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Retrofit: How some Brits helped Pak grab Gilgit in 1947

Published May 17, 2017, 3:37 am IST
Updated May 17, 2017, 3:37 am IST
There were many deceitful characters floating around in those uncertain times.
Gilgit-Baltistan region. (Photo: AFP/File)
 Gilgit-Baltistan region. (Photo: AFP/File)

An empire which is toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one that is toppled from within crumbles that much faster. It could be a Trojan or a saboteur who brings it to its knees. History is replete with such examples — from Achilles in Troy (in Greek mythology, he was a hero of the Trojan War and the central character and greatest warrior of Homer’s Iliad) to Mir Jaffar in the decisive Battle of Plassey (who assembled his troops to assist Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah against a much smaller force led by Robert Clive, but did not lead them into combat, thus neutralising the Nawab of Bengal’s fighting efficacy, leading to his rout and subsequent death). The reprobate British did their best to prevent decolonisation as many of them played their part to the hilt in order to serve the Churchillian diktat of keeping a bit of India, using cunning and subterfuge to blindside Indians, as they were ordered to leave the subcontinent after the Second World War. However, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and even Lord Louis Mountbatten fixed the subversive political department under the wily Sir Conrad Corfield.

There were many deceitful characters floating around in those uncertain times. F. Paul Mainprice was one such gadfly. He came from London’s Bexhill and joined the Indian Civil Service in the late 1930s, serving in Assam and Madras provinces. Towards the end of his service, he was transferred to the political department and served as political agent for the states in Assam and later in the crucial areas of Gilgit and Chilas. In 1947, he was acting political agent in Gilgit, from where he was relieved in August when Gilgit was handed back to the Kashmir government.

He reportedly reached Srinagar around August 26-27 and stayed at the famed Nedous Hotel. After about a week, he left for Delhi. He had lots of boxes full of papers with him. In Delhi, it is learnt he contacted Mahatma Gandhi, to whom he gave a certain note on Gilgit, probably on the lines that Gilgit should remain under the Indian government or that of Pakistan. It is further learnt a copy of that note was passed on by him to Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner. He then reportedly left for Kalimpong, as his address there was “Care of Mrs Shariff, Tashiding”.

As we now know, Pakistan got possession of Gilgit-Baltistan through the connivance of two British military officers. In 1935, the Gilgit agency was leased for 60 years by the British from the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir because of its strategic location on the northern borders of British India. It was administered by the political department in Delhi through a British officer. With impending Independence, the British terminated the lease, and returned the region to the Maharaja on August 1, 1947.

The Maharaja appointed Brig. Ghansara Singh of the J&K state forces as governor of the region. Two officers of Gilgit Scouts, Maj. W.A. Brown and Capt. A.S. Mathieson, along with Subedar Major Babar Khan, a relative of the Mir of Hunza, were loaned to the Maharaja at Gilgit. But as soon as Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on October 26, 1947, Maj. Brown imprisoned Brig. Ghansara Singh, and informed his erstwhile British political agent, Lt. Col. Roger Bacon, who was then at Peshawar, of the accession of Gilgit to Pakistan. The conspiracy saw Maj. Brown on November 2 officially raising the Pakistani flag at his headquarters, and claimed he and Mathieson had opted for service with Pakistan when the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession in favour of India.

Earlier, Mainprice had arrived in Srinagar on June 13, 1948. He stayed for some time at Nedous Hotel, then moved into a houseboat. From the beginning, his activities came under the notice of the police. He visited Bandipur, Baramulla and Sopore in the beginning, and then at Baramulla tried to take some photographs and came under the Army’s notice. He was eventually stopped from doing so. He came into very close contact with Dr Edmunds, principal of the local missionary high school, who was incidentally known for his pro-Pakistan sympathies.

Remember this was an extremely fluid and dangerous time. He accompanied him to Mahadev on a trekking expedition. During his stay in Srinagar, he had a close association with Capt. Annette and other Europeans, who were also seemingly pro-Pakistan. He tried to establish contact with local people and was observed trying to get information from them on military movements and the working of the government. It seemed his purpose of staying on in Srinagar was to wait for United Nations Kashmir Commission to arrive and to supply them with data. During the commission’s stay in Srinagar, he first tried to approach the commission, in which he did not succeed, but then contacted Mr Symonds, secretary to the commission, and also he tried through his other European friends to influence the commission through Mr Symonds in favour of the state’s accession to Pakistan.

When his activities got absolutely objectionable, the government was forced to pass an order against him under the Defence Rules to leave the state, but he refused to obey it, calling it a ridiculous and scandalous order. However, under the Defence Rules, the DIG, Kashmir Range, was deputed to inform him he would have to leave the state, and if he refused to do so he would be forced to leave and put on the aircraft. When the DIG reached his houseboat, he was found to be absent and closeted with Capt. Annette in the latter’s boat. He was sent for by the DIG and told he had to leave that day, as the time limit given to him was about to expire. To this he replied that he was not going. The DIG told him the order would have to be carried out and he would have to leave.

At this Mainprice got excited and made a sudden assault on the DIG, knocking off his hat and spectacles, and tried to grapple with other police officers. However, he was overpowered and driven to the airport, where he was put on a plane bound for Delhi. After he left, a magistrate was asked to make an inventory of all his belongings, so that these could be handed over to Capt. Annette, in accordance with Mainprice’s wishes. While making this inventory, some papers were found that indicated Mainprice had been busy writing a note on the happenings in Jammu in a very exaggerated manner, and also a note on the history of Kashmir, including Gilgit; possibly for the benefit of the commission on how the state actually came under Dogra rule.

He also seemed to be trying to compile a census of the population of different communities in various districts of the state. He was busy telling people that he was private secretary to Sir Walter Monckton, constitutional adviser to His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad (one of those opposed to the unification of India and the merger of the princely states with the two dominions). He was also expressing a desire to be closely associated with the UN commission on Kashmir to give them all the information he had collected.

Further, it was discovered he had some links with a certain Anglo-Indian officer of the Royal Indian Air Force, and through him had managed to take some aerial photographs of the state of J&K. It was thus obvious how Mainprice, like so many other assorted characters who were floating around after the British had officially handed over India to Indians, continued to obfuscate and frustrate us.





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