More than Hari Singh’s birthday, Accession Day merits holiday

K B Jandial
The J&K Legislature sprung two surprises in the second fortnight of January by adopting two politically sensitive resolutions which by all reckoning are more of the political gimmick than the faith in substance. One is Assembly resolution on “return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir” by the State Assembly on the initiative of Omar Abdullah on 19th January, 2017 the day the KPs observe annually as “Holocaust Day.” The House resolved to “create conducive atmosphere for the return of Kashmiri Pandits and other migrants to the Valley”. The second resolution was on declaring State holiday on the birthday (23th September) of Maharaja Hari Singh moved by Maharaja’s grandson and BJP MLC,Ajatshatru Singh and seconded by his second grandson, PDP MLC Vikramaditya Singh in the Legislative Council on 24th January. Both resolutions have at least some similarities including remote chances of implementation and exploitable politically.
The resolution on return of KPs came up after 27 long and agonizing years for the community which was forced to flee from their homes and hearths.
Similarly, the second resolution on public holiday on the Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday came to be introduced  68 years after withdrawing the public holiday on his birthday by Sheikh  Abdullah even when Maharaja Hari Singh was still the State’s Constitutional head and 55 years after his death (26th of April, 1961) during his forced exile at Mumbai.Humiliated at not finding holiday on his birthday in the State Gazette among the State holidays announced for the year1949, Maharaja had sought intervention of his perceived mentor in Nehru’s Cabinet, Sadar Patel but of no help. Instead, he was called in Delhi and persuaded to”leave the State for some time” obviously to placate Sheikh Abdullah, and sent him to Bombay where he breathed his last.
The subject matter of both these resolutions has been “controversial” with Kashmir centric political parties spiting venoms on these. Omar Abdullah’s party accuses Jagmohan of engineering KPs migration and the same party leaders painted Maharaja Hari Singh as “despot and communal” against whose rule Sheikh Abdullah and his party fought hard to achieve democracy in J&K.
Kashmir separatists oppose both issues in different ways. They along with NC strongly opposed the move to set up protected transit colonies in Kashmir last summer accusing the exercise as an attempt to establish “Israeli type settlements”. What Kashmiri politicians did on this issue cannot in any manner be construed”creating conducive atmosphere for their return” as they now commit themselves in the Assembly. It was enough to read that they are unwelcome. KP resolution stood rejected by all KP organizations.
Even the holiday on Maharaja Hari Singh birthday is opposed by the separatists describing the move as “honoring the killers of 13th July martyrs”.  “How can these people observe July 13 as a martyrs’ day and at the same time observe dictator Hari Singh’s birthday as a holiday,” Yasin Malik asked?
The Maharaja’s birthday resolution is the brain child of two brothers (Maharaja’s grandsons) each of them is in either of the ruling coalition party and their father Dr. Karan Singh in Congress. The alliance parties are not directly involved in this move even though BJP is trying to use it by projecting it as Jammu’s victory. While BJP leaders have welcomed the resolution,its senior ally PDP maintained studded silence being conscious of its potential to snowballing into major controversy in Kashmir. On the other hand, NC and Congress have strongly opposed it for obvious reasons as at least NC viewed it as anti- Kashmir martyrs of 1931. The BJP however, take it as much delayed recognition of the services of last Dogra ruler who had roots in Jammu, its bastion.  Welcoming the passage of the resolution, Dy. Chief Minister, Prof Nirmal Singh said that “This is the first step towards restoring the image of the great visionary and people’s maharaja, dented by vicious campaigns.”
The surprise move by Maharaja’s two grandsons has sought to rekindle Dogra sentiments, brought into focus the contributions of Maharaja Hari Singh and above all did justice with him who otherwise got raw deal from the both State and the Central Governments and even from his family, as the popular belief is.
However responsive and just rule of any Maharajamight be, it still cannot be match with a democratic rule which the nation got after a prolong freedom struggle. Despite inherent fundamental deficiencies of Monarchies, Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule is rated quite high among the autocratic rules in Indian sub-continent at that time
There cannot be any dispute on Maharaja Hari Singh being a progressive and reformist ruler. Among many notable reforms he undertook during his illustrious tenure include ban on Child marriages and provision of  imprisonment and fine  for breaking the law, made dowry a punishable offence, declared polygamy and polyandry illegal, enacted laws to stop prostitution and resettling the affected girls etc.. He abolished forced labour and prostitution and made punishment of seven years imprisonment and lashes for abducting Kashmiri girls.
Maharaja is well known for his famed ‘jabri taleem’. He made girls primary education compulsory and enacted a law to this effect in 1930. He made free education for all up to middle class and institutionalized scholarship for children of poor families by setting up State Scholarship Board.
In his very first speech after coronation as Maharaja, he had declared, “For me every section of the society, every tradition and every caste is the same. Providing justice for all is my first Dharma.” That was his most remarkable commitment as a secular ruler and he stood up to it.
The most audacious thing that he did was to throw open the doors of Raghunath Temple and other temples to Dalits and Harijans in 1931. He made untouchability punishable offence in 1940. All educational institutions, temples and water resources like lakes and ponds were thrown open to all persons irrespective of their caste or creed.
His methods of administration were revolutionary and relevant even today. He was instrumental in ensuring the protection of civil and political rights of the residents of J&K. The famous exclusive rights of property and Govt jobs to local State Subjects were granted by him only by a special notification in 1927 which always snowballed into a major controversy.
Protection of Kashmiris and their rights was a political milestone under his tenure. In fact, his tenure is replete with numerous political and administrative reforms that changed the way the government worked in Kashmir and to an extent, the entire country too.  It was Maharaja Hari Singh who gave to his subjects for the first time, a democracy with limited franchise, be it called a limited democracy but even that was unusual in those days in princely States.  J&K became the first State in the country as early as in 1934(Act No. 1 of 1991Bikrami), to have Legislative Assembly, called Praja Sabha. Not only that, Maharaja promulgated first constitution of Kashmir on 7th September, 1939, an important landmark in the constitutional development in the State which remained in force till the present Constitution of J&K came in to force on 26th January, 1957.
Maharajas in those days enjoyed absolute sway over the proceedings of their kingdom. No one questioned them. But despite enjoying such absolute powers, Maharaja Hari Singh never abused these powers.  It is said that his political opponents were never harassed. Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beig and several others who were agitating against the Maharaja were never harmed or subjected to any kind of oppression during detention. There was not a single instance of custodial killing during the time of Maharaja Hari Singh.
Maharaja Hari Singh is also credited with serious initiatives to modernize the agriculture sector with decree of the Agriculturist’s Relief Act that entitled debtors to seek settlement in a Court of Law against his creditors and thus freed the peasants & rural workers from money lenders. Next in a line was “The Land Alienation Act” that forbidden the transfer of agricultural land to the non-agriculturists. The agriculturists also were granted with proprietary ownership rights and immunity from the taxes or levies of Nazrana and Malikana.
Health sector is yet another sector which benefitted from Maharaja’s initiatives. Apart from increased number of hospitals and dispensaries, two major hospitals were set up during his rule- Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital at Srinagar in 1945 & Maharaja Gulab Singh Hospital at Jammu in 1943. The State was the first in establishing Tuberculosis Department in Indian sub-continent.
He gave full attention to development of Industry and tourism as well. By a revolutionary step he established the J&K Bank in 1938 that took control of the Government treasury which gave incentives to Industry, trade and other business and tourism.
On 13 July 1931,when the police resorted to firing upon a mob of protesters who attacked the jail  in which 22 killed in whose memory Martyrs day is observed. The Maharaja set up a Commission to address grievances of people under a British officer – B J Glancy, and implemented its recommendations within a couple of months and the guilty policemen were brought to justice.
Maharaja Hari Singh 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.
The last laudable action of Maharaja Hari Singh was signing of Instrument of Accession in favour of India on 27th Oct. 1947 even though two months ‘delayed action has taken sheen of the decision and shrouded in avoidable controversy that still refuses to die down.
Despite all these admirable initiatives, reforms and achievements, Maharaja Hari Singh still belonged to dynastic monarchy and sole authority. There is neither any convention of holiday on birthday of any of the erstwhile Maharajas or Rulers in any part of India nor any justification. In India, only Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2nd October is a holiday and celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti. Since 2007, this day is being observed in the world as International Day of Non-Violence as a tribute to Gandhi ji who is the pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. The Day is an occasion to “disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness”. The resolution reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”.
The only other leader whose birthday on 14th April is observed as holiday, albeit as a regional holiday is   Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar who played a fundamental role in drafting Indian Constitution. It was only in 2015, Ambedkar Jayanti was declared a government holiday across India. The notification specifically mentioned that it is not assumed that Ambedkar Jayanti will be a national holiday in subsequent years. There is no holiday on birthdays of many outstanding leaders and freedom fighters like Neta ji Subhash Chandra Bose, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Azad, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. S. Radhakrishan, Indira Gandhi, and Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam whose contributions are unparalleled.
In J&K Sheikh Abdullah’s birthday on 5th December has been declared as holiday, earlier there was holiday on his death anniversary. It appears that Sheikh birthday holiday is being used as justification for holiday on Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday. Holidays on any leader’s birthday howsoever popular he be may be, has no place in democracies as it reflects feudal tendencies. Even the holiday on Sheikh Sahib’s birthday needs to be revisited in same context. The best tributes to all those whose contributions are laudable is to name major projects and schemes after them.  Maharaja Hari Singh too qualifies for this recognition despite antagonistic approach of NC towards him, whose grandson and mover of the resolution was once the same party’s Minister.
More than his birthday, the BJP-PDP alliance should have declared holiday on Accession Day which too is Maharaja’s memorable decision which was politically supported by Sheikh Abdullah, then all powerful voice of Kashmiris. By seeking holiday on his birthday, the lawmakers are overlooking an important and far reaching decision of the same Maharaja to accede to India. Instead Accession Day needs to be celebrated officially with possibly a holiday thatcould have far reaching implications internally as well as internationally in closing the issue. Even Mehbooba Mufti is credited to a view that Kashmir’s accession is the only good thing happened to Kashmiri Muslims. Then why not a resolution for Accession Day? Are our lawmakers proving that blood relations guide them more than the good of the nation?


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