As we are approaching 23rd September, the 126th birthday of Maharaja Hari Singh, the clamour for announcing a holiday on his birth anniversary has again ignited up a debate among the civil society circles of Jammu. Technically, this demand for honouring the Maharaja should have emanated from both the provinces, but given the circumstances and narratives that rule the roost, it’s highly unlikely that Kashmiris would ever bat for it. At the outset, I must clarify that, I am too bit ambiguous of the demand for a holiday, for I believe, it diminishes the relevance of the occasion and people tend to treat a day off as another day for excursion or try catching up to their pending personal works. I rather believe, that this day should be declared as the ‘MAHARAJA HARI SINGH DAY’ which can then be commemorated in our schools, colleges and government offices while neither drawing any ire of the critics nor compromising with the efficiency of the public offices. But that doesn’t mean that I completely abhor the possibility of a holiday. My aim is that the contribution of the Maharaja should be recognised and people should know about the great self that he was. The politics of the yore in the erstwhile state precluded, for reasons widely known, such an official recognition, but now, when the tables have turned, and an administration, which ostensibly believes in the idea of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas’ is the helm, the people of Jammu are eagerly waiting for something positive to happen on this front.
Mind you, that Jammu Municipal Corporation has already passed a resolution, moved by a BJP councillor Narottam Sharma, to declare the birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh as a state holiday in 2019. Sharma then said, “the sentiments of people of Jammu are associated with Maharaja Hari Singh and the Governor must declare (a state) holiday on his birth anniversary”. The official recognition of this day is an issue that paradoxically unites all the major players in Jammu- J&K BJP, J&K Congress, JKNPP or the Bar Council, who, otherwise stay put at the extreme ends of the political spectrums, which uncannily resembles to what the Maharajas state would have looked at that time- a tapestry of different religions, languages, ethnicities and cultures living together under a common political authority with an absolute ease.
We must remember that this day is not just a birth anniversary of a former Dogra monarch but it represents our homage to a person, who in the face of a Pakistani backed tribal invasion meant to force the hands of the then J&K government to join Pakistan, decided to fight the enemy in Kashmir (only to be held back by the Chief of Staff of JAK Forces Brig Rajinder Singh) and ensured via his resolute and firm commitment to unconditionally accede J&K to India. His kingship was deeply imbued with the modern values of secularism, tolerance and concern for the minorities, which gets manifested in the first official proclamation that he issued right after his coronation “For me all communities, religions and races are equal. All religions are mine and justice is my religion”. This might look another run of the mill statement that leaders make pandering to people’s liking for utopian goals, but it coming from a king ruling such a sensitive state in feudal times meant volumes about the attitude of the Maharaja. For instance, Khalida Akhtar (niece of Ghulam Abbas) stated in one of her interviews that “other than standing with his people during difficult times, he also joined people of all faiths during festivities and holidays…he would stand with the Muslims during their Eid prayers and celebrations”.
He was also concerned about the social injustices that prevailed in his state. Inspired from the emotional speech of Ambedkar decrying untouchability at the first Round Table Conference, Maharaja took it upon himself to end this menace in the state and in this quest, he didn’t dither to take up the cudgels against the Brahmin clergy that was opposed to let the doors of temples open for the Dalits. He also took drastic steps to end the menace of child marriage, prostitution and female infanticide. An extremely secular ruler as he was, he ensured that all his subjects enjoy equal political rights and status which puts him among a handful of princes who undertook such drastic reforms in their respective States. Every sector of the economy- sericulture, horticulture, tourism, health (TB sanatoriums and 3 modern Hospitals), education (Jabri schools, scientific institutions like RRL, scholarships to meritorious students) witnessed a transformative change.
The relevance of the Maharaja in Jammu can be gauged from the fact that despite almost 72 years after his forced exile and 60 years after his death, he has not vanished from the public consciousness and still continues to enamour people with the vast legacy that he has left behind. In line with the tradition of Duggar of disseminating information orally, various anodyne anecdotes describing some fascinating tales of Maharaja’s personal life continue to adorn our daily conversations, just like Dogras have transmitted their history for the last hundreds of years in the form of folklores and folk songs (Sars Bharti and her party’s rendition of Saade Hari Singh Rajeya, Chhodi Jammuaa ni Jaayo on YouTube laments the forced exile of Maharaja Hari Singh).
A lot of contrived versions regarding the Maharaja’s alleged dubious role during that tumultuous period of 1947 might have gained traction over time but the truth ultimately pops out. We must not forget that he’s the same person who chose to maintain a respectable silence after his exile than to fight over his authority just to ensure that India’s position never gets tenuous at the international stage. It’s the time when we must learn to tell our own stories. This can smooth over the cracks that have obliterated the political identity of Dogras since the last seven decades. A recognition to his birthday, therefore, should emerge as a clarion call from all the sections of this state in particular and this country in general, for he’s the first prince who exhorted that “as Indians and loyal to the land… we stand as solidly as the rest of our countrymen for our land’s enjoyment of a position of honour and equality in the British Common Wealth of Nations”. The ball is in the court of LG’s administration now.