Professor Suresh Chander
Maharaja Hari Singh’s side of the story rarely finds any mention in various articles written about him. The articles mainly describe his virtues and sometimes his weaknesses and failings too. His actions during partition of the country are well documented but nothing is said about him post 1947- 48.
Hari Singh’s abdication in favour of Karan Singh and subsequent virtual exile from the State of Jammu and Kashmir is mentioned only as a footnote in various books and articles on Kashmir.
Hari Singh who loved Jammu was denied cremation in Jammu. He willed that his ashes should be scattered over Jammu from air, he provided funds in his will for a chartered plane for this purpose.
Hari Singh expressed his thoughts, agony and what crossed his mind in a letter from Poona dated 16/17th August, 1952 to the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
The extracts of the letter are reproduced for readers to judge Hari Singh as he was. However, the offer of Maharaja Hari Singh: “I am prepared to take up the challenge. Let the people of Jammu and Kashmir freely decide between me and Sheikh Abdullah …” needs special attention.
The highlights from the letter are:
1. On accession Lord Mountbatten gave an “…assurance that if Kashmir went to Pakistan, it would not be regarded as an unfriendly act by the Government of India. … in his opinion, it was advisable for me to accede to Pakistan.
My difficulties were, “The People of the State were divided in several groups, each group having its own ideas about accession;”
2. Patel on Sheikh, “.. Sheikh Abdullah, as was natural, felt that unless something was done and done immediately, to strengthen his hands, both in popular eyes and in dealing with the dangers, it would be impossible for him to do anything substantial.”
3. Sheikh, after the amnesty, wrote, “… in development of this beautiful country and the betterment of its people is our common aim and interest and I assure Your Highness the fullest and loyal support of myself and my organization.”
4. Proclamation, 5 March1948, to convert the Emergency Administration into an Interim Council of Minister with Sheikh as Prime Minister. ” … Things are moving very fast and we have yet to fight a great battle at Lake Success. I have already stated during the discussion at Lake Success that Your Highness had only been waiting for Sheikh Abdullah to return from America to convert the Emergency Administration into an Interim Council of Ministers with Abdullah as Prime Minister.”
5. Sheikh as Prime Minister writes, ” …
… The burden of a Prime Minister in these circumstances will be a heavy one. He cannot function effectively without the fullest cooperation of his colleagues and the people as well as, of course, Your Highness.”
6. Sheikh changes colours after the Proclamation. Hari Singh observes, ” … at the end of April 1949. Sheikh Abdullah and the men of his party took all power to themselves, … to the outside world, the State and Sheikh Abdullah became convertible terms. The people of Kashmir were utterly ignored and everything that Sheikh Abdullah desired to do was done in the name of the State … I was asked to stay out of the State for a few months. … The Yuvraj was appointed Regent. It need hardly be pointed out that the Yuvraj became a figurehead and had to take orders from Sheikh Abdullah.
… even interfered with the administration of the Dharmarth Trust. …The Jammu branch of the Imperial Bank of India refused to pay even to me the amounts of the fixed deposits of the Trust ”
7. Hari Singh was ignored in setting up the state Constituent Assembly. He asserted, ” … That the Proclamation with the object and spirit of which I wholeheartedly agree be issued by me as Ruler who is the properly constituted authority in law to promulgate it and not by my Regent.”
8. Hari Singh left high and dry. Assurances given by Ayyangar became meaningless, ” …That Assembly will be held whether the formal Proclamation issues or not. In the view of the Government of India it must be convened, if both their commitments to the people of Kashmir and their stand at Lake Success are to be implemented in spirit and in the letter. … No purpose will, therefore, be served by any act of Your Highness which holds up … issue of this Proclamation by Shri Yuvraj. … The Government of India will, … take the decision on these matters, which, I need hardly assure you, will be essentially just from the standpoint both of your dynasty and the people of the State.”
9. Hari Singh and Article 370. Dr. Katju, new States Minister, ignores the Maharaj. ” … I wrote to Dr. Katju on June 29, 1952.1 waited for Dr. Katju’s reply as foreshadowed in the Prime Minister’s letter. I then received Dr. Katju’s reply dated July 30, 1952. … relevant Articles, particularly Article 370, of the Constitution of India can be altered and/or amended to suit the present attitude of Sheikh Abdullah.
It would not be out of place to point out that Article 370 refers specifically to my Proclamation of March 5, 1948. That is the law which governs the State of Jammu and Kashmir until a new Constitution is framed, approved and adopted not only by the Constituent Assembly of the State but also approved by me …”
Maharaja Hari Singh did not question Article 370 in the belief that it recognizes his position as the ultimate arbitrator. He was not aware that the solemn pledges have no place in the State Craft. This has been the norm ever since the formation of Nation States. That’s the Chanakya Niti as well. After the rulers of erstwhile British India signed the Instruments of Accession, they became of no value, a la typical Bollywood Movies. They even lost their privy purses.
10. Sheikh becomes absolute ruler with the help of Government of India. ” … According to Sheikh Abdullah, the people of Kashmir have changed their mind to such an extent that they are determined to get rid of the idea of a hereditary ruler of the State. …one would like to know is where is the reason for this frightful hurry to elect the Head of the State thus doing away with me and my dynasty before the Constitution is framed and before the fate of the State is determined in the fight that is raging before the UNO between India and Pakistan.
Are myself and my dynasty to be pawns in the game which Sheikh Abdullah is playing with the Government of India on the representation that he is actively helping India in the case before the UN Security Council? …
…The Prime Minister says … that the only assurance he can give to me is that the first place will be given always to the rights of the people and to the wishes of the people and that if I fall in with those rights and wishes, …”
11. Maharaja pleads in vain. “” … I am prepared to take up the challenge. Let the people of Jammu and Kashmir freely decide between me and Sheikh Abdullah without interference from the Government of India … I emphatically challenge the contention that whatever has happened is in accordance with the will of the people and that the sovereignty has effectively and really passed to the people … I cannot conscientiously recognize the changes in the Proclamation of March 5, 1948 which governs the relations of the State with India. .. if you feel that in … negotiations with Dr. Graham it would be inconvenient for the Government of India to allow this matter to be raked up, then at least, the Government of India should not succumb entirely to the wishes of Sheikh Abdullah …”
12. Hari Singh feels betrayed by the Government of India. ” … Secure in the knowledge that I was out of the picture and could not reply I was, by a series of false statements and speeches intended to humiliate and malign me, painted black and unpatriotic. The Government of India who had assured me that I would be protected against such onslaughts remained an unconcerned spectator. …
Having eliminated me in a manner which had neither the sanction of law nor political morality, it was the duty of the Government of India to protect me. But that was not done and the matter did not end there. My properties and privileges etc., were attempted to be interfered with. I protested and asked for redress but never got it. … ”
The letter brings certain facts not normally discussed particularly to happenings at Lake Success and it’s bearings on the circumstances prevailing at that time. Most importantly, it graphically describes Sheikh’s transformation from a political prisoner to an autocratic ruler – that resulted in endless problems that continue to present times. It is also a testimony to the fact that even most powerful people are no better than pawns on the chess board of the circumstances.
(The author is former Head of Computer Engineering Department in G B Pant University of Agriculture & Technology)
Professor Suresh Chander