The Praja Parishad agitation of 1952-53

B D Sharma
The movement of 1952-53, known variously as Praja Parishad agitation, Ek Vidhan Ek Pradhan Ek Nishan agitation, was the first worthwhile struggle taken up by the people of Jammu on the pattern of the Gandhi-evolved Satyagraha or peaceful resistance. Dogras had fought bravely a number of battles since time immemorial to defend their motherland. Some individual sacrifices like the one by “ Kisan Devta” Bawa Jitto- fighting for justice, had also been made but a mass movement on large scale took place in 1952-53 only.
Cataclysmic changes had taken place in 1947 in the then State of Jammu and Kashmir as in the rest of the country. Maharaja acceded to India when Pakistan sent tribals under the guidance of its army. They were thrown out of much part of the State by the Indian army. Simultaneously a new dispensation took over the government. Though the Maharaja was still in the saddle yet the new rulers under the patronage of PM Nehru made him irrelevant. Influx of refugees with sordid tales of deaths, loot and rapes evoked reaction and backlash and communal riots erupted in Jammu also. Villages near the newly created border were looted and burnt by Jathas from Pakistan. Supply of goods from Pakistan also got stopped. This resulted in administrative chaos all over.
The chaos got further compounded due to the dual control of governance. Sheikh Abdullah was imposed as head of emergency administration on 30th of October, 1947 with Mehar Chand Mahajan still as Prime Minister. When this arrangement didn’t work, Mahajan was made to resign and the Sheikh was installed as full-fledged PM on March 5, 1948 against the wishes of Maharaja. Later on the Sheikh compelled Nehru to force the Maharaja to leave the State which the later did on 28,April, 1949 with a heavy heart after appointing his son as Regent.
The departure of Maharaja and the policies of the new government made the people of Jammu suspicious of the intentions of the new government. Since the Sheikh had his base in the valley so all through he had nurtured a Kashmir centric agenda. His call of Quit Kashmir was out and out a sectarian call. It didn’t remain confined to unshackling the monarchy but often conjured up in denouncing the whole Dogra community. Again while framing National Conference’s political and economic agenda, he had pushed it as “Naya Kashmir” ignoring the aspirations of the Jammuites. He didn’t stop at that only and even brought round Nehru to rechristen the State as “Kashmir State” despite the fact that it was known as the State of Jammu and Kashmir right from 1846.
Name of the State was mentioned as “Kashmir” in the Schedule of States in the draft Constitution of India. With no one to watch the interests of Jammu in the Constituent Assembly, Chacha Nehru had almost got it through on May, 27, 1949 when his sinister design was stoutly opposed and got foiled by two forceful members Prof KT Shah from Bihar and Lakshmi Kanta Moitra from Bengal. Incidentally Prof Shah had served J&K as Financial Advisor to Maharaja Hari Singh for ten years and knew the whole gamut of local sensibilities. The Sheikh however, succeeded in his other game plan when he got the constituencies for the Constituent Assembly of the State delineated in such a way that Kashmir valley took away the lion’s share. Jammu region was left with thirty segments out of the seventy five despite the population ratio of 45:55. When the elections were announced, the nomination papers of majority of Praja Parishad candidates were got rejected. The Praja Parishad was left with no option other than boycotting the elections. Absence of an effective opposition in the Constituent Assembly further compounded the doubts in the minds of the people.
The Delhi agreement in 1952 also alienated the people of Jammu as handing over enormous powers to the National Conference Govt was taken as ignoring the aspirations of the Jammu people. It was feared that the fate of Jammuites would henceforth remain in the hands of Kashmiri leadership. The signals from the international forums were also not favourable with Britain, USA and other western countries supporting Pakistan with regard to the State. Pakistan was presenting its case forcefully in the international forums with Nehru Govt taking an ambivalent stand on the issue. Pakistan was issuing threats of taking over the State with force.
Nehru was playing in the hands of Sheikh and giving the latter a long rope. Sheikh Abdullah had his way in all matters. He inducted only one minister from Jammu in the State Cabinet of five, who was too pliable and did never bother to see beyond his Constituency and the Accountancy School. Only one member out of the four was nominated from Jammu (some Baigra) for the National Constituent Assembly, who was also neatly and cleanly an “Angootha Chhaap”. Sheikh Abdullah had also tried to get Mahasha Nar Singh of Khairi-Rehal, another simpleton par excellence, elected as Sadr-i-Riyasat. In this way, the crafty Sheikh ensured that Jammu didn’t get rightful, inspiring and distinguished representation in the power structure.
All these developments instilled a sense of fear and anxiety in the minds of Jammu people. They started feeling deprived and sidelined. Praja Parishad, the political party formed with the efforts of Balraj Madhok, Pt Prem Nath Dogra and other prominent persons of Jammu in 1947 started channelizing the resentment of the people. Initially students agitation started when National Conference flag was hoisted in a function at Gandhi Memorial College which spread in the whole of Jammu region. Later the Satyagraha was started on 14th of November, 1952 for full integration of State with India. It, however, gained momentum on 26 Nov, 1952 when Pt Prem Nath Dogra courted arrest. The popular slogan in Hindi was “Ek Desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan, do Nishan – Nahin Chalenge Nahin Chalenge”. Pt. ji addressed an impressive public meeting before courting arrest and the authorities used force to disperse the meeting. Arrest of Pandit ji sparked the agitation in other parts of Jammu and police resorted to firing at Udhampur injuring about 300 persons. Police and militia let loose a reign of terror on the protesters. Mela Ram was the first casualty when he lost his life while hoisting the National Flag at Chhamb Police Station. Two months later three Satyagrahis succumbed to police firing at Sunderbani. The unrest spread far and wide and thousands of protesters were arrested.
The agitation assumed national overtones when Parishad workers sneaked into the national convention of Congress Party at Hyderabad on 18th December in presence of Pt Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah( special invitee). Parishad delegation also sought help from Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, President of Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Jan Sangh and other parties like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Akali Dal did also immerse completely in this struggle and launched a nationwide agitation on 5 March, 1953 in support of Praja Parishad. On 11th of January, 1953 massive demonstration of 5000 persons was fired upon killing two persons and injuring more than 70 at Hiranagar.
Civil disobedience movement was formally started on January, 16, 1953. On January, 30, 1953, procession of more than 3000 protesters was fired upon at Jourian. Six persons were killed and nearly 125 got injured. On March 1 ,1953 three persons were killed while hoisting National Flag at Ramban. In order to give impetus to the struggle, BJS president Mukherjee left for Jammu. He was arrested at
Lakhanpur on 11 May, and taken to Srinagar where he died in mysterious circumstances on 23 June, 1953. PM Nehru appealed to the Praja Parishad to call off this agitation in the wake of this tragedy which the Parishad agreed to and called it off on 7, July 1953. The party however continued to fight for its demand till it merged with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh on 30 December, 1963. Later BJS carried the struggle on and from 1980, when BJP was formed it took the demand over till the same was got fulfilled on 5 August, 2019.
Credit must be given to the people and their leaders who initiated and carried out the struggle under the most terrible and trying circumstances. The then NC government left no stone unturned in denouncing the movement. It labelled it as a movement of the communal and feudalistic forces supported and financed by Maharaja Hari Singh. The movement couldn’t be termed as communal as all the communities including many Muslims supported it. Though some land owners whose land had been taken over by the Government under the Big Landed Abolition Act might have joined the movement yet it was not something unusual. People having different grievances do join on single platform. The main agenda of the Parishad always remained the full integration of the State with India. The allegations that the Maharaja was behind the movement did also not carry much weight. The people of Jammu didn’t demand restoration of his rule. They resented step motherly treatment meted out to him. He had been forced to leave his State and as against other rulers like Nizam of Hyderabad he had not been appointed as Raj Pramukh. So far as financing of the agitation by the ruler is concerned, the agitators were always scarce of resources. The protesters presented a picture of scarcely clad and half starved humans facing the vagaries of cold weather and harsh blows of the police lathies.
It may not be out of place to mention that the new Sadr-i-Riyasat Dr Karan Singh did try to convince Pt Nehru to talk to the agitators. He wrote to Nehru on 4 January, 1953,”It has been one and a half months since this movement had started but I feel sad that no positive steps have been taken so far by the government.” But Pt Nehru couldn’t persuade Sheikh Abdullah to meet the Parishad leaders to find a solution. Pt Nehru understood that the situation in Jammu was serious and deserved the fullest consideration. He was also noticing that it was sliding to Delhi and other parts of northern India. But the Sheikh remained adamant with his ‘absolute impossibility’ stand regarding talk to the Parishad. He didn’t rise above his personal predilections and took a rigid and unrealistic stand which left a trail of bitterness in the State. He forgot that it were the persons in power who had to show flexibility and magnanimity. He started, instead speaking left and right. His threatening speeches at Painthal and RS Pura were the outcome of this state of mind.
Ultimately he overstepped the “Lakshman Rekha” and exploded on 13th July, 1953 thus: “If I felt by remaining independent, Kashmir would be well off, I won’t hesitate to raise my voice in favour of complete freedom for Kashmir. If I felt that Kashmir’s betterment lay in its accession to Pakistan, no power in the world could silence my voice”. The authorities in Delhi didn’t tolerate his idiosyncrasies any more. He was removed from power and imprisoned. His close friend Prime Minister Nehru didn’t bear with his waywardness and highhandedness any more. Praja Parishad agitation, death of Mukherjee were also the contributory factors to his fall and imprisonment.
Kashmiri leadership should have realized that isolation, autonomy or self-rule in the strategically placed border State provided temptation and allure both to the internal disruptive forces and to our sworn enemies, Pakistan and China, to create unrest in the valley. Full integration of the State with India was, therefore, essential to ensure peace and to remove the cobwebs from the minds of the people and the enemies of the nation.
Unfortunately the fifteen martyrs and other sufferers of this agitation didn’t get the recognition that they deserved. Only local functions on the Samadhis of martyrs are held. This agitation made the Jammuites to learn the nitties and gritties as to how carry out struggles for the attainment of their rights. This movement did also help in the emergence of new crop of leaders in Jammu. Thakur Baldev Singh, Rishi Kumar Kaushal, Shiv Charan Gupta, Chaman Lal Gupta, Sheikh Abdul Rehman, Tilak Raj Sharma, Vaid Vishnu Dutt and a host of others played a long inning afterwards, in the affairs of Jammu. Pt Prem Nath Dogra became so popular that he was elected President of Bharatiya Jan Sangh at Bhopal session in 1955/56, perhaps the only leader from Jammu to head a prominent national political party. Some promising leaders of the movement like Durga Dass Verma lost the track somewhere on the way.
Unfortunately this glorious chapter of the struggle of Jammu didn’t find favour with our writers and historians till recently. Only three years back a beautiful and detailed account of the happenings of the movement, “Jammu-Kashmir ki Ankahi Kahani” in Hindi has been penned by Dr Kuldeep Chandra Agnihotri. UT BJP’s Publication Cell has also come out with an account “ A Saga of Sacrifices- 1952-53 Movement in Jammu and Kashmir”. This work, however lacks a smooth flow and cohesiveness of the narrative. It is also replete with misprints and misspellings. In my view associating some persons like Prof Hari Om, Prof Virender Gupta, Roop Lal Sharma-a senior journalist (unfortunately no more with us), Suraj Dev Singh of Bani Food agitation fame, all of them having grown out of the inspirations and stimulations of this movement and having good flair in writing, would have helped to make this volume more worthwhile and productive.
(The author is former Civil Servant)