The matter of Princely States was under the States Ministry, which was under the charge of Sardar Patel. Patel had ably dealt with the complexity of over 500 Princely States. As such J&K should also have been left to Patel. However, Nehru, as Prime Minister, had decided to handle J&K himself.

Without the concurrence of Sardar, and without even the courtesy of informing him, Nehru appointed N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, a former Dewan of J&K and a constitutional expert, as a Cabinet Minister without portfolio, to assist him (Nehru) in handling Kashmir. It was this Gopalaswami who had very badly messed up India’s case in the UN later (Blunder#22). Sardar became aware of Gopalaswami’s role indirectly when he [Gopalaswami] issued a note in connection with J&K, without consulting Sardar. Wrote Patel to Gopalaswami on 22 December 1947:            “This question should have been referred to and dealt with by the Ministry of States… I would suggest that the relative papers may now be transferred to the States Ministry and in future the Kashmir administration may be asked to deal with that Ministry direct.”

Gopalaswami let the position be known to Sardar (that what he was doing was at the behest of PM Nehru), and expressed his willingness to dissociate himself from the J&K matter if DyPM Patel so desired. Realising the position, Patel wrote back to Gopalaswami the next day on 23
December 1947: “I would rather withdraw my letter and let you deal with matters as you deem best than give you cause for annoyance.” Meanwhile, Nehru, when he became aware of Patel’s above letter of 22 December 1947, chose to write a rather harsh and bossy letter to Patel on 23 December 1947 :
“Gopalaswami Ayyangar has been especially asked to help in Kashmir matters. Both for this reason and because of his intimate knowledge and experience of Kashmir he had to be given full latitude. I really do not see where the States Ministry comes into the picture, except that it should be kept informed of steps taken. All this was done at my instance and I do not propose to abdicate my functions in regard to matters for which I consider myself responsible. May I say that the manner of approach to Gopalaswami was hardly in keeping with the courtesy due to a colleague?”

Response to such an intemperate letter was on expected lines. Patel wrote to Nehru on 23 December 1947 :
“Your letter of today has been received just now at 7 p.m. and I am writing immediately to tell you this. It has caused me considerable pain. Before I received your letter I had already written to Gopalaswami a letter of which a copy is enclosed herewith. If I had known (that) he had sent you copies of our correspondence I would have sent to you a copy of my letter to him straightaway. In any case, your letter makes it clear to me that I must not or at least cannot continue as a Member of Government and hence I am hereby tendering my resignation. I am grateful to you for the courtesy and kindness shown to me during the period of office which was a period of considerable strain.”

Apparently, the above letter was not sent at Gandhi’s instance, upon Mountbatten’s advice that without Patel the Government could not be run.

Disenchanted and frustrated with Nehru’s hubris, and his improper and thoughtless ways, Patel expressed to Gandhi his wish to dissociate himself from the government in December 1947 and again in January 1948. Wrote Balraj Krishna:
“In taking away Kashmir from the States Ministry and placing it under the charge of Ayyangar who was Minister without Portfolio, Nehru was acting under Abdullah’s influence. To all intents and purposes, he was discarding Patel for Abdullah, ignoring how Patel had stood by his side both as a loyal friend and as a pillar of strength through the tempestuous, nerve-wracking, fateful months preceding and following the transfer of power.”

Nehru wrote a long note to Gandhi on 6 January 1948 seeking his arbitration for his differences with Patel. Gandhi referred the letter to Patel. Patel responded to Gandhi:
“I have tried my best to appreciate what he [Nehru] says on the subject [Hindu-Muslim relations], but howsoever much I have tried to understand it on the twin basis of democracy and Cabinet responsibility, I have found myself unable to agree with his conception of the Prime Minister’s duties and functions. That conception, if accepted, would raise the Prime Minister to the position of a virtual dictator, for he claims ‘full freedom to act when and how he chooses’. This in my opinion is wholly opposed to democratic and Cabinet system of government. The Prime Minister’s position, according to my conception, is certainly pre-eminent; he is first among equals. However, he has no overriding powers over his colleagues; if he had any, a Cabinet and Cabinet responsibility would be superfluous…”

Wrote Durga Das: “Two days earlier [before Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948] I had met Azad and learnt from him that tension between Nehru and Patel had mounted to a point where the Prime Minister had angrily thumped the table at a Cabinet meeting and said: ‘Patel, you do what you like. I will not have it.’ …Nehru’s outburst was basically sparked by the feeling, fed by his courtiers and hangers-on, that Patel was taking the country to the Right… [Now, what was wrong in taking the country to the right! Nehru took the country to dogs with his leftism and poverty- perpetuating socialism!] …When I called on Patel the following day, he told me that Nehru had ‘lost his head’ and he, for his part, had made up his mind not to stand ‘the nonsense any more’. He said he was going to see Gandhi and tell him he was quitting. I said Bapu would never agree to let him go… Patel quietly replied: ‘The old man has gone senile. He wants Mountbatten to bring Jawahar and me together.’…”

Before Gandhi could resolve Patel-Nehru differences, he was assassinated on 30 January 1948. That forced Nehru and Patel together. For the sake of the nation, and to honour the request of the departed soul (Gandhi), Patel sacrificed himself. Patriotically speaking, Patel should not have given way to sentimentality upon Gandhi’s death, and for the sake of the good of the nation, he should have fought out Nehru to its logical end: that is, he should have marshalled all his forces, unseated Nehru, saved India from the depths to which Nehru had ultimately condemned it to, and taken India towards the heights like only he could have.

Notably, even the Deputy Prime Minister of J&K between 1947-53, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad of the National Conference, had become so disturbed and alarmed at the way the J&K issue was being messed up that he met Sardar Patel and requested:
“Why do you [Sardar Patel] not take over the problem and finish it like Hyderabad? Patel replied cryptically: You go to your friend [Nehru] and tell him to keep his hands off Kashmir problem for two months and I will undertake to solve it.”

Writes Rajmohan Gandhi in his book ‘Patel–A Life’:
“Patel was as strongly against the reference to the UN and preferred ‘timely action’ on the ground, but Kashmir was Jawaharlal’s baby by now and Vallabhbhai did not insist on his prescriptions when, at the end of December, Nehru announced that he had decided to go to the UN. Jawaharlal obtained Mahatma’s reluctant consent… Patel’s misgivings were amply fulfilled after India invited the UN’s assistance…”

Jayaprakash Narayan, who had been pro-Nehru and anti-Patel had this to admit later: “Kashmir issue, being left to Nehru, proved to be unfortunate for the nation. Because of Panditji’s mishandling, the issue did no longer remain an internal affair, as it should be, but is smouldering as an international issue in the United Nations and its Security Council, making it possible for Pakistan to rake it up every now and then. Many a veteran leader in the country maintains that had the matter been handled by the Sardar, he would have found a satisfactory solution, and thus prevented it becoming a perennial headache for us and a cause of bitterness and animosity between India and Pakistan.”

Sardar Patel had reportedly remarked to HV Kamath that had Nehru and Gopalaswami Aiyangar not made Kashmir their close preserve, separating it from his portfolio of Home and States, he would have tackled the problem as purposefully as he had already done for Hyderabad.
Sardar Patel had told Air Marshal Thomas Elmhirst:
“If all the decisions rested on me, I think that I would be in favour of extending this little affair in Kashmir to a full-scale war with Pakistan… Let us get it over once and for all, and settle down as a united continent.”

Communist MN Roy, no friend of Patel, was also of the opinion that had Kashmir affair remained with Patel, he would have solved it soon after partition. He wrote in “Men I Met” on Patel:
“Could Sardar Patel have had his way on the Kashmir issue, India would not be today spending fifty percent of her revenue on military budget… the Sardar had no choice but to play the game, but one could be sure that he loathes the stupidity clothes in the glamour of popular heroes [hint on Nehru]…”

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