K B Jandial
Fifty six years after his death, Maharaja Hari Singh did a remarkable feat for his native place- he ‘united’ Jammu on at least one issue, be that is on public holiday on his birthday. Even though Mehbooba Govt didn’t accede to the growing demand for a public holiday on 23rd September, Maharaja’s soul must be extremely contended to see that he was able to unite almost all organisations-political, cultural, social, literary, youth, trade and Industry. The magnitude of the public functions, mostly in the winter capital of the State and public enthusiasm is indeed a greater achievement of the cause rather than getting a public holiday.
And the Maharaja too ultimately got the ‘justice’, perhaps for the first time, in shape of love, affection and respects from the political leaders including of rival hues; his family and above all the ordinary Dogras. He died in wilderness on 26th April, 1961 at Bombay, far away from his motherland on which he had ruled as a progressive, reformist and true secular Monarch who considered justice to his subjects as his true religion. His death brought down the curtain on a saga of a long journey of an upright and fearless Dogra ruler who had a mixed bag of bright and dark spots. It was also a story of conspiracies and betrayals, even by those who today are championing the restoration of dignity of the Maharaja in which Jammu sees its own identity. It not a time to analyse and recall the betrayals and conspiracies, this great Dogra suffered at the hands of his loyalists, family as well as the political leadership in his last phase of his life but to rejoice over the tumultuous celebrations on his 123rd birthday. It is a great tribute Jammu could offer him on this great soul.
There is no need for ” disappointment” over rejection of the holiday on Maharaja’s birthday nor necessity to compare it with Sheikh Abdullah’s birthday as Kashmir doesn’t celebrate his birthday publicly, much less the public enthusiasm that marked Maharaja’s birthday. Questions are being asked to those who express “disappointment” as to what they were doing when Sheikh withdrew this holiday or when they were in absolute power.
But if the BJP is able to persuade Mehbooba to declare 23rd September as a public holiday it would be a great thing for the State, particularly the crusaders of this movement who picked up the threads 68 years after his birthday holiday was withdrawn by his then Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah. Surprisingly, when Maharaja Hari Singh, still the constitutional head, found his birthday holiday missing in the list of public holidays for 1949 in the State Gazette he protested to Sardar Patel with whom he had good relationship and sought his intervention which never came. There was no protest in Jammu and instead one biradari extended its support to Sheikh Abdullah for his progressive policies.
Public holiday on birthday of any leader smacks of feudalism which era has since been over. Even Maharaja Ranjit Singh did not get this perceived ‘honour’ and so are the Maharaja Jivajirao Scindia of Gwalior, Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur and many others. In Independent democratic India, there is no justification for public holiday on birthday of any of the erstwhile Maharajas or great political leaders. Only Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2nd October is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti with holiday. Since 2007, this day is being observed in the world as International Day of Non-Violence as a tribute to Gandhi ji reaffirming “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”. There is no holiday on birthdays of any of the outstanding leaders and freedom fighters like Neta ji Subhash Chandra Bose, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Azad, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. S. Radhakrishan, Indira Gandhi, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and many more whose contributions are unparalleled. Sheikh Abdullah’s birthday is perhaps an exception which too has no justification, and needs to be withdrawn on the same principlewhich should not be taken as insult to this great leader.
There is a need to go beyond the issue of holidays which in any case J&K has perhaps the maximum number that too needs to be rationalized after taking a look in the neighbouring states including the only Sikh majority State of Punjab where holidays are not listed even for all of the most revered Sikh Gurus. One can understand the sentiments attached to birthday of the last Dogra ruler but then why not start fromthe founder of Dogra Rule, Maharaja Gulab Singhwho extended State’s boundariesup to Gilgit and Tibet.
More important than the birthday holiday is the forthcoming Accession Day on 26th October that demands greater attention of the people and the political leadership including BJP that is better known as hard core nationalists. Signing of the Instrument of Accession on 26th October, 1947 was the last historic act of Maharaja Hari Singh which has changed the course of the life of the people of the State. Just imagine our fate had we gone to Pakistan, albeit, “Terroristan”.
J&K’s special status under Article 370 has anything to do with the finality of accession. This is a deliberate attempt to keep flogging a dead horse. J&K is an integral part of India; it is not a mere slogan but a reality having mandated in the Preamble of J&K Constitution. While ratifying the accession, the Preamble says, “We, the people of the State of J&K, having solemnly resolved, in pursuance of the accession of this State to India which took place on the twenty-sixth day of October, 1947, to further define the existing relationship of the State with the Union of India as an INTEGRAL PART thereof, and to secure to ourselves-….”Itsunamendable Section 3 states, “The state of Jammu & Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India.” The State legislature is specifically debarred from entertaining any Bill seeking amendment of Sections 3, 5 and 147. Then where is the scope of confusion on the finality of accession.
Accession Day should be a day of fulfillment and jubilation but inexplicably it was never observed as such. Amidst self-created uncertainty on J&K’s Accession with India, the day evokes diverse public response in Kashmir, Jammu & Ladakh. Kashmir observes it as a ‘black day’ while Jammu has started celebrating the day on low key with Ladakh too following the same narrative. Be celebrations, its absence or shut downs, nothing can abate the importance and finality of constitutional and historical Day.
On separatists’ call, Kashmir now observes shut down on 27th October, protesting against landing of Indian forces in Srinagar on that day in 1947, conveniently forgetting that they were welcomed by Kashmiris as saviors who had pushed back Pak army supported columns of marauders accused of committing mayhems on way to Srinagar. Jammu which is emotionally more integrated with India had, by and large, ignored the Accession Day in the past as a non-event but, of late, started celebrating it. Since 26th October is also happened to be martyrdom day of Brig. Rajinder Singh, itover shadows Accession Day celebrations organised at the statue of Maharaja Hari Singh near Tawi Bridge.
After ratification of the accession by the State’s Constituent Assembly on 6th February, 1954, the then PM, Bakshi Ghulam Mohd, started celebrating 6th February as Yuma-e- Ilhaqin Jammu which happened to be the seat of power in winter. Every year, impressive procession used to be taken out culminating with public rally addressed by Bakshi himself. But after his ignominious exit, this practice was quietly buried.
It is strange that the ‘nationalist forces” and mainstream parties displayed lack of commitment to Accession Day all these years and allowed the separatists and their likes to convert the historic day into a ‘black day’? It is not that the Accession Day had always been observed as ‘black day’ right from days of Independence. As precursor to MUF creation, some anti- India ‘converts’ gave the call for ‘black day’ in Srinagar in 1985. Since then the situation had been drifting with ruling parties almost giving these elements a walk-over and ‘black day’ became annual feature in Kashmir which was never politically countered. It is a major political failure. Why it was allowed to happen?
The State and the Central Governments had preferred to look the other way, giving a confused signal to people of Kashmir and the world about the “disputed” status of J&K. Confusion on this important issue multiplied with occasional statements of political leaders including those holding the highest political office describing the accession as “conditional” while others seek resolution of Kashmir “dispute”, meaning that J&K’s accession is yet to be settled. Of late, a great Jammu leader and now a champion of Maharaja Birthday holiday suggested “Hong Kong model” to bring peace in Kashmir.
There is no absolutely confusion on finality of accession. Strictly from legal standpoint, what was required to be done for accession by princely states under the Government of India Act, 1935 or the India Independence Act, 1947, was done. The Rulers of princely States had to decide the issue of accession themselves without reference to public opinion and sign the Instrument of Accession. There is no lacuna in it. In fact, it was beyond the legal requirement as the accession was supported by the most popular leader of the major political party, Sheikh Mohd Abdullah and later it was ratified by the State’s Constituent Assembly. Strangely, Pakistan which pushed armed tribesmen supported by its army on 22nd October, 1947 and illegally occupied 78144 sq. kms. of our territory, called PoK, is calling the shots despite the fact that it had no local standi except that it is illegal occupant of our territory.
The Instrument of Accession (IOA), which was identical for all princely States, was signed by J&K Ruler on 26th October, 1947 which says, “…I hereby declare that I accede to the Dominion of India……” which was accepted by the Governor General of India, Mountbatten of Burma as was required under India Independence Act, 1947 who records on the IOA, “I do hereby accept this Instrument of Accession. Dated this twenty-seventh day of October, Nineteen Hundred and forty-seven”. This was the only legal requirement and thus J&K became a part of the Dominion of India.
However, the Governor General, on behalf of Dominion Govt. wrote a covering letter to Maharaja to “ascertain the wishes of the people as peace returns to the State”. This too was fulfilled with the ratification of the accession by J&K Constituent Assembly, representing the collective will of the people, on 6th February, 1954.
Frequently talked UN resolution for plebiscite too had become redundant as Pakistan didn’t fulfill its obligation in withdrawing its army and other unauthorized settlers from PoK as it was not sure of support of Kashmiris who were the staunch followers of the Sheikh who had snubbed Jinnah on his two nation concept and instead supported accession with India. Moreover, the UN resolution was adopted under chapter VI which is not mandatory.
While the State officially observes 13th July as Martyrs’ day, being the major catalyst of the struggle democracy and end of feudal rule and then why the same status is not accorded by the Govt to Accession Day that marks the culmination of the same struggle? There is a strong case for declaring 26th October as Accession Day by the Govt, holiday or no holiday, and observe it officially in all regions of the State. This will end the confusion on the finality of Accession for all times to come. Let PM Modi, Governor Vohra and CM Mehbooba start greeting the people of J&K on Accession Day from this year and set the tone for future. Are they afraid of anyone? Will anyone especially in Jammu own the struggle for Accession Day as some did for Maharaja’s birthday?