Accession Day Holiday: Historic Correction

K. B. Jandial

Like the historic decision of “abrogation” of Article 370 by Modi Govt, the year 2019 came to close with another important decision of declaring the 72-year old historic event of J&K’s accession with India as gazetted holiday along with withdrawing two other holidays, respecting the sentiments of Jammu, perhaps for the first time.
Jammu hails the decision of the Lt-Governor of UT of Jammu & Kashmir, Garish Chander Murmu and his two Advisors of declaring 26th October a gazetted holiday in the UT. Accession was one of the greatest events of our contemporary history as on 26th October, 1947 the ruler of princely State of Jammu & Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession, acceding his State into the Dominion of India. This was accepted by the Governor General of India next day, completing the process of accession under India Independence Act of 1947. Though this irrefutable historic reality doesn’t need any support by virtue of Government order but it does set the tone for our youth and future generations. This has called off the bluff of all those who had been spreading doubts on this settled issue and misleading Kashmiri youth promoting separatist tendencies.
This issue was repeatedly raised in this column along with withdrawal of other two controversial holidays and also by Jammu’s civil society, Jammu Bar Association and political parties. Last year in a petition to Governor, more than 55 well-known members of Jammu’s civil society comprising retired Chief Justices and couple of other Judges of High Court, civil servants including retired CS, CVC, Commissioner Secretaries, intellectuals, artists, businessmen, industrialists, lawyers and media persons had sought official celebration of Accession Day with or without holiday but Governor Malik didn’t change the status quo. But, this year this demand was accepted by the new Lt. Governor. Great of him!
After ratification of the accession by J&K Constituent Assembly, representing the collective will of the people, on 6th February, 1954 declaring J&K “as an integral part” the then PM Bakshi Ghulam Mohd used to celebrate 6th February as Yuma-e- Ilhaq in Jammu, seat of power in winter. But after Bakshi’s ignominious exit, this practice was quietly buried for reasons best known to leaders who came to power after him. While the mainstream political parties displayed lack of commitment to Accession Day all these years, the then rulers allowed the separatists and their likes to convert the historic day into a ‘black day’.
With this announcement of public holiday on Accession Day, the Govt have recognised the contributions of Maharaja Hari Singh as it was his last historic act which has made us part of the great secular nation. Maharaja Hari Singh was a progressive ruler who had countless contributions to his credit. Among his notable reforms that he undertook during his illustrious tenure include ban on child marriages, made dowry a punishable offence, declared polygamy and polyandry illegal, enacted laws to stop prostitution and resettling the affected girls, abolition of forced labour, provision of free and compulsory girl education and famed ‘zabri taleem’, opening Raghunath Temple and other temples to Dalits and Harijans, establishment of J&K Bank, modernizing agriculture sector with reforms, creation of dependable health infrastructure (Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital at Srinagar in 1945 & Maharaja Gulab Singh Hospital at Jammu in 1943), grant of democracy with limited franchise and creation of Praja Sabha, promulgation of first Constitution of the State. He was a great strategist when it came to war. He was one of India’s two representatives in the Churchill’s War Council. His contributions during the World War-II have been well documented in the history.
It is a matter of regret that he faced many conspiracies from British to local and New Delhi and one of these led to his ” to exile” to Bombay where he passed away on 26 April, 1961. It is also said that Delhi trifurcated even his entitlement of “privy purse” as former Maharaja.
There is resentment in a section of Jammu population over denial of holiday on Maharaja’s birthday. But they should appreciate that holiday on his most historic act of accession was more important than his birthday. In India, there is no culture for holiday on any of our great leaders and former rulers howsoever popular they were. With end of monarchy system and dawn of democracy, what to talk former rulers, no holiday is granted on the birthdays of even great leaders like Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Smt. Indira Gandhi. Like other leaders, his birthday is celebrated in Jammu with lot of public enthusiasm which he deserved.
This demand further loses relevance as the birthday of Kashmir’s most towering leader Sheikh Abdullah who too had a role in extending popular support to Maharaja’s action of accession with India has been withdrawn. The logic for it too is the same. Birthday of no political leader is not observed as public holiday except of the Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi and nobody can claim equal status to him.
Another bold and historic decision of Lt Governor is to withdraw the holiday on account of “Martyrs Day”. First of all, unfortunate killing of 22 people in Srinagar on 13 July, 1931 was not martyrdom in any sense of the word. Moreover, the occasion was used against minorities -Kashmiri Pandits in Srinagar and Dogra in Mirpur and other areas. Even after Independence, this day was projected as anti-Dogra. Moreover, it didn’t have any connect with Jammu region and as such has no relevance. In fact, Jammu is observing it as Black day.
This unfortunate incident of killing of 13th July, 1931 is mired with controversy with its background unveiled a script for public mobilisation against the Maharaja by communalizing the situation. Even the book “The Warning of Kashmir” written by a noted senior journalist G. S. Raghavan, (Editor of the Hindustan Times) had narrated the happenings of 13th July, 1931. He too confirmed the conspiracy theory. The story started with the inflammatory anti- Maharaja speech with communal overtones at a meeting at Khanqa-i-Mualla, Srinagar by one Abdul Qadeer, a religious fanatic from Peshawar who had entered Kashmir with the help of one British Military officer in the disguise of his cook. Arrested on the charge of sedition his trial was decided to be held in the Central Jail in view of surcharged situation. On the day of hearing on 13th July, 1931 in the central jail, a mob of about 5000 stormed the Jail, demanding entry along with the Sessions Judge.
Raghavan wrote, “While there was commotion outside the Jail there was also disturbance inside, prisoners tried to force the iron gates. About this time, certain prisoners were being taken from the court to the Jail. The crowd stoned the policemen and the prisoners were liberated”. He further wrote, “The order (of DM) was defied and finding that the mob could neither be pacified nor dispersed, the District Magistrate directed the fire to be opened. The crowd fell off but later it re-assembled and resumed stoning” After the warning shots failed to disperse the mob, the police first fired in the air and then at close range which resulted into casualties. This was followed with large scale looting of shops of minority in different areas of Srinagar and later in Mirpur and other areas.
With this background, calling the killed persons as “martyrs” was distortion of history and forcing the people of Jammu to treat them as the “martyrs” of the State with gazetted holiday was unfair and it is good that it has been withdrawn. The Lt Governor & his team deserve compliments for this bold decision.