Dr Narinder Singh
In the last couple of years there has been a clamouring in the Jammu division for a public holiday on the occasion of birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh. Recently this demand has come from a top congress leader . This leader has suddenly come out of his deep political slumber and has demanded a public holiday every year for the late Maharaja. Perhaps he has realised for the first time in the last 70 years that the late ruler was not given a fair treatment by the Sheikh-Nehru combination. While echoing the demand this leader has conveniently forgotten that he was very much a part of the political dispensation which masterminded the ouster of the Maharaja from the state he ruled. This leader quietly accepted plump political post both at the state and the centre levels and left the Maharaja to his fate . The people of Jammu, particularly Rajputs, for whom Maharaja symbolised their identity accepted the great injustice as the will of God and went on with their routine activities. Maharaja Hari Singh thus became the victim of Nehru- Sheikh Jugal Bandi on the one hand and a criminal indifference of the people of Jammu on the other. Highly dejected he left the empire built by his valiant forefathers and died in isolation away from his own people after some years. A strong and determined protest by the people of Jammu would have definitely put a break on his deportation. A token protest by Praja Parishad leadership and some Rajput fringe groups was not enough for saving a great Son of the Soil.
Before forming an opinion on the merit of the demand for a holiday for Maharaja, it is essential to study the events that started unfolding some ninety years back , when Maharaja Hari Singh ascended the throne in the year 1925. He was a bright young man educated in England. He was aware of the winds of Democracy blowing across the world. As per the demands of the time he continued with the social and political reforms initiated by Maharaja Partap Singh. He had comparatively peaceful time for the first few years. But then alarm bells started ringing for him when some young men fresh from Aligarh and Lucknow universities emerged on the political horizon of the valley and formed a Reading Room group at Alikadal in downtown Srinagar and put forth demand for a fair share of job opportunities for the Muslim youth of the valley. The leading light of this group was Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah, a post graduate in chemistry. This group of young men was inspired by the Indian National Congress which was at that time engaged in a struggle for independence against the British rule. During their student days in Aligarh and Lucknow, Sheikh Abdullah and his associates were in regular touch with Pt. Nehru and other Congress leaders. Soon Reading Room party became a formidable challenge for the Maharaja. The events of July 1931 culminating in the death of 21 persons ended all hopes of reconciliation between Maharaja and young political leadership of valley.
Maharaja Hari Singh was more than willing to bring in a number of political reforms and agreed to the formation of a commission for the same . Consequently Glancy Commission was appointed by him and also accepted its recommendation. But Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beg and their associates were not satisfied. By playing up real or imaginary feelings of deprivation, mobilised enough local support and converted their Reading Room into a full fledged religio- cultural political party known as All Jammu & Kasmir Muslim Conference. With the emergence of the new outfit the struggle against the Maharaja was greatly intensified. Support of Pt. Nehru and other Congress leaders also increased for the struggle against the Maharaja. In the process a strong bond also developed between the Shiekh and Nehru.
The Muslim Conference remained operational for six years and it came up on the political map of valley in 1939 with a new name the “All Jammu & Kasmir National Conference”. The new dispensation, though given a Symbolic secular colour continued with vigorous vilification of Dogra rule under Maharaja. All Jammu & Kashmir National Conference started ” Quit Kashmir Movement” against the Dogra rule on the lines of ‘Quit India Movement’ started by Mahatma Gandhi against the British rule in the year 1942. Incident of stopping Pt. Nehru from entering the State on the Kohala Bridge greatly annoyed the future Prime Minister and he openly came out in support of the political movement in the Valley. In the wake of Tribal invasion and the signing of the Instrument of Accession, Sheikh Abdullah became the Prime Minister of the Jammu & Kashmir State.
After assuming power in? the state , Sheikh Abdulla started consolidating himself. His main aim was to establish hegemony of Kashmir Valley on the other two regions Jammu and Ladakh. He made maximum use of his proximity with Nehru and started extracting concessions with the objective of making accession as fragile as possible. As a first step Sheikh Abdullah persuaded Nehru to expel Maharaja from the state because he reminded him of the rule of Dogras.
After 1950 there started in the state of Jammu and Kashmir a strange phenomena of glorifying the political class based in the valley of Kashmir. Birth anniversaries and death days of ruling Elite were declared as public holidays. Every public building, every Bridge, every flyover, every sports stadium, every road and every educational institution was dedicated to Sheikh Abdullah , his family and other Valley based leaders who followed him. In the midst of all this there were feeble demands from different quarters in Jammu region for a public holiday on the occasion of birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh. But this demand did not get any positive response from the ruling class of Kashmir Valley. This was on expected lines. How could the ruling elite of valley honour a person against whom the entire political struggle was fought from 1930 to 1947 . Sheikh Abdullah, his descendants, Muftis and Azads had no love lost for Maharaja. They could never even think of declaring a public holiday on the birth anniversary of the Dogra ruler.
But times have now changed after the abrogation of Article 370 and Decks have been cleared for honouring the forgotten Maharaja. He was not an ordinary person. His fore fathers founded the Jammu Kingdom. Through their valiant efforts Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan became the parts of the regime. They were the one with whose efforts Kashmir Valley was incorporated in the great empire . This is how the state of Jammu and Kashmir became a reality. Maharaja Hari Singh himself was a very intelligent man and ruled the state with great skill. He was also responsible for the accession of the state with India . Now is the most suitable time for honouring a person who was ill-treated by the ruling elite and betrayed by his own people. Maharaja rightfully deserves a holiday on his birthday.
(The author is a former Prof. of Political Science)
Dr Narinder Singh