS. Despite this calamitous setback, Indira Gandhi did not lose hope and held the party together. A year later, in 1978, the Congress Party split but she emerged stronger as the leader of the major faction, Congress (Indira). Her charisma and gutsy approach to politics in the face of the Janata Party’s gerontocratic and incoherent ways returned her to power in January 1980 by a sweeping majority in what must surely rank as one of the most astounding comebacks in political history.

During the critical period between the Allahabad High Court judgment and the proclamation of the Emergency, I wrote to Indira Gandhi not, as I said, as a Cabinet colleague but as someone who looked upon her as an elder sister. I suggested that she should offer to resign and send her resignation to President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who, without accepting it, should ask her to continue until her appeal in the Supreme Court was finally decided. I am of the view that, had she chosen to do so, much of the later negative public reaction might have been avoided. It so happens that I kept a photocopy of that handwritten letter, which is reproduced in this book.

Soon there after Sanjay Gandhi, who had been her closest collaborator during the Emergency and the post—Emergency period, died tragically in an air crash a short distance away from my Delhi house. Although Rajiv stepped into the void and was a source of immense strength and comfort to her, she never hilly recovered from this devastating blow. The ghastly |Punjab situation ultimately culminated in her tragic assassination by her own sorority guards thus bringing to an untimely end the remarkable career of this extraordinary figure in India’s political history.

My correspondence with Indira Gandhi began in 1950 but deepened later during the ten-year period when I was a member of her Cabinet. This is a companion volume to the earlier one of my correspondence with Jawaharlal Nehru also edited by Jawaid Alam. Taken together they cover a thirty-five year period from 1949 to 1984 during which I was not only actively involved in nation’s politics but also interacted closely with both father and daughter. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was responsible for any entry into state politics; Indira Gandhi brought me into the national mainstream and by an unexpected turn of events, it was the third generation, Rajiv Gandhi, who inducted me into the international arena by sending me as India’s ambassador, with cabinet rank, to the United States.

Before I close, I would like to reproduce a moving document that was found among Indira Gandhi’s papers after her death, and that represents a fitting epitaph to this remarkable woman.

I have never felt less like dying and that calm and peace of mind is what prompts me to write what is in the nature of a will.

If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassin, not in my dying—for no hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country, no force is strong enough to divert me from my purpose and my endeavour to take this country forward.

“A poet has written of his “love”—“how can I {eel humble with the wealth of you beside me!” I can say the same of India. I cannot understand how anyone can be an Indian and not be proud—the richness and infinite variety of our composite heritage, the magnificence of the people’s spirit, equal to any disaster or burden, firm in their faith, gay spontaneously even in poverty and hardship.’

Editor’s Note

The present compendium contains 336 letters exchanged between Indira Gandhi and Dr Karan Singh stretching over a period of thirty—five years. Before 1966, the letters are personal and occasional in nature and less in number. From these I have selected only ten, five from Indira Gandhi and five from Dr Karan Singh which I thought were interesting and significant and have placed them in the appendix. The period between 1966 and 1984 saw extensive and varied exchange of letters. Despite the fact that Dr Karan Singh preserves his papers with meticulous care and cherishes them greatly, several of the letters which End mention in the correspondence are not available. Furthermore, the letters exchanged between them during the years 1976-79 are also not traceable. In my endeavour to find these letters, I consulted Shri B.R. Nanda, the founder—direct0r of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library who had always been most supportive and encouraging. He suggested that these letters would be available in the Indira Gandhi papers preserved at the NMML. The Indira Gandhi papers are not open for public view but can be seen after permission is duly obtained. This suggestion encouraged me greatly and I hastened to put in my application to the direct0r’s office. Unfortunately my attempts bore no fruit as my application, despite frequent reminders, was not forwarded for necessary action. As a result there are chronological gaps in the collection, And I am afraid that perhaps these letters, which span crucial years and must be of exceptional significance, will never “see the light of the day’, to use the words of Inder Malhotra, distinguished journalist and author, who said the same for Nehru’s papers [The Hindu 6 June 2004].

The corpus of letters that find place in this book has been arranged chronologically. Further, in order to understand the letters properly and in the context they were written, [ have undertaken to fine—tune and elaborate the and aspects by adding extensive explanatory notes. The biographical and background information bring enriching and interesting facets of the collection to the fore. The original copies of all the letters included in this volume are in the possession of Dr Karan Singh and are being published for the first time.

The letters encompass a wide spectrum of personal, political, social, religious, as well as administrative issues which are of contemporary relevance in India. And we get the sense that they were exchanged in a positive perspective and their tone and tenor clearly reveal the mutual trust and understanding that existed between Indira Gandhi and Karan Singh. Besides being a commentary on their political perceptions and nation- building concerns, the correspondence unfolds various contemporary issues, events and developments of Kashmir in particular and of India in general.

It was Jawaharlal Nehru who first introduced Karan Singh to Indira Gandhi on 6 December 1947 when he wrote to her: ‘I met the Yuvaraj for the first time and liked him. He is a very bright boy . . .‘ This introduction was renewed when they met face to face in April 1949 at Teen Murti House, the official residence of Jawaharlal Nehru. Since then they chanced to meet quite often at Karan Mahal in Srinagar and at Teen Murti House in New Delhi. For Indira Gandhi Kashmir was an abiding interest she invented from her family. Like Nehru, she was a passionate lover of Kashmir and recognized its astonishing beauty and diversity. Naturally, she often accompanied her father to Kashmir and they generally stayed with Karan Singh. Likewise, Karan Singh used to stay at the Teen Murti House on his visits to Delhi. In course of time, Indira Gandhi too grew to like him very much and they ‘struck up an excellent personal rapport’. Interestingly enough, it was Indira Gandhi who first wrote to Karan Singh on 24 July 1949, addressing him as ‘Yuvarajji’. Apart from expressing thanks for the melons that he had sent to Nehru, she apprises him of the suffering of the refugees in Delhi because of heavy rains. In his very first letter Karan Singh appreciates her concerns for the refugees and hopes that she will be successful in alleviating their sufferings. The other letters before 1966 do not contain political flavours and social concerns, but they certainly articulate the essence of the personal and bear evidence of a close relationship. They also reveal that both Indira Gandhi and Karan Singh had a great common gift of cherishing and nourishing relationships. Karan Singh often invited Indira Gandhi to accompany Nehru to Kashmir with her children and on their visits lie extended generous hospitality to them. Indira Gandhi reciprocated in a similar fashion. In her letter of 20 May 1962 she expressed, ‘1 enjoyed my tea with you and your very beautiful wife. The word beauty is used often so far too casually but she has a quality for which there is no other word.’ Even after Nehru’s death Indira Gandhi continued to stay with Karan Singh on her visits. And when she went to Kashmir for the first time as prime minister, she stayed at Tara Niketan at Chashmashahi and Karan Singh hosted a grand party at Lakshmi Kuteer, the house where Karan Singh’s parents were married. Indira Gandhi wrote to Dr Singh an appreciative note on 19 October 1966: ‘What a delightful lunch party you and Asha arranged. The Lakshmi Kuteer is greatly improved and proved an ideal spot for such a function.’

From the letters of 1966, we see that Karan Singh grew closer to Indira Gandhi and began to seek her cooperation and guidance in his political life. As daughter and companion, Indira Gandhi had grown with Nehru’s policies and understanding. Likewise, Karan Singh grew up with the liberal political training, personal guidance and abiding support of Nehru. Nehru was the role model for both of them. While Nehru groomed Dr Karan Singh in the best traditions of modern democratic politics and utilized his services as conscience—keeper of the centre in Jammu and Kashmir, Indira Gandhi provided enormous support and opportunities to share and carry on the task of nation-building in the tradition pioneered by Nehru. Before ushering Dr Singh on to the national political stage she chose him to succeed her as the president of the Bal Bhavan Society and later as secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund when she became pune minister. The letters also show that the idea of setting up of a research institute in the memory of Jawaharlal Nehru was conceived by Karan Singh and he was actively involved in the founding of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. It was also with his initiative and support that the Nehru Planetarium was built to popularize Nehru’s interest in science.

With Indira Gandhi’s election as prime minister, Dr Karan Singh decided to enter national politics. He met her on 18 January 1966, immediately after her election, and on seeing him Indira Gandhi quickly said ‘I wish you were in Parliament now.’ [t was the green signal for as far as Dr Singh was concerned. However he kept mum on this issue while he wrote in detail about the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir and stressed the need of tackling the problem of regional disparities. It was only on 17 August 1966 that he wrote to Indira Gandhi: “You will recall that over the last few months I have mentioned several times my desire to relinquish office of Governor and seek a more active participation in national politics} He added: ‘In view of the fact that General Elections are approaching, I write to seek your approval to my requesting the President to accept my resignation from the post of Governor of Jammu and Kashmir some time next month.’ Indira Gandhi replied on the next day saying, ‘I fully understand and appreciate that having served as Head of the State in Jammu and Kashmir for nearly two decades now, you should wish to have a change and think of more active participation in national politics. With your ability and experience you would certainly be an asset to political life. But under the prevailing circumstances I am worried at the thought of a new person taking up your important position. That is why I should like you to agree to stay on in your present office for the time being.’ The last letter of the year 1966 reflects Indira Gandhi’s concerns for the drought-stricken areas and the approaching general elections. She wanted that, ‘The states which have a good crop should spare more than their “surplus” for the deficit states.’ Since Indira Gandhi was spearheading the first Congress campaign in the elections after the passing away of Nehru, she was in high spirits and wanted to take utmost care. She wrote to Karan Singh on 31 December saying, ‘We should remember the special responsibilities which devolve upon us because we are in office. We must ensure that elections are smooth, peaceful and fair.’

In his first letter of 1967, Karan Singh informed Indira Gandhi that three opposition leaders in Jammu and Kashmir had complained to him about the rejection of nomination papers of a large number of opposition candidates and that they wanted an appointment with the prime minister. He was opposed to such unethical practices which could create a most unfavorable impression and stressed that in view of immense national and international implications of elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the whole issue should be considered in the proper perspective. The verdict of the general elections greatly reduced the Congress margin and Karan Singh offered to work for the Congress by entering into the political fray. On 10 March he took membership of the Congress in the presence of the S. Nijalingappa, the Congress president, and on 12 March, he received a call from Sushital Benerji, joint secretary at the prime minister’s office at that time, saying that the prime minister would like him to join her cabinet as minister for tourism and civil aviation. On I6 March he took the oath and on this changeover he noted in his autobiography: “Now one major phase of my life had ended and I was on the threshold of a new career. I had at last moved from the crown to the heart of India.’ On that very day Indira Gandhi wrote to him emphasizing the need of paying special attention to promoting tourism. She suggested: “While Indian tourists need to be looked after; our immediate attention should be on augmenting our foreign exchange earnings through Tourism.’ And, ‘I should be grateful if you would keep me informed of the steps taken or proposed and of the trends of achievement.’ Karan Singh replied in a similar vein: ‘l will keep you in touch with developments, and seek your guidance and advice from time to time on various aspects of Tourism in which you are so keenly interested.’ He continued to take interest in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir and also urged Indira Gandhi to “take a more direct interest in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir where the situation, not only from the point of view Of the Congress Party but in the context of our national interest, appears no be steadily deteriorating. The question of regional autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir has been always an issue of prime concern for Dr Karan Singh and he sent a detail outline of it to Indira Gandhi.

The letters of 1968, apart from dealing with administrative matters, provide an insight into the detailed talks between Karan Singh and Sheikh Abdullah after the latter’s release from house arrest, on issues like Kashmir, national integration and the secular orientation of Indian polity. In 1968 Karan Singh and his wife paid a private visit to Nepal but discussed various issues of national concern with the king and his ministers. He sent a detailed impression of his talks to Indira Gandhi. In her letters, Indira Gandhi wrote mainly about recovery from the drought situation and advocated that, ‘Important national problems should be placed above parties and politics] She also raised; ‘The year just past has also been a landmark in political Terms. The Fourth General Elections marked a watershed and we have now entered a period of multi—party government and coalitions.’

At the opening of here year I969, Karan Singh was minister—in—attendance during the visit of the emperor of Iran and the empress, Farah, from 2-13 January. He sent two detailed notes to Indira Gandhi. The first note Offers a broad political assessment which came out from their conversations. While the Shahanshah discussed various matters relating to Kashmir but kept silence on the political aspects, his foreign minister’s attitude on Kashmir was entirely in favour of Pakistan. The other note makes some suggestions regarding various arrangements for foreign dignitaries which include their exposure to the rich cultural and artistic heritage of India.


Preface vii
Editor’s Note ix
Letters 1
Appendix 378
Index 385
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