A reinterpretation of J&K’s turbulent times

Col J P Singh
Name of the Book: A Modern History of Jammu & Kashmir. The Troubled Years of Maharaja Hari Singh (1925-49)
Author: Prof. Harbans Singh.
July 2023 edition.
This book is the 1st Volume of a ‘Trilogy of Modern History of Jammu & Kashmir’ by Harbans Singh, who is a Sambyal from Samba. It is a refreshing re-interpretation of political and social upheavals of most turbulent times of sub-continental history. Mahatma Gandhi led mass movement did get India independence but unfortunately it was accompanied by the tragic partition of the country on communal basis. Communal angle attached to the partition cast its evil shadows over J&K being a state which was contiguous to both India and Pakistan and also a Muslim majority. Thus, it faced dire consequences of the partition. During the fluid and transitory stage, as the turmoil prevailed all round, tribals from Pakistan and supported by it invaded J&K in order to forcibly annex it. In these circumstances of geopolitical transformations, Maharaja Hari Singh became the main focus as well as target of forces that were inimical to him and the Dogras. In this book the readers will find analytical exposition of unfortunate happenings in J&K during Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule.
In 17 pages chapter 13 of the book, ‘Politics of Accession’, Prof Singh has vividly brought out that the process of accession is still mired in murky politics. Even when the Princely State was at the verge of being fully run over by the raiders, Pt Nehru and Sardar Patel insisted upon devolution of powers to Sheikh Abdullah. A strange paradox to say the least. Unfortunately, the historians and commentators instead of blaming them for taking the State to a point of catastrophe, blame the Maharaja instead for the delay in accession. Same has been qualified by Dr. Karan Singh, the inheritor of political legacy of J&K, in his foreword of the book. He writes, ‘Maharaja Hari Singh is remembered only for accession of the state which had come under very severe pressure due to the tribal invasion from Pakistan overlooking the series of far-reaching progressive measures which he had undertaken, far ahead of most of India and his rule overshadowed by the accession imbroglio which was grossly unfair. He has appreciated the author for questioning that narrative and re-interpreting the course of unfortunate events realistically for the posterity’. Since the narratives of history are usually framed by those representing the State, the post partition generation too followed the unfair and motivated discourse of history, which evolved into a political force and turned out to be a strong force to be challenged after the independence. In this context, the author has brought out the role of the State Forces which held out against heavy odds till the scales in numbers could be tilted. Led by Maharaja Hari Singh, the State Forces faced the invaders with full might inflicting heavy casualties and unprecedented delay to enable him to accede to India. In the process, they suffered heavy losses. This aspect has been ridden rough shod by the military historians. Despite Maharaja and the State Forces handling the political and military crisis diligently, they were deliberately subjected to negative publicity and the Dogras were seen as hindrance in the democratic transformation and hence maligned by historians who parroted the narrative that had been handed to them by the new rulers. Prof Harbans Singh has challenged that narrative and taken upon himself to prove that the entire discourse of J&K history is biased. As he re-probes into those tumultuous times and the difficulties the Ruler faced, he discovers that greed and retribution was behind such narrative. With focus on the Maharaja yet again, Prof Singh goes on to prove that historians have not done justice to the history of J&K. This he has done with facts. Re-interpretation of facts is in light of objective analysis of the evidence provided by those who had first hand information.
This 400 pages book is divided into 20 easily understandable chapters starting from Sheikh Abdullah led quit Kashmir movement to Maharaja and his family’s wandering from his Empire into three different directions, distance apart and the sudden rise of Yuvraj Karan Singh as Maharaja’s bête noire Pt. Nehru’s protégé and his submersion into political transformation of J&K which sowed the seeds of misunderstanding between father and son. It also exposes dubious, yet dramatic role of Sardar Patel during difficult times of the ruling family and his dinner invitation to the Maharaja and his family makes for a very moving reading. Rise of Dr. Karan Singh to eminence however redeemed Dogra prestige but not to the fullest.
As I read the illuminating chapters one by one, I found the exposition of dubious role of the British in vitiating the peaceful atmosphere of J&K following Maharaja’s patriotic and nationalist statements in the 1931 Round Table Conference in London in which he supported Indian aspirations of self-rule. Maharaja was made to pay a heavy price for such statements. The author has also brought out the secret pact between British Prime Minister Churchill and Mohammad Ali Jinnah that was meant to create Pakistan for the Muslim effort during the World War II. He has also brought out the British plan to hand over Kashmir and Northern regions to Pakistan after the Partition. Till date British intrigues in J&K influences the thought process of many political thinkers which needs to be exploded. Prof. Singh has gone a long way doing it. Another worrying exposition of the book is undermining the historic role of Dogras and State Forces in defending the Northern frontiers of India. On the contrary hurriedly raised civil defence force of Kashmiris in the valley, later rechristened as J&K Militia, was glorified. How unfair treatment was meted out to the valiant State Force who defended the extensive and inhospitable frontiers bravely is intriguing as the State Forces had been a loyal pillar of support to the British during their campaigns in Frontier regions, Afghanistan and both the world wars and yet vilified. This was not only uncalled far but far from truth as the events of 1956 proved when 4 J&K Infantry foiled an attempt of Pakistan forces to capture Hussainiwala Buldge. It is then that the Indian Army and the govt of India felt compelled to absorb the entire State Force into the Indian Army without any screening because they were deemed to be better trained and motivated than the Pakistan Army. It is on record that Jammu and Kashmir State Force was the only state force to have been absorbed into the Indian Army without screening. To redeem their valour and glory, their Chief of Staff and the ‘Saviour of Kashmir’, Brig Rajinder Singh, MVC must be bestowed with Bharat Ratna posthumously. It may also be noted that during the long campaign in J&K in 1947-48, Indian Army lost 76 officers, 31 JCOs and 996 OR making it a total of 1103 out of its 25,000 strength deployed in J&K. Whereas State Force of 6000 suffered a total of 1990 all ranks martyred in this operation. Did they die for nothing or defending their motherland? The state forces were drawn from Dogras, Muslims, Sikhs and Gorkhas, all martial races, hence their sterling role in the defence of J&K needs more acclamation.
Revolutionary revelations of distorted history of J&K by Prof. Harbans Singh in this book will be uniquely insightful for proponents of modern history and young scholars. It will enable them to understand how to cope with the historic deficiencies in the contemporary eco-system. Author beseeches Dogras, particularly the Youth, to support him to redeem the honour and glory of the martial race called Dogras who had conquered invincible Himalayas and gave the country a deep strategic depth for its intrinsic security.
Alastair Lamb, a British historian acknowledges that, ‘People who write about the history of Kashmir generally have in their mind only the Valley and forget the other regions which today form J&K. This book offers a more rounded history of the state than most available scholarship and brings both Maharaja Hari Singh and soldiers of State Force into focus. This volume of trilogy offers a strong and nuanced defence of the Maharaja. It is valuable document in understanding the evolving history of J&K.
The book costing Rs 646 is readily available on Amazon and local book stores. It has already caught the imagination of historians and academicians and hence in great demand. I recommend it to be read by Dogras of all hue.