Why celebrate the birthday of Maharaja Hari Singh…

Jagmohan Sharma
Why the celebration of Maharaja Hari Singh is important? This question was doing rounds in some sections of Jammu before the Govt of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir announced a holiday to commemorate the birth anniversary of the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.
This question to me sounds ridiculous!
It is not only bewildering but causes a heartache for sure. I wonder how skewed is public understanding and especially of those who deliberately want to forget the visible high points of the past. They don’t even tend to recognize the magnificent edifices and emblems of the yore that seem to be crying for attention of one and all by their shear magnificence. And these edifices are extending yeomen service to the people of J&K even today.
Maharaja Hari Singh was coronated in 1925 when the politics of India and the world was in a churn. 1st world war had ended and a new world order was taking shape. The state of J&K, that included Gilgit, Baltistan, Ladakh, Aksai Chin besides Jammu province and Kashmir etc was saddled in one of the most important and geopolitically strategic locations of the world. The borders of the Dogra state touched Afghanistan, Tibet (China), Pakistan (the new Nation) and was separated from USSR by the narrow strip of the Wakhan province.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir was founded by the blood, sweat and tear of thousands of Dogra men, women and children. The rulers ruled this diverse state as justly as was possible during those days of impossible communication and connectivity. Today’s generation that is used to mobiles, cars and other rapid means of transport will obviously not realise the tiring effort of those who carved out the state of J&K almost from the chaos prevailing at that point in history of he region.
In my opinion following are a few of the high points of the Dogra rule, that impacted the lives of the people of J&K for better. The points were establishment of a modern judicial system and compilation of civil and criminal laws into Ranbir Penal Code during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh and land revenue settlement under the indomitable Walter Lawrence hired by Maharaja Pratap Singh as Settlement Commissioner. By this one act, Walter Lawrence mentions in his book (The Valley of Kashmir) that “cultivation extended and improved, houses been rebuilt, repaired, fields fenced in, orchards planted, vegetable gardens well stocked and new mills constructed” (because of improved economic condition). Walter Lawrence further adds that “women no longer were seen toiling in the fields, for their husbands are now at home to do the work and the long journeys to Gilgit are things of the past”. This also shows that “beggar” – the oft repeated blame on Dogra rule – had already come down drastically, if not eliminated, during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh itself.
People today forget that before the Dogras came to rule the State, the Kashmir valley, had been through the most brutal and ruthless rule of Afghans who had no respect for human lives not to speak of any respect for rules and regulations – that in any case were non-existent. Sikh Empire too ruled Kashmir for around 26 years but they didn’t have much to offer as the Sikh Empire was already on the wane.
Whenever you look around in Kashmir or in Jammu you’ll find schools and colleges built tastefully during Dogra rule. Amar Singh College, Sri Pratap College, MP School and several other such institutions built by the Government of the time. Many missionary and other schools were also established in the Valley. In Jammu the erstwhile Prince of Whales College (renamed GGM Science College), Govt Women College, Parade (Maharani College), Ranbir School and Ranbir Library were established during Dogra rule. There are several schools dotting the landscape of Kashmir and Jammu that were built during the Dogra regime.
Surely, Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues also went through these educational institutions to Aligarh Muslim University where they got educated in the mould of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, eventually falling to the trap of the British and the illiterate, uneducated and mysterious rabble-rouser Abdul Qadir who didn’t even belong to J&K. He faded into oblivion as swiftly as he had come to vitiate the political environment of Kashmir.
The Dogra Maharajas also invested in health care. They established Hospitals such as State Hospital Hazuri Bagh and around six dispensaries in different Districts at the time, Sri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital was established in Kashmir while as Sri Maharaja Gulab Singh (SMGS) Hospital were established in Jammu to cater to the health requirements of the citizens of J&K.
The unmatched Ranbir Canal running through Jammu is catering to the irrigation requirements of the farmers in Jammu even today. Earlier the canal was navigable and people would take joy rides in the cool waters of the Chenab River in the canal. This too was built by the Maharajas.
The Dogra rulers built Mohura power house (on Jehlum river) in Kashmir with a receiving station in Pattan as well and a hydel power station near the present day Bhagwati Nagar which would run on the waters from the Ranbir canal. J&K was probably the 2nd princely state in the country, after Mysore, that installed power generating and distribution facilities. These stations are now in defunct condition though they can be revived with enhanced generating capacities with the availability of new technology in present times.
The foresighted Dogra rulers revolutionised connectivity of the state with the construction of the Jhelum Valley and Banihal Cart Roads thus improving the lives of the people.
It may be noted that J&K wasn’t a resource rich state, but the Maharajas left no stone unturned to ensure that the basic facilities were available to their subjects as much as possible, within the resources available) enabling their march towards prosperity.
1931 was a turning point in the politics of J&K. It was a conspiracy forced upon the Maharaja to push him into a corner for the Nationalistic stand taken by him at the First Round Table Conference in London. It resulted in death and mayhem in Srinagar and heightened tensions further. The Sheikh took advantage of the unfolding situation and communalised it to the hilt.
Meanwhile the Maharaja continued with his social and political reforms, He formed Praja Sabha, that had elected and nominated members and became a precursor to the legislative assembly later. The number of the elected members to this body were proportionate to their population in the state.
From Sept 1934 the elected members started making laws under Praja Sabha. This was also 1st for any princely state of India. He also framed a written constitution for the princely state that came into effect from Sept 1939. He made primary education compulsory and free in the state and prohibited child marriage. He opened all places of worship for the “low caste” subjects – again a first for the country.
In 1937 he was introduced to Jawaharlal Nehru and both became friends and political allies. From there on started a negative phase in the life of the Maharaja and the state. Nehru developed blind faith in the Sheikh and the Maharaja was completely side-lined. Nehru understood the duplicity of the Sheikh later and got him arrested on 09th Aug 1953 but by then the J&K state had gone through immense upheaves and lot of water had flowed down, both in Tawi and Jhelum rivers.
The state raised by the Dogras had ceased to exist; Pakistan had occupied mostly areas from Jammu and some from Kashmir. Gilgit and Baltistan were snatched away in one of the most deceitful operations ever conducted. That Aksai-Chin was also lost to China is a completely different story. Shakasgam was ceded to China by Pakistan.
The might of the then Govt of India and the machinations of the Sheikh were not able to hold on to a state that was built with the blood, sweat and tears of Jammuites/Dogras.
Thus the Dogra state was fragmented factually between 1947 and 1962 and not on 5thAug 2019 as many would like us to believe.
Coming back to the celebration of the birthday of Maharaja Hari Singh.
The Maharaja was the last ruler of the state and it’s through his signatures that the state of J&K ceded to the Indian Union. As a true Nationalist he spoke up for the people of India in the 1st Round Table Conference in London. He never spoke or went against the people of India or the Indian Government. He requested the Indian Government to send in troops to defend the people of the state in 1947. He knew his limitations. His army of around 10000 personnel was infinitely stretched and bogged down in Poonch, Uri and elsewhere. Half of his troops had conveniently shifted their allegiance to Pakistan for obvious reasons and killed their trusting comrades in arms unabashedly. The situation was so grim that when the Maharaja ordered Brigadier Rajinder Singh to March to Uri he could barely find 150 personnel from his army to march to Uri. With his 150 people and lots of grit and determination he ensured that the bridge at Uri was blown up and the raiders were halted for a few days from proceeding to Srinagar, the capital city, by his improvised military techniques.
But for inherent love of Maharaja for J&K it’s people and also that for the people of the rest of India he was always projected as a fall guy since 1931 by the powers that be; in fact, it became gruesome after 1947. The contribution of the Dogras, his ancestors, in the creation of the state and their efforts to uplift the downtrodden masses and empower the state were always given a short shrift. It was ensured through concerted efforts at personal and Govt level and with high intensity propaganda that not even a shred of the progressive nature of the Dogra rulers be brought to the knowledge of the people of the country, for then, the powers that be were bound to be asked questions. One of the major questions, that remains unanswered is as to how easily they allowed the dismemberment of the state of J&K?
One of the many and most scathing charges against the Maharaja was that he escaped from the Valley in the face of Pakistan/tribal invasion. Where had he escaped to? Did he escape to UK, the US or any other foreign land or even to the newly independent Indian nation? He was well within his state boundaries, his winter capital.
Where was the Sheikh, the person who spread, propagated and amplified the canard vigorously with an unmatched religiosity and a razor sharp tongue, on the day of the invasion by the Pakistan forces into the Valley? He was already in Delhi along with his family members and returned to Kashmir valley only after the Indian forces landed in Srinagar and the city was secured.
Regarding the so called escape of the Maharaja from Srinagar, VP Menon mentions in his book (Integration of Indian States) “that the first thing to be done was to get the Maharaja and his family out of Srinagar. The reason for this was obvious. The raiders were close to Baramulla. The Maharaja was quite helpless and if the Govt of India decided not to go to his rescue, there was no doubt about the fate that would befall him and his family in Srinagar. There was also a certainty that the raiders would loot all the valuable possessions in the palace. In these circumstances I advised him to leave immediately for Jammu and take with him his family and his valuable possessions.” He further mentions that he left to his guest house in the early hours of the morning after assuring himself that the Maharaja would leave for Jammu that night. Even VP Menon, Mehar Chand Mahajan, the PM of the state and a crew of 6/7 of their aircraft had to leave hastily for the airport immediately thereafter as they got information that some elements of Pakistan raiders had already entered Srinagar too. VP Menon was the person who worked very closely with Sardar Patel in integration of Indian states
But the propaganda mill would have nothing of the factual position especially when falsehood was being piloted by the Sheikh himself.
The biases against Maharaja can be better understood if we compare him with the Nizam of Hyderabad where India was facing a war from the ruler. It must be underlined once again that it was a war from the ruler of Hyderabad whereas the Maharaja of J&K had already acceded to India by signing the Instrument of Accession.
The Nizam with a force of around 30,000 personnel, 200,000 razakars, 40000 askars fought battle with the Indian forces. He hobnobbed with Pakistan and imported weapons clandestinely from Europe and Pakistan and loaned huge sums of money to Pakistan for bolstering their war effort against India in Kashmir. He went to UN against India. And finally, when he surrendered to the Indian forces he was allowed to continue as Nizam and finally was made the Rajpramukh/Governor of Hyderabad in Jan 1950.
Thus, the natural question is as to why the Maharaja of J&K, a Nationalist to the core and who cooperated with the Indian Govt after 1947 was unceremoniously exiled while the Nizam with all his follies and evil intentions against the Indian Nation was made the Rajpramukh?
It is this inherently contradictory attitude of the Govt of India towards the Maharaja and the Nizam that was one of the many reasons of heartache of the Dogras/Jammuites for last 75 years. Holiday to commemorate the birthday of the Maharaja declared by the LG of the UTJK is a recognition of his services and that of his ancestors to the people of J&K in particular and Indian Nation in general by the government and thankfully it has come at a time when the country is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.
This recognition will give Dogras/Jammuites a reason to reclaim the glorious past of the Dogra rulers who ruled this state justly and with forbearance. This is surely the first step and not the end, the finality…