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On August 4 thus year, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi issued a new map of their country of which Jammu and Kashmir was the obvious focus since the neighbour was retaliating to India’s annulment of the special status of the territory that it controls.

Our goal is Srinagar,” Qureshi declared to beef up his government’s unrelenting campaign against India’s action and overall, what Pakistan considers India’s ‘occupation.’

However, something that went largely unnoticed on the new map was the ‘return’ of Junagadh and Manavadar located in Gujarat. Like Hyderabad (then called Hyderabad Deccan) they had Muslim rulers who aspired to join Pakistan in the early days after the 1947 Partition, but could not do so because independent India’s leadership, particularly Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, had thwarted those plans and consolidate the country’s territorial integrity. This part of contemporary history is well-known.

The point of ‘return’ of Junagadh and Manavadar as part of the Pakistani map stems from the fact that it was there till 1971, when seats for these two places and Hyderabad were allotted, but left vacant, in the Pakistan National Assembly. Only after the birth of Bangladesh in the erstwhile east-wing that Pakistan reconciled to these ‘losses’.

Today, Junagadh the main city of a district in Gujarat, located on the Kathiawar Peninsula on the Arabian Sea, is a boat’s journey away from Pakistan that would not take long. There is nothing in Junagadh and the district’s recent history to suggest the one-time, albeit brief, aspirations of its erstwhile Nawab to accede to Pakistan. From the viewpoint of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ai Jinnah, who had his roots in Kathiawar, Junagadh qualified to be part of Pakistan because of the location on the Arabian Sea, unlike the land-locked Hyderabad located far away in the southern peninsula.

To recall the history in short, by the end of the British colonial rule, India was dotted with over 500 princely states – smaller and larger principalities that in theory remained autonomous from the British administration, although totally at the mercy of the British Crown and its viceroy in New Delhi.

Many, like Hyderabad, Baroda or Kashmir, were large and of significance but most of them – including Junagadh – were small states with little power, whose rulers lived in luxury while the populations were poor. Their future was to be mostly decided in 1947, on the verge of British withdrawal from South Asia. Paupered after World War II and facing hostility of the freedom movement, they were eager to leave and had decided to recall soldiers and bureaucrats from India.

The government in London perceived that the princely states would become independent with the end of its rule. But the new nations-to-be, India and Pakistan, did not want this to happen and their leaders persuaded most of the states that fell within their territories to accede. Given the princely states’ little strength, the process of persuasion was usually peaceful, although there were notable exceptions in both countries. The merger with India or Pakistan was a decision of the rulers, understood as final with their signing of the instrument of accession.

By August 14 and 15, 1947 – the two days when Pakistan and India eventually declared their independence one after the other – nearly all of the princely state monarchs had signed their documents. Those who did not included the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, hence the subsequent disputes. The Indian Army’s much-delayed “Operation Polo”, which was a thrust from three different directions ended Hyderabad’s efforts to go to Pakistan. The dilly-dallying by the Kashmir Maharaja, delay in New Delhi led to a dispute that, taken to the United Nations, remains unresolved till date.

Almost forgotten is that at India and Pakistan’s declarations of independence, Junagadh had decided to join the latter state. Contemporary history books are generally silent. This course of events is only briefly covered in “India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy,” by Ramachandra Guha.

The ruler of Junagadh, Nawab Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III, was persuaded to join Pakistan by his Dewan, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of future of future prime minister Z A Bhutto). It was misconceived and ill-advised. Junagadh, nearly completely surrounded by Indian territory could have only theoretically retained contact with Pakistan through the sea and air. Moreover, while the Nawab and Dewan were Muslims, the overwhelming majority of the population was Hindu. The sovereign’s subjects thus did not like the decision and started protesting against it. These circumstances triggered a protracted and significant political crisis, which was of consequence to general India-Pakistan relations of the time.

What made the situation complex were the decisions of Junagadh’s three vassal states. While the ruler of Bantva-Manavadar (Manavadar, for short) confirmed his accession to Pakistan, the overlords of the two other principalities (Mangrol and Babariawad), declared that they would became part of India, openly challenging the Nawab’s choice. Lok Sabha member from Mumbai South (1977-84) late Ratansinh Rajda once recalled to this writer how the locals protested while the armed police formed the outer circle to express solidarity and support.

This unnerved the Nawab. He reacted by using military force, making it harder for India to not intervene. The vassals’ decisions in 1947 probably explain why the current Pakistani government’s recently unveiled map marks the territory as “Junagadh & Manavadar.”

One recalls that the titular Nawab of Mangrol was a young major in the Indian Army who fought against Pakistan in the 1965 conflict. But to get back to 1947: Pakistan dragged its feet on the issue and eventually decided to accept Junagadh’s joining its territory on September 15, a month after the state’s declaration of accession. This turn of events sharpened the Indian government’s attitude toward settling the broader territory issues with Pakistan.

The underlying idea behind the formation of Pakistan was that it was to be a nation of Indian Muslims located in the north-western and eastern part of South Asia, out of territories where followers of Islam were a majority. Junagadh was not envisaged as part of it, nor was it a Muslim-majority region.

Moreover, on October 22, 1947, a thinly veiled invasion by Pakistani forces in another coveted territory, Jammu and Kashmir, began. Now, if Pakistan could use force against Kashmir, why could India not do the same in the case of Junagadh? And if a Muslim ruler of a Hindu-majority region (the Nawab of Junagadh) could choose to accede to Pakistan, why couldn’t a Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority region (the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir) choose to accede to India? This was how things transpired: On October 26, the ruler of Kashmir, cornered by Pakistan’s aggression, was forced to accede to India. Soon after Indian soldiers began arriving in Kashmir. In November they also entered Junagadh.

Thus ended a short but eventful period of Junagadh belonging to Pakistan, though even at that time this status was confirmed only on paper. The Nawab and the Dewan fled to Pakistan. Fond of dogs whose birthdays and marriages he celebrated with aplomb, the Nawab took them on board the plane and flew to Karachi, never to return.

The little Junagdh militia could not hope to put up resistance against the Indian army, and Pakistan, preoccupied in Kashmir, did not attempt to send its forces in support of the tiny state, thus leaving New Delhi in full control.

In February 1948, a referendum was held in Junagadh (including all of its vassal states) and as per the will of the majority of the voters the territory acceded to India. For its part, Pakistan never accepted the results of the Junagadh referendum.

While the Junagadh dispute is largely forgotten, in 1947-48 it did matter – and it mattered more than the state itself. The Junagadh events were used to raise legal, ethical, and political points in India and Pakistan’s other territorial disputes – primarily the one around Kashmir. But does Islamabad’s marking of Junagadh as Pakistani territory matter now, in 2020? Not at all.

Mahendra Ved
Mahendra Ved is a veteran journalist who has served with the Times of India, Hindustan Times and United News of India. The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

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