This is the text of an article I have contributed to a book of essays - it's my revised text but is different in some particulars from the text as published, in which the notes in particular were amended. The full reference to the published article is: Andrew Whitehead, 'The Making of the New Kashmir Manifesto' (pp,15-32) in India at 70: multidisciplinary approaches, edited by Ruth Maxey and Paul McGarr, Routledge: London and New York, 2020
The Making of the New Kashmir Manifesto
In May 1949, India's prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote to his friend and ally Sheikh Abdullah, the prime minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to warn about one of the Kashmiri leader's key advisors. B.P.L. Bedi, a Punjabi and a communist, was an influential figure in Sheikh Abdullah's inner circle. Nehru wanted Bedi kept at a distance. He said that 'quite a number' of the embassies in the Indian capital 'are greatly worried at, what they say, [is] the communist infiltration into Kashmir'.
Most of them have heard about Bedi and they enquire about him. ... I have no personal grievance against Bedi, but in view of the trouble we are having with the Communist Party in India, naturally Bedi's name is constantly coming up before people here. Whatever Sheikh Abdullah's reply, Nehru wasn't satisfied and a few days later he wrote again:
You referred to the Bedis. I rather like them and especially Freda. I know that Freda left the Communist Party some years ago. What she has done since, I don't know. But so far as I know, Bedi has continued in the Party, and the Party, especially today, does not tolerate any lukewarm people or those who do not fall in line with their present policy. I do not want you to push out the Bedis and cause immediate distress to them. But I do think that no responsible work should be given to them and they should be kept completely in the background.
Nehru need not have worried. Kashmir's prime minister may not have taken kindly to advice from Delhi, but he was becoming disenchanted with the divided loyalties of his communist supporters. B.P.L. Bedi's influence was on the wane in Srinagar and he was also increasingly out of step with the Communist Party of India, which had lurched towards an ultra-left policy of support for peasant insurrection. Within a few years, Bedi was out of Kashmir and out of the party.
Throughout the 1940s, B.P.L. Bedi and his English wife, Freda Bedi, were influential figures within Sheikh Abdullah's party, the National Conference. The party was the main standard bearer of Kashmiri nationalism and an opponent of princely autocracy. B.P.L. Bedi performed a signal contribution to it: he put together the party's landmark statement of political purpose. This was not simply a collection of slogans and demands but a substantial forty-four page document, containing a proposed constitution for Jammu and Kashmir and a detailed economic plan. It was both a manifesto for the National Conference and a blueprint for Kashmir's future. Sheikh Abdullah spoke approvingly of this 'revolutionary' document and recounted how Bedi and other communists came to his aid in compiling what became known as Naya or New Kashmir:
To compile the manifesto we requisitioned the services of a famous progressive friend from Panjab [sic], B.P.L. Bedi. ... Bedi's sharp-minded, elegant wife Freda typed the manuscript. The manifesto completed, the concerned departments of the National Conference gave their approval to it.
New Kashmir stands out for the breadth of its ambition and the radicalism of the policies it espoused. The political scientist Sumantra Bose has described it as 'the most important political document in modern Kashmir's history'. Few nationalist parties had ever sought to put together such a comprehensive statement of their political aims. When in October 1947 Sheikh Abdullah came to power in the Kashmir Valley, 'New Kashmir' was the name by which his project of modernising the former princely state became known. Some of its main provisions, particularly in agrarian and land reform, were acted upon. More broadly it marked out the National Conference as socialist in its political outlook - a progressive force in a corner of the sub-continent where there was little radical lineage - and distinguished the party from its politically and socially more conservative rival, the Muslim Conference.
This chapter seeks to retrieve something of B.P.L. Bedi's method in compiling New Kashmir, and his debt in particular to what is at first glance an unlikely model for a political dispensation in a princely state, much of which nestled in the foothills of Himalayas. The source of inspiration was the constitution for the Soviet Union adopted in December 1936 and generally known as the Stalin Constitution. The other key aspect of New Kashmir, the advocacy of far reaching land redistribution, has a less clear derivation - though Bedi claimed this too as his handiwork. This article examines the enmeshing of the Bedis' political activity with the ebb and flow of progressive politics in Kashmir. It also traces B.P.L. Bedi's political role in Kashmir until, in the early 1950s, he broke with both Sheikh Abdullah and the Communist Party. Sheikh Abdullah himself became undone not long after. He was dismissed from office in August 1953 and detained on suspicion of working with other countries to revisit the state's hurried accession to India. It was another twenty-two years before Abdullah regained power in Jammu and Kashmir.
Baba Pyare Lal Bedi was born in 1909 in Punjab into what he described as a feudal family. He grew up in a village and the rural Punjabi idiom he picked up served him well in later life as a leader of the communist-aligned peasants' movement. After attending Government College, Lahore, Bedi followed in his brother's footsteps to Oxford University, with the intention of sitting the exams for admission to the Indian Civil Service. He quickly forsook that ambition and became embroiled in both nationalist and communist politics. He attended meetings of the Oxford Majlis, where Indian students gathered, and of the communist October Club, where his physique - he had been a hammer-thrower and wrestler - was put to good use to discourage barrackers and gatecrashers.
Bedi was loud, gregarious and outgoing. His student girlfriend was the opposite: a little shy, but both inquisitive and stubbornly determined. Freda Houlston was from a conventional middle-class household in Derby in the English East Midlands and went to a girls' school where only a handful of leavers went on to University and then rarely to Oxford. She later described her student years as 'the opening of the gates of the world', a literal as well as a metaphorical truth. In spite of the initial disapproval of Freda's family, and disciplinary action by her college which Freda believed was straightforward racial discrimination, the couple married at Oxford Registry Office in June 1933 just a few days after their final examinations. Freda was probably disappointed by her third-class honours; Bedi fared still worse, but his fourth-class honours - a sign of academic mediocrity - did not prevent him enrolling for doctoral research in Berlin. Their romance was strengthened by intellectual collaboration, with Freda probably taking the lead. 'She was quieter; she was the disciplining force behind B.P.L.', recalled Pran Chopra, who was part of the same social circle in Lahore. By the time the couple arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) with their baby son in October 1934 they had co-edited for the left-wing publishing house Victor Gollancz three substantial volumes about contemporary India.
Freda's first footing on Indian soil was marked by a rigorous search of the couple and their luggage. 'We had been listed as "politicals" because of our activities in London, mild though they were', Freda recalled. 'And we were subjected to body searches ... and even Ranga's little napkin was taken off and searched because they thought I might be carrying messages in it.' The British authorities were determined to prevent communist and militant nationalist propaganda being smuggled into India. 'Even in Hitlerite Germany', B.P.L. lamented, 'the search was never so thorough as here.' For Freda, it must have seemed as if from the moment of her arrival in India, she was seen by the Raj as suspect. It can only have reaffirmed her identification with India and her rejection of Empire and the indignities it imposed on those it ruled.
Once settled in Lahore, B.P.L. Bedi acted on an idea put forward by his doctoral supervisor in Berlin, Werner Sombart. With his wife's active support, Bedi established a serious-minded nationalist and progressive quarterly, Contemporary India. This was an ambitious venture. The quarterly survived for ten issues over 1935-37, each consisting of 160 or more pages. B.P.L. Bedi named himself as the editor; Freda Bedi was the managing editor. Many of India's most renowned nationalist-minded academics served as contributing editors. The rising star on the radical wing of the Indian National Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose, was among the contributors. Contemporary India's agenda included India's economic and financial prospects, the development of industry and the plight of its peasantry, demands for Congress to develop a more activist approach, and also issues relating to gender, caste and popular culture. Its scope was international as well as nationalist. Articles ranged across developments in Burma, Japan and Palestine as well as Hitler's increasing grip on power in Germany and developments in Stalin's Russia. The penultimate issue published in full both the new Soviet constitution adopted towards the end of 1936 and Stalin's speech commending it.
From the late 1930s, the Bedis were part of an informal group of leftists and progressive intellectuals who spent much of the summer in the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, away from the punishing heat of the Punjab plains. Among these were the progressive writer Mulk Raj Anand and two men who later became commanding figures in Indian cinema, Balraj Sahni and K.A. Abbas. When in Lahore, Kashmiri nationalists met - and sometimes stayed with - leading leftists in the city. Strong bonds of friendship and political affinity developed. The Communist Party of India saw a clear opportunity both to recruit in the Kashmir Valley and to shape the agenda of progressive nationalism there. The Bedis were remarkably adept in winning over a small but talented group of young Kashmiris to the communist cause. The CPI was banned in Punjab province from the summer of 1934 for eight years - until Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union prompted the international communist movement to support what they had previously denounced as an imperialist war. The party achieved influence through the Congress Socialist Party, through front organisations of which the peasants' movement was among the most important, and through reform-minded non-communist parties.
B.P.L. Bedi was detained for fifteen months in a camp in the Rajasthan desert during the early part of the Second World War as the British sought to quarantine communist activists who might seek to sabotage military recruitment. Freda Bedi also spent three months in jail after courting arrest as part of Gandhi's campaign of opposition to India's conscription into the allied side in the war. After their release, Kashmir became an increasing focus of their activity. Bedi recalled that he happened to be in Kashmir on 8 August 1942 when the Congress announced its Quit India campaign, a civil disobedience movement demanding an end to British rule. According to Bedi's own account, he persuaded Sheikh Abdullah and other leaders of the National Conference to keep some distance from the Congress campaign to avoid giving a pretext for their arrest. Most of the national leadership of the Congress spent the rest of the war behind bars. Sheikh Abdullah had built up a strong personal and political allegiance with Nehru and the enforced departure from the political scene of prominent Congress leaders may have prompted Abdullah to turn more to the communists for guidance and support. In a sign of a new axis emerging in Kashmir, the National Conference conspicuously echoed Indian Communists in praising the Soviet Red Army and its resistance to Hitler's invading forces at a time when Congress refused to endorse the allied side in the war.
Kashmir was a princely-ruled autocracy, and prior to the 1930s there were no political parties, no rights of political assembly and few local newspapers in the Kashmir Valley. Maharaja Hari Singh had in 1934, under British pressure, agreed to constitute a legislative assembly - but it was an advisory body, most if its members were nominated or held an official post and the franchise for elected seats was very restricted. Sheikh Abdullah was the commanding figure in Kashmiri politics from the early 1930s until his death in 1982 - though his career was interrupted by repeated incarceration in first Kashmiri and then Indian jails. The party he led was not the only political force with popular support and at times was probably not the dominant movement, but by 1947 it was certainly the most effective - and as far as can be judged, the most widely supported - in the Kashmir Valley. The National Conference is usually labelled as a Kashmiri nationalist party, reflecting its emphasis on representing the interests of all citizens of the princely state (though its particular focus was the Kashmir Valley rather than Jammu or Ladakh) and not simply its Muslim majority. The party also identified closely with Indian nationalism. By the early 1940s, the National Conference had positioned itself as a progressive force with an emphasis on representing the under-privileged and advocating representative democracy within a constitutional monarchy. The extent to which the party viewed Jammu and Kashmir - or indeed simply the Kashmiri-speaking areas of the state - as a nation in any juridical sense is opaque. It wasn't one of the most pressing issues facing Kashmiri public life - at least, not until late in 1947.
In 1943, Maharaja Hari Singh convened a commission to look at constitutional change in his princely state. The National Conference agreed to take the seats offered it even though there was no expectation that the commission would usher in far-reaching reform. B.P.L. Bedi later recalled how, when a National Conference representative on the commission complained that it was getting nowhere and the party considered withdrawing, he urged an alternative course of action:
So I said, "Withdrawing is alright; anybody can do it; but your glory would be if you give them an alternative, ready-made constitution ... It would be a positive withdrawal. Here you are holding all this constitutional enquiry. We do not want to be associated with this milk-and-water set up. This is what we want. Either grant us this or we walk out, and it will become a historic document, it will be your commitment to the people and it will be your battle cry." They were very happy about it and it was after that, that it came to be drafted on behalf of the National Conference, that New Kashmir document which was presented to the Commission
Bedi's account, recorded twenty-five years after the event, may make him appear a more central actor in this political drama than was the case. But several key figures echo Sheikh Abdullah's recollection that Bedi played the commanding role in the drafting of New Kashmir.
It is striking that most of those who worked with Bedi on New Kashmir were non-Kashmiris. Just as the British party for many years sought to guide and instruct Indian communists, Punjabi leftists took the lead in establishing communist influence in the Kashmir Valley. Sheikh Abdullah didn't seek to disguise the left-wing imprint on New Kashmir, which he described, with some justification, as 'the first ever endeavour of [its] kind in the subcontinent'.
Comments are made sometimes about the impact of communism on the document. One aspect of communist ideology is that it sides internationally with labourers and oppressed people, a fact that the National Conference has always appreciated. It has illumined its conscience not only by the Russian revolution but also by the ideals of the French revolution. Indeed, we too favoured combining the communist ideology with democracy and liberal humanism.
M.Y. Saraf - then a young activist in the National Conference - believed that B.P.L. and Freda Bedi 'had been assigned to Srinagar by the Central Politburo [of the CPI] in Bombay'. It's probable that B.P.L. Bedi was acting with the approval of the CPI leadership - and perhaps at the party's instigation - but at provincial rather than national level. 'It was [the] Punjab Communist Party who drafted the thing. ... It was actually a group of people, but mainly B.P.L. Bedi', recalled Pran Nath Jalali, then a teenage communist in Srinagar- adding that 'there was not much drafting to be done' as New Kashmir was 'almost a carbon copy' of a document produced in Soviet Central Asia.
P.N. Jalali's chance remark prompted a protracted piece of historical detective work - an attempt to track down the document which was, according to his testimony, such an important source for the New Kashmir manifesto. His memory, it turned out, was broadly correct - though the document in question came not from the periphery of the Soviet Union but its epicentre. With hindsight, it shouldn't have taken so long to locate the original. B.P.L. Bedi was more of an activist than an ideologue and given the task of drafting a constitution, it is simply common sense that he would turn to the constitution he admired most and knew best - the one published in his quarterly journal some years earlier. The key constitutional provisions of New Kashmir were not, in any event, being assembled in a post-revolutionary situation where they would shape a new political order. They were being offered as a political statement, an aspiration, rather than as an abiding work of jurisprudence.
Bedi and his colleagues looked to the Stalin constitution not just for general guidance but copied out large parts of it in a manner which entirely justified Jalali's talk of a 'carbon copy'. They must have had before them the issue of Contemporary India containing the 1936 constitution or another identical version - there are some slight differences in translation, for example, from the text published as a cheap pamphlet by the Russia To-day Society in London. There was of course an almost obscene disparity between the rights and democratic dispensation set out in Stalin's constitution and the terror then gripping the Soviet Union - but communists worldwide were largely blind to this until Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956.
Of the fifty clauses of the constitution proposed in New Kashmir, all but eight bore the imprint of Stalin's constitution; seventeen clauses, that's one-in-three, were closely modelled on the Soviet document. In some cases the wording was similar rather than identical. Clause sixteen of the New Kashmir constitution stated that work 'shall be an obligation and a matter of honour to all citizens capable of work', bearing a clear echo of article twelve of the Soviet Constitution which stated: 'Work ... is the obligation of each citizen capable of working'. On other occasions, the wording was a precise copy: in the lengthy clause twenty-three of the constitution in New Kashmir specifying the jurisdiction of the National Assembly, for instance, many of the twenty-two listed responsibilities were reproduced exactly from a similar list, again with twenty-two sub-clauses, in article fourteen of the Soviet document. The wholesale rifling of the Soviet document was extraordinary in its scale - and there was no direct or indirect acknowledgement of the inspiration provided by the Stalin constitution.
As for the contents of New Kashmir, a brief preamble to the proposed constitution declared, in poetic style, that its purpose was 'to raise ourselves and our children forever from the abyss of oppression and poverty, degradation and superstition, from medieval darkness and ignorance into the sunlit valleys of plenty ruled by freedom, science and honest toil, in worthy participation of the historic resurgence of the people of the East'. This impassioned rhetoric was complemented by the more workday language of the clauses of the constitution. These specified equal rights regardless of nationality, religion, race or birth, as well as freedom of conscience and worship, freedom of speech and of the press and freedom of assembly and meeting. This was coupled with the right, indeed obligation, to work; and the right to bear arms was twinned with the obligation of universal compulsory military service. A National Assembly and system of local panchayats (councils) was to be elected 'on the basis of universal equal direct suffrage by secret ballot', with all aged eighteen and over eligible to vote. The document specified the provision of free and universal compulsory education conducted in the mother tongue, while Urdu was to be the 'lingua franca' of the state.
There were a few striking differences between the Soviet and Kashmiri documents which point to the markedly different contexts from which they arose. New Kashmir envisaged a constitutional monarchy, where the maharaja had democratic responsibilities but also retained the right to declare a mobilisation of the armed forces. The draft constitution set down that the jurisdiction of the National Assembly should be subject to 'the general control' of the maharaja, which was consistent with the established approach of the National Conference to seek 'a democratic and responsible government under the general aegis of the Maharaja'. Within another two years, the National Conference had articulated a rejection of the treaty rights and acquisition on which princely rule - particularly in the Kashmir Valley - was based. The Quit Kashmir agitation launched by the National Conference in 1946 - an echo of the Congress's anti-British Quit India campaign of a few years earlier - was directed specifically against the Dogra dynasty, a Hindu princely family whose heartlands were in Jammu rather than in Kashmir. This mass campaign resulted in the arrest and trial of Sheikh Abdullah and many of his colleagues.
There were key omissions from the Soviet document as well as additions. The Stalin constitution gave expression to the leading role of the Communist Party, 'the vanguard of the toilers in their struggle for strengthening and developing the socialist system ... which represents the leading nucleus of all organisations of the toilers, both public and state.' There was no echo of this in the Kashmiri manifesto. Indeed clause four in New Kashmir which asserted the right to combine and organise differed from the Soviet document by stipulating the right of citizens to form political parties. There were limits to how much Bedi and his colleagues could - or wished to - borrow from the Soviet model.
There was also what, with hindsight, appears to be a strange omission in the draft constitution for Kashmir. Nowhere was there a discussion of accession - the issue at the heart of the Kashmir conflict, which has rumbled on from late 1947 until the present day. There was no mention at all of Pakistan (not then in existence, of course, but an aspiration of Jinnah's Muslim League) and only passing references to India. Both the National Conference and the rival Muslim Conference, Idrees Kanth has argued, 'were not exactly coherent in how they anticipated Kashmir's future political relationship with either India or Pakistan, or otherwise'. The working assumption of New Kashmir was that Jammu and Kashmir would remain a separate state, and it put forward - in its proposed constitution and the accompanying economic plan - a series of initiatives and institutions which pre-supposed a national identity: a National Assembly and 'a completely democratic National government', a National Planning Commission, a National Agricultural Council and a National Educational Council tasked to set up a National University. This wasn't so much an assertion of Jammu and Kashmir's desire for independence as a statement that the National Conference - as its name suggests - saw Kashmir as a nation and that its ambitions were limited to the areas under the authority of the maharaja. The issue of accession which has blighted and divided the onetime princely state for more than seventy years was, in 1944, not a topic of political debate. Even towards the close of September 1947, six weeks after India and Pakistan gained independence, when Sheikh Abdullah was released from the maharaja's jail, he urged that Kashmir should achieve responsible government before it considered the issue of accession. It was the invasion of the state by tribal forces from Pakistan in late October 1947 - an informal armed force enjoying the support of sections of Pakistan's new leadership - which served as a political catalyst. That prompted the maharaja's flight from the Kashmir Valley to Jammu and his hurried accession to India. By the time the armed tribesmen had reached the outskirts of Srinagar, the maharaja had been eclipsed by Sheikh Abdullah, whom he had been obliged to appoint as emergency administrator. The Kashmiri nationalist leader had both popular support in the Valley and the confidence of the Indian government, whose troops succeeding in repulsing the invaders.
The introduction to New Kashmir was, as P.N. Jalali remembered it, the only part of the document that required writing; and while in Sheikh Abdullah's name, it was drafted on his behalf. It opened with a quote - without attribution - from the Soviet writer, Ilya Ehrenburg: '"... every new generation has received the torch [of progress] from the bleeding hands of men of thought and light. Today this torch is firmly grasped in our hands."' In grandiose language, Sheikh Abdullah then described the fight in which the National Conference was engaged. 'It is for the poor, against those who exploit them; for the toiling people of our beautiful homeland against the heartless ranks of the socially privileged'. Woven in to Sheikh Abdullah's heroic account of the growth and activities of the National Conference was a passage of purple pro-Soviet prose:
The inspiring picture of the regeneration of all the different nationalities and peoples of the U.S.S.R., and their welding together into the united mighty Soviet State that is throwing back its barbarous invaders with deathless heroism, is an unanswerable argument for the building of democracy on the cornerstone of economic equality.
It reads as if an extract from a Soviet propaganda sheet - which, considering the manner in which New Kashmir was assembled, it might well have been.
The introduction, publishers' note, preamble and draft constitution took up eighteen pages of New Kashmir as it was published in English. The larger part of the document put forward a detailed national economic plan encompassing industry, handicrafts and agriculture and including charters of rights for peasants, workers and women. The tone of this section of New Kashmir was very different from the constitutional clauses - it reads much more as a campaigning document. The ideal of the National Conference was expressed as 'all-in democracy and all-out planning'. Professor K.T. Shah - the secretary of the Indian National Planning Commission established by Nehru - was quoted as advocating the central importance of planning. This reference to Shah, one of only two contemporary figures mentioned by name in the document, is a further indication of B.P.L. Bedi's imprint. K.T. Shah had been a contributor to India Analysed, the three volumes edited jointly by B.P.L. and Freda Bedi and published by Gollancz. He had welcomed the Bedis off the boat at Bombay and hosted the family on their first night together on Indian soil and became a contributing editor to Contemporary India. He was later a member of India's Constituent Assembly - in which he contributed to the discussions on Kashmir - and the left-wing runner-up in India's first Presidential election.
The New Kashmir economic plan advocated, in addition to a planned economy, the abolition of 'the big private capitalist'; all 'key' industries were to be 'managed and owned by the Democratic State of Jammu and Kashmir'. In an overwhelmingly rural state, the most important aspect of the economic document was its provisions for agriculture. The main goals, New Kashmir declared, were 'the organisation of agriculture on a more modern and rational footing and the provision for the peasant of a higher standard of living'. The basic principles were to be the 'abolition of landlordism', the provision of 'land to the tiller' and co-operative association in the production and sale of crops. There was no detailed policy proposal - no stipulation of a ceiling for land ownership or whether landlords would be compensated - but in what was still a semi-feudal state, this huge proposed transfer of land (and so of wealth and power) from the privileged to the peasantry portended a far-reaching social revolution.
'Land to the tiller' was the most resonant of the political slogans proclaimed by New Kashmir. It appears to have been first used by Chinese nationalists in the 1920s and became part of Indian political discourse in the following decade. Both Congress and the communists made much use of the call in their post-independence land reform plans - which indicates how imprecise this demand was - but Sheikh Abdullah was arguably the first significant political leader to be associated with the policy of 'land to the tiller'. New Kashmir also contained a peasants' charter which reinforced the importance given to far-reaching land reform. 'All land which at present belongs to the landlords will revert to the peasant' it declared, while envisaging the abolition of all feudal dues and measures to make the peasant 'completely debt-free'.
B.P.L. Bedi remarked that land reform proposed in New Kashmir was 'a hundred per cent communist program, incorporating the peasant program which we had with the All India Kisan Sabha'. Bedi had been an important figure in the establishment of the communist-led peasants' movement in Punjab and recalled that Skeikh Abdullah had been a 'distinguished visitor' at an early Kisan Sabha rally. Contemporary India published the manifesto adopted in 1936 at an All India Kisan Congress. This had demands - including the abolition of landlordism - similar to those included in New Kashmir, but it was not a precise model in scope or wording. Nor can any direct lineage be established with other early peasants' charters, manifestos and resolutions of the Kisan Sabha. In particular the resonant phrase 'land to the tiller' - which came to be so emblematic of the peasants' movement - didn't appear in these early Kisan Sabha documents.
The National Conference's commitment to redistributing land to those who worked it was the most transformative of the initiatives pursued by Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues when they came to power. In the course of 1948, while Indian and Pakistani armies were at war over Kashmir, the state's new rulers started work on a far-reaching programme of land reform. Two years later, it was introduced - in spite of the misgivings of India's national government. Landlords were restricted to holding about twenty-two acres (excluding orchards and forest) and - after much consideration - they were not awarded compensation. Tens of thousands of small-scale peasant farmers gained land, in a social revolution as bold as any that India has seen. Land reform in Kashmir was, according to a historian of agrarian reform, 'more progressive than in the rest of India' and 'proceeded more democratically than in the rest of the country'. There were loopholes which some landowners exploited to limit the impact of the measures, and corruption and nepotism in its implementation also blunted the impact. The reforms did not end the leasing of land and landless labourers benefitted much less than small tenant farmers from the curtailing of the large landed estates. The preponderance of Hindus among the landlords gave rise to charges that land reform was a communal measure aimed at benefitting the state's Muslim majority. Nevertheless, for all the faults, Sheikh Abdullah's determination to achieve a fairer distribution of land changed the face of rural Jammu and Kashmir.
There was a further aspect of New Kashmir which is both surprising and significant - its approach to gender. Clause twelve of the proposed constitution declared:
Women citizens shall be accorded equal rights with men in all fields of national life: economic, cultural, political, and in the state services. These rights shall be realized by affording women the right to work in every employment upon equal terms and for equal wages with men. Women shall be ensured rest, social insurance and education equally with men. The law shall give special protection to the interests of mother and child. The provision of pregnancy leave with pay and the establishment of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens shall further secure these rights.
This followed closely the wording of article 122 in the Stalin constitution and could be regarded as a reflex copying of the model on which New Kashmir was based. Yet the document also included a four page women's charter, which was a substantial statement of women's political, economic, social, legal, educational and cultural rights. This had a resoundingly progressive tone extending to a commitment to the right to consent to marriage and to divorce, the right to 'enter any profession or trade or do any kind of work of which she considers she is capable', and the establishment of separate colleges for women alongside women's access to men's colleges. Some within the National Conference believed that Freda Bedi helped to ensure this commitment to gender issues - and while she, in contrast to her husband, never sought to claim any responsibility for the manifesto, it is difficult to imagine that her role was (as Sheikh Abdullah suggested) restricted to that of typist.
There were other indications of the National Conference's wish to win support from women. The cover of the English edition of New Kashmir depicted a flag-waving woman, rather crudely drawn, but politically assertive rather than decorative. Her flag was that of the National Conference, a hand plough in white on a red background - an emblem which, as the visiting British Communist Rajani Palme Dutt remarked, bore more than a passing similarity to the Soviet hammer and sickle. The woman is believed to have been a representation of Zuni Gujjari, a renowned National Conference activist from an underprivileged background. When in the aftermath of the repulse of the invading tribesmen, Sheikh Abdullah's supporters published a conspicuously well-produced propaganda tract entitled Kashmir Defends Democracy, Zuni Gujjari was again depicted on the cover. She was shown in a striking red silhouette, lying on the ground and aiming a rifle - the work of the noted artist Sobha Singh. This was set against the background of a photograph of Kashmir's Women's Self Defence Corps walking with rifles on their shoulders. This women's militia along with the much larger men's contingent, another largely communist initiative, was set up when Srinagar was in danger of being overrun, and was another startling indication of the increased role for women at this time of transition and political mobilisation. Several of the women who joined the militia were involved in one of the more tangible expressions of New Kashmir - the setting up of a Government College for Women in a building which once housed the widows of the princely family - though the proto-feminism evident in the manifesto did not reflect, or lead to the creation of, an enduring grassroots women's movement.
The New Kashmir manifesto was handed over in person to the maharaja in July 1944. It was formally adopted by the National Conference at its annual congress held in Srinagar in September. There were some muted misgivings about the determinedly left-wing tone of the document, as well as unhappiness about the continued tolerance of princely rule, but little sustained opposition. One of the most prominent Kashmiri communists noted a sharp discrepancy between the militancy of the manifesto and the outlook of National Conference activists. 'There was an air of unreality about the whole operation', N.N. Raina recalled. 'One thing that is difficult to understand is that the programme was not produced in a high tide of mass upsurge. ... The lack of resistance to its adoption at that time can be attributed to the apathy and scepticism of the cadres rather than the high tide of militancy in the state.' But in what perhaps might be a self-serving argument, Raina asserted that the detailed socialist blueprint of New Kashmir contributed to Kashmiris' 'political enlightenment'.
It's not clear whether Freda and B.P.L. Bedi attended the 1944 annual session of the National Conference, but they were certainly present the following year. A remarkable photo [posted at the end of this article - below] taken during the 1945 gathering includes the Bedis, two future prime ministers of Kashmir and three future prime ministers of India. Jawaharlal Nehru had just been released from jail and promptly travelled to Kashmir to join his daughter, Indira Gandhi. Among the other guests at the session were a Pathan leader from Baluchistan, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, and the Pathan nationalist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, sometimes known as 'the Frontier Gandhi'. In the photograph, Khan is carrying a baby, almost certainly Indira's son, Rajiv. Standing behind this illustrious row of political leaders are Sheikh Abdullah and his colleague and later rival Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. On the right of the group is Freda Bedi (she is clearly pregnant - her son, Kabir, was born in Lahore in January 1946) and behind her, slightly hidden from the camera, is B.P.L. Bedi. Freda and her baby son were in Kashmir the following year when the eruption of the Quit Kashmir movement and the detention of Sheikh Abdullah threw the Kashmir Valley into ferment. The state authorities issued an 'externment' or deportation order against her, which she ignored. She at one point famously dressed in a burka-style garment to meet National Conference leaders operating underground in Srinagar. When Rajani Palme Dutt - on a long visit to India - went to Srinagar as a show of support for Sheikh Abdullah, he was briefed beforehand in Lahore by B.P.L. Bedi and made contact with Freda Bedi once in Srinagar.
The violence surrounding Partition forced the Bedi family out of Lahore. They made Kashmir their new home, arriving in Srinagar in an Indian military plane in December 1947. Freda enrolled in the women's militia, worked with refugees and became a lecturer at the Government College for Women as well as looking after her family. She was entirely invested in the New Kashmir project. 'Kashmir with its Socialist Government [and] its young leaders can lead India, rebuild this miserable Country', she said in a letter to an old friend. 'I've great faith in it, [and] love for it, too. It is beautiful, rich in talent [and] natural resources.' B.P.L. became a key figure in the administration, though with imprecise responsibilities: advising on policy, writing speeches and drafting communications with Delhi, seeking to establish new commercial links to replace those disrupted by Partition and heading a counter-propaganda operation to challenge a barrage of criticism from Pakistan and its supporters. Bedi was proud of the network of informers he created in Srinagar and insisted that their purpose was simply to allow rapid rebuttal of misinformation and market rumours - but it clearly had the potential to be used for a more sinister purpose. Sheikh Abdullah was more effective as a mobiliser than as an administrator and he wasn't instinctively a pluralist. His intolerance of opposition, which extended to the jailing of some of his former allies, took the shine off the idealism of New Kashmir. He formally became the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in March 1948, an appointment which reflected the political eclipse of the Dogra dynasty. He faced no challenge at the ballot box. India's Constituent Assembly began its deliberations several months before independence, and the constitution drafted principally by B.R. Ambedkar came into force in January 1950. Jammu and Kashmir's four representatives took their seats in the Constituent Assembly only in June 1949 - and unlike other princely states, none of these representatives was elected. Sheikh Abdullah was given authority, in the light of the disturbed conditions after the first India-Pakistan war, to nominate the state's representatives. India's constitution included a clause which continues to excite political controversy, even though its practical importance has been greatly diluted over the decades. Article 370 gives Jammu and Kashmir special status within the Indian Union, reflecting both the state's disputed accession and (sotto voce) its unique status as a Muslim majority area bordering Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir was to have its own laws, flag, definition of citizenship - and constitution.
That is how, almost two years after India's constitution came into force, Sheikh Abdullah delivered his opening address to Jammu and Kashmir's Constituent Assembly - an elected body, though the National Conference won all the seats, all but three without a contest. 'Today is our day of destiny', he declared. 'We meet here today, in this palace hall, once the symbol of unquestioned monarchical authority, as free citizens of the New Kashmir for which we have so long struggled.' This referencing of New Kashmir was a repeated theme of Sheikh Abdullah's initial period in power. It has been suggested that the document served both as 'a developmental roadmap' and, in the absence of any other statement of democratic principles and developmental goals, as 'the de facto constitution'. It was another five years before the state's constitution was adopted, confirming that Jammu and Kashmir was 'an integral part' of India; by then, Sheikh Abdullah was in detention. The imprint of New Kashmir survived in a statement that the 'prime object of the State consistent with the ideals and objectives of the freedom movement in "New Kashmir" shall be the promotion of the welfare of the mass of the people by establishing and preserving a socialist order of society'. But beyond an imprecise commitment to a planned economy, there was little detail offered to flesh out what a socialist order of society entailed. The gender provisions of New Kashmir were one of the few aspects to appear in broadly similar terms in the state's 1956 constitution. This asserted women's right to equal pay for equal work as well as the right to maternity benefits, to 'reasonable maintenance' for those divorced or abandoned by their husbands and 'the right to full equality in all social, education, political and legal matters'.
By the time that Nehru took to writing to Sheikh Abdullah warning about B.P.L. Bedi, the subject of his censure had already become keenly aware of Delhi's disapproval. Bedi recalled in later years that -
one of the big jobs about which I feel really happy, was helping in the expropriation of landlords without compensation, and cancellation of indebtedness too. So, the Kashmir policy was very, very soulful in this sense, but at that time it was not without its pains, because very great pressure was exerted by the Government of India for my being sent away from Kashmir, because they felt that leftist policies would be going on more and more adamantly ... if I stayed on there
Certainly Josef Korbel - a Czechoslovak diplomat who was appointed to the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan and was later granted asylum in the United States - regarded Bedi as the communist 'eminence grise' behind Sheikh Abdullah's government. 'If one compares the program and policy of the Communist satellites in Europe with New Kashmir and the practices of the Kashmiri government', Korbel complained, 'one cannot escape the conclusion that Kashmir has already reached the first step towards communization.'
There was an injustice behind some of the sharp criticisms of Bedi. His primary loyalty was to Sheikh Abdullah not the CPI. The communists in Kashmir were in any case sharply divided, and their political influence was curtailed by Sheikh Abdullah's decisive action against left-wingers running the militia. The continuing communist influence in Jammu and Kashmir was above all through a very small number of influential fellow travellers, who were sympathetic to the CPI - and the Soviet Union - but not party members. Of these the most prominent was G.M. Sadiq, who was Jammu and Kashmir's prime minister (and then chief minister when the post was redesignated) for seven years in the latter part of the 1960s. Bedi himself appears to have been moved out of the most sensitive aspects of government and given a role in education. He worked along with his wife in revising school text books - an important task, but not central to the work of the state government.
To add to Bedi's distress, the Communist Party of India - which adopted a sharp change of line shortly after independence and put much of its effort behind a peasant uprising in Telangana in southern India - was critical of Bedi's role in achieving land redistribution by legislative measures.
Now this was the one act which earned me the severest condemnation from the Communist Party, as to why all these measures were not brought about in the Telangana manner: that is by murder of officials, murder of landlords, and then taking over lands and all that. To that I said, "I have never come across a more stupid approach than this. When the entire national movement was adopting the programme, which I myself had drafted, and then the entire national movement plus the government ... without a single mishap the whole thing was implemented. You don't realize that in Kashmir it was not just a mere handing over of power to the national movement ... . It was virtually, if you look at it realistically, a seizure of power."
Bedi recalled with an abiding sense of anger that he was forced out of the CPI. 'I knew that my expulsion from the party was more a reflection on the party itself than upon myself. So I said, "Don't bother. Leave it."' Sheikh Abdullah, on the other hand - in his idiosyncratic 'as told to' reminiscences - put a very different complexion on the political meaning of the land reform measures, suggesting that it was not an indication of communist influence but a means of blocking such influence. He asserted that he 'purged our region of germs of communism by implementing the land reforms and waiving off the farmers' agricultural loans. By these measures we had, if you like, pulled off the carpet from beneath the feet of the communists in the state'. It was a curious repudiation of those Abdullah had himself summoned to help assemble his political arsenal.
By his own account, B.P.L. Bedi decided after the convening of Jammu and Kashmir's Constituent Assembly that his work was done. 'So there was really no political job for me and I had started to search my heart, whether now for the sake of the apples and pears of Kashmir it was justified for me to stay.' This was only part of the story. His family recall a breach with Sheikh Abdullah, which they believe - though this may be an unreliable memory - was because Bedi advised against Sheikh Abdullah's questioning of the finality of the state's accession to India. By the spring of 1953, Bedi had moved to Delhi. His years working with Sheikh Abdullah in Srinagar were the only period in his life when he had regular employment and income. Freda Bedi had to find an income to replace that of her husband, and she took a short assignment with the United Nations in Burma (now Myanmar). While there, she met prominent Buddhist monks and had a moment of enlightenment (her family describe it more as a moment of crisis) which drew her towards Buddhism. Shortly after her return to India, she took personal vows which, it seems, included celibacy and in subsequent years she became a Tibetan Buddhist nun. For a while once settled in Delhi, B.P.L. Bedi was a member of a pressure group supportive of Sheikh Abdullah, the Friends of New Kashmir Committee established by Mridula Sarabhai, but this was about his last entanglement with politics. Faced with the loss of his job and political role and the fracturing of his marriage, B.P.L. too went through a breakdown of sorts. He embraced the occult and other forms of mysticism and spirituality. He never renounced communism but nor did he actively advocate for it any more.
Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, when he replaced Sheikh Abdullah as the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir in August 1953, continued to talk of the goal of New Kashmir. Although he was an opponent of the left, he shared many of the progressive ideals which underpinned the National Conference. The term New Kashmir was also used at times as an invocation or badge - an assertion that while Sheikh Abdullah had gone, his political legacy was not being repudiated. From the moment of Abdullah's overthrow and arrest, the most burning aspect of Kashmir's political life became managing the unequal relationship with the Indian government. On that, New Kashmir offered little in the way of a compass bearing. A manifesto is always very much of its moment, serving an immediate political purpose. New Kashmir confirmed the radicalism, ambition and intellectual dynamism of the National Conference and helped to bolster its hegemony in the popular politics of the Kashmir Valley. The way in which New Kashmir was compiled reveals Sheikh Abdullah's political pragmatism. The manner by which communists assembled New Kashmir doesn't diminish the importance of the document, but it does enrich an understanding of Sheikh Abdullah's brand of nationalism during the brief period when it was the dominant political force in the Kashmir Valley.
Seventy-five years on from its drafting, New Kashmir is remembered but not read. It is a testament to the manifesto's originality and the manner in which it defined what was then the main trend within Kashmiri nationalism that its reputation has lasted for so long. That's rare among what are so often ephemeral documents. New Kashmir's near contemporary - Let Us Face the Future, the reforming manifesto on which the British Labour Party won the 1945 general election - is similarly venerated because of the political moment it captured. Yet one manifesto led, in a roundabout way, to the pulling of the political carpet from underneath the other. The Labour Party document committed Britain's new government to 'the advancement of India to responsible self-government'. The manner in which that was executed, and the failure to establish the enduring status of Jammu and Kashmir before Britain's withdrawal, sparked the conflict about who governs Kashmir. Kashmiri politics and public life has become so wrapped up in the issue of status - whether Kashmir is an integral part of India, or should have an exceptional level of autonomy within India, or should be separate from India - that a manifesto which is silent on this issue seems obsolete. There appears to be little space these days for a progressive nationalism in Kashmir.
 Jawaharlal Nehru to Sheikh Abdullah, 30 May 1949 - Nehru, Selected Works, 2nd series, vol 11, pp143. I am very grateful to Sehar Iqbal, Hafsa Kanjwal and Chitralekha Zutshi for their comments on a draft of this chapter.
 Nehru to Abdullah, 4 June 1949, SW, vol 11, pp149-151
 Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, The Blazing Chinar: an autobiography, translated from the Urdu by Mohammad Amin, Srinagar: Gulshan, 2013, pp 217-8. Sheikh Abdullah's account also mentions the assistance in the drafting of New Kashmir of several other prominent communists: M.D. Taseer, K.M. Ashraf, Danial Latifi and Ehsan Danish. Latifi is reputed to have drafted the manifesto of the Muslim League in Punjab at around the same time.
 Sumantra Bose, Kashmir: roots of conflict, paths to peace, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2003, pp25-6
 Freda Bedi's remarkable life is examined in Andrew Whitehead, The Lives of Freda: the political, spiritual and personal journeys of Freda Bedi, Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2019 forthcoming
 Pran Chopra interviewed by Andrew Whitehead, Delhi, April 2007
 B.P.L. Bedi and Freda Bedi (eds), India Analysed, London: Victor Gollancz, three volumes, 1933-4. The Bedis' did not write for these volumes beyond an introduction.
 Autobiographical audio recordings made by Freda Bedi in the mid-1970s in the possession of her family
 Transcript of an interview with B.P.L. Bedi in 1969, deposited at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi, ff60-62. I am very grateful to Sunandita Mehrotra for consulting this transcript on my behalf.
 There is a full set of Contemporary India in the British Library at P.P.3779hc
 For communist influence in the National Conference, see Asifa Jan, Naya Kashmir: an appraisal, Srinagar: Zeba Publications, 2006, pp59-86; Andrew Whitehead, 'The People's Militia: communists and Kashmiri nationalism in the 1940s', Twentieth Century Communism: a journal of international history, 2010, 2, pp141-168; Idrees Kanth, 'Seeking Futures, Shaping Pasts: the ambiguities that have defined the political discourse of aazadi in Kashmir, PhD thesis, University of Leiden, 2018, chapters 1 and 2.
 Testimony to the Bedis' remarkable success in attracting Kashmiri recruits to communism and the CPI can be found in C[hristabel]. Bilqees Taseer, The Kashmir of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Lahore: Ferozsons, 1986, pp141,175 and Peer Giyas-ud-Din, Jammu and Kashmir State and Society: Communist movement in Kashmir, Jammu: Jay Kay Book House, 1999, p53
 For an important discussion of the changing Kashmiri conception of its homeland, see Chitralekha Zutshi, Languages of Belonging: Islam, regional identity, and the making of Kashmir, Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003.
 One account suggests that three Kashmiris, all communists, were part of a drafting committee - D.N. Dhar, Kashmir: the land and its management from ancient to modern times, New Delhi: Kanishka, 2004, p183
 Muhammad Yusuf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, Lahore: Ferozsons, 2 vols, 1977 and 1979, 1, p643
 Pran Nath Jalali interviewed by Andrew Whitehead, Delhi, 30 March 2007. A carbon copy was the under-copy of a typed document, separated from the top copy by a piece of carbon paper which produced a less distinct version of the typescript. Nowadays the same meaning might be conveyed by the phrase 'cut and paste'.
 The Soviet Socialist Constitution, a 28-page pamphlet brought out by the Russia To-day Society in London, undated but probably published in 1937. The Communist Party of Great Britain also published a sixteen page guide to the constitution, The World's First Socialist Constitution, .
 The publishers' note accompanying the most widely circulated version of New Kashmir, an undated pamphlet published in Delhi, included two inconsequential mentions of Pakistan. Idrees Kanth, PhD thesis, p41
 The invasion and accession is narrated in Andrew Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir, New Delhi: Viking Penguin, 2007
 The quote from Ilya Ehrenburg was taken from an article included in Russia Horizon: an anthology, compiled by N. Gangulee, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1943.
 New Kashmir was also published in Urdu, with the translation apparently undertaken by a National Conference leader, Maulana Masoodi..
 Mridu Rai, 'The Indian Constituent Assembly and the making of Hindus and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir', Asian Affairs, 2018, 49:2, pp201-221
 I am grateful to Deepak Malghan and to M.A. Oommen for their insights about the genesis of the slogan 'land to the tiller' in the Indian context.
 Bedi transcript, NMML, f262. Sabha translates as assembly or congress.
 For example, the documents republished in Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A History of the Kisan Sabha, Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1995
 Sehar Iqbal, 'Social Impact of State Development Policy in Jammu and Kashmir: 1948 to 1988', PhD thesis, University of Kashmir, chapters 3 and 4.Grigory Kotovsky, Agrarian Reforms in India, New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1964, pp114-5
 Sehar Iqbal tells me that she heard this from a member of a family closely allied to Sheikh Abdullah.
 Rajani Palme Dutt, 'Travel Notes No. 5', Labour Monthly, London, October 1946, 28/10, pp319-326
 Hafsa Kanjwal, 'The New Kashmiri Woman: state-led feminism in Naya Kashmir', Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai, 53/47, 1 December 2018.
 The extent to which Sheikh Abdullah's successor abided by the principles of New Kashmir is discussed in Hafsa Kanjwal, 'Building a New Kashmir: Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and the Politics of State-Formation in a Disputed Territory (1953-1963)', PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 2017
 The arc of Sheikh Abdullah's early political career is discussed in Andrew Whitehead, 'The Rise and Fall of New Kashmir', in Chitralekha Zutshi (ed), Kashmir: history, politics, representation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018
A remarkable photo apparently taken at the annual session of the National Conference in Kashmir in 1945 - from the left: Mridula Sarabhai, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the 'Frontier Gandhi') holding (very probably) Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Abdullah, an unidentified couple, B.P.L. Bedi and Freda Bedi. Freda Bedi is clearly pregnant - her third child, Kabir Bedi, was born in January 1946.