Col J P Singh
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. I see time having come about to grant a holiday on Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday on 23 September because loud voices are reverberating and resonating in Jammu for it. This is happening because of denial of the holiday by the previous govts. Currently it is happening all over Jammu. Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan and Raj Parivar together are seen in the forefront in raising the voice. It can’t go unheard. Some may be happy about Sheikh’s birthday holiday while many are in utter despair on ‘No Holiday’ on Maharaja’s birthday. Both were contemporary and controversial architect of J&K history. Maharaja is said to be a nationalist who advocated Indian freedom at the London Round Table Conference in 1931 which angered British. Though democratic, progressive, just and a fair ruler, he delayed accession, allegedly to stay independent, and finally acceded J&K to the Indian Union when invaded by Pakistan. British didn’t like it. Sheikh being their protégé, and promoted by Pt Nehru, was let lose against him. As a sole Kashmiri Muslim leader, Sheikh championed the cause of Kashmiri Muslims, fought for their political and democratic rights, vilified Maharaja, denigrated Dogras, won a semi-autonomous status for J&K to later convert it to an independent fiefdom.
Glancing through Hari Singh’s rule, it is seen that he ruled during the most turbulent times of history witnessing the struggle for freedom from British, WW II, Quit Kashmir Movement, Indian Partition, Independence and first ever Indo-Pak war on the J&K soil. Within the state, Sheikh started a ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ by making Maharaja the main target of his political assaults. On 20 May 1947 Maharaja arrested Sheikh. Hearing this Nehru announced his visit to Kashmir. Maharaja banned his entry but Nehru defied the ban. He was arrested at Kohala Bridge. His arrest was the turning point in the history. Pt Nehru was the future Prime Minister of India. Instead of welcoming him warmly and seeking his cooperation in resolving differences with Sheikh, he was made enemy for no reason. Surprisingly an intelligent ruler as Maharaja was, could not understand the under-currents of history and dangers of arresting Nehru. He misjudged the political situation in the country as well as political storm engulfing J&K. From then on the erosion of Dogra Empire commenced.
At the time of partition there were four major forces at play in the sub-continent. First were the British who had decided to transfer political power after partitioning India. Maharaja was suspect of their intentions and thought they will not. Being nationalist he didn’t strike any surreptitious deal with them. The second was the ‘Indian National Congress’ which was sweeping the subcontinent with freedom movement. Maharaja was hostile to the Congress because of Nehru’s anti feudal stance and friendship with Sheikh who was his arch rival. Third was Muslim League led by Jinnah. Maharaja could not digest Jinnah’s aggressive communal agenda. Despite the fact that Jinnah opposed Sheikh, he didn’t exploit it. This led him to spurn all the offers coming from Pakistan. Last but not the least was National Conference, the main political force within the state led by Sheikh Abdullah which emerged like an enraging inferno and engulfed his empire. Ironically Maharaja was inimical with each one of them. The net result was that when the crucial time came, all the four were jointly arrayed against him. Thus at the time of reckoning he stood alone and helpless. The edifice of Dogra empire so painstakingly built by his predecessors started collapsing brick by brick. It finally fell on 15th November 1952 when Yuvraj, as regent and inheritor of the empire, abolished it under his own hand ending 130 years of Dogra rule.
With the advent of Pakistan, J&K became an object of international conspiracy for making it part of Pakistan. Since Maharaja had turned down Mountbatten’s suggestion to accede to Pakistan and was inclined to join India, British conspired to take J&K militarily. Being patriotic to the core, Maharaja staked everything to prevent it and succeeded, but not without paying a price. He had to go on exile leaving his kingdom at the mercy of Sheikh whose nationalistic credentials were suspect. Willy-nilly Sheikh made sure that Pakistan got 1/3rd of J&K. Sheikh wanted a majority of Kashmiris in Kashmir and hence let go Punjabi and Pahari speaking areas (POJK) to Pakistan. Forcing Ceasefire before those areas were liberated was a plan. While India reiterates reversal of POJK but Sheikh’s son, Farooq Abdullah advocates converting LoC to IB giving away POJK to Pakistan to retain Kashmiri majority (father’s wish).
Sheikh systematically destroyed Maharaja’s reputation by tarnishing his secular credentials as well as spreading falsehood about his commitment to his troops and people. Sheikh did not only continue his canards at the Maharaja but didn’t spare Maharani by contending that She too was communal. It was indeed a cruel act. History books tell how & why Maharaja & Maharani were vilified. It will be interesting to know that when Maharaja’s popularity was being questioned, He suggested to Pt Nehru that they both fly to Srinagar together and ask the very first Kashmiri that they met whether he wanted the Maharaja to go or stay. Nehru wasn’t ignorant of Maharaja’s popularity. Yet the Maharaja was unceremoniously exiled and vilified. Though Sheikh accepted young Yuvraj to be the Regent but didn’t allow Rajmata to stay with son who became Regent. Maharaja’s belongings fetched up later after scrutinized by Sheikh. Sheikh got them opened and re-checked at Pathankot Railways Platform to see that nothing extra was packed. Was it really warranted? Another event worth a mention in the above context is, during anti Maharaja agitations Sheikh would incite people to destroy everything resembling his govt. In one of the clashes, in 1944, troops were compelled to open fire resulting in 6 deaths and 10 wounded. On Sheikh’s lies, Nehru alleged, “after the army action, Srinagar has become a city of dead. Dead bodies have been soaked in petrol and burnt. Injured were not sent to hospital but to jails. Mosques, including their inner shrines, have been occupied by military. Wall of Jama Masjid has been knocked down to allow passage for military lorries”. These allegations were promptly contradicted by top Muslim leaders who were also anti-Maharaja and anti-army. Not caring for the embarrassment, Nehru issued a fresh statement to express his regrets at having made false allegations against the Maharaja and apologised. Still Nehru placed all the Aces in Sheikh’s hands and was left with no option but to listen to him whether right or wrong.
During his rule, Sheikh initiated the process to disband State Forces. In August 1949 he stopped their pay. Maharaja strongly protested and pledged to pay from his privy purse thus blocking disbandment. Sheikh is also allegedly responsible for the annihilation of Sate Forces at Gilgit-Skardu for hindering reinforcements for the beleaguered soldiers during siege. He convinced Nehru to shift State Forces from J&K telling him that if any unit stays, they will kill him. This is how Sheikh treated the valiant Force which faced initial Pakistani attacks and saved Kashmir for him to rule.
In the NC working committee meeting on 18 May 1953, Sheikh put forward a proposal for ‘an independent valley’ which was vehemently opposed by GM Sadiq and Girdhari Lal Dogra. During Jammu agitation, once while returning from Jammu, after crossing Jawahar Tunnel, Sheikh said, “By Bye Jammu”. He ruthlessly suppressed 1952 Jammu agitation, misled Nehru and branded Praja Parshid communal. As a result of vindictive policies of Sheikh, a generation of Dogra youth was lost to the Praja Parshid led agitation. They lost everything because of disrupted studies and denied employment. The hatred and anger, suspicion and antagonism which Sheikh bred since 30s ruined Jammu psyche. Then why should Jammu celebrate his holiday?
Sheikh is said to be responsible for the death of Shyama Prasad Mukerjee who was strongly opposed to Article 370; calling the provision as Balkanisation of India and three nation theory of Sheikh. Opposing ‘ek Desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan’, he launched a massive Satyagrah and came to Kashmir where he was arrested. He died in detention on 23 June 1953 under mysterious circumstances.
For his antinational activities, Sheikh was dismissed in August 1953 and imprisoned when on the verge of declaring J&K independent. During detention his support in Kashmir eroded but luck favoured him. Indira Gandhi brought him back as Chief Minister in 1975 after which the woes of Dogras intensified. Sheikh turned out to be dubious at the crucial time of history when J&K needed great nationalists like Dr. Karan Singh, G M Sadiq, Pt Prem Nath Dogra, Mir Qasim or Kushok Bakula Rinpoche at the helm. Time has come to seek justice for the agony Sheikh has inflicted on the Dogras. Let Kashmiris celebrate Sheikh, Dogras celebrate Maharaja and Ladakhis celebrate Kushok Bakula.
Col J P Singh