What will be the right decision? Should he, Shriman Indar Mahindar Rajrajeshwar Maharajadhiraj Shri Hari Singhji, Jammu and Kashmir Naresh Tatha Tibbet adi Deshadhipati, Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir State, think as the ruler of the vast kingdom that he inherited from his uncle in 1925 or should he think, first as the bearer of the legacy of the Dogra dynasty and then as a hindu?
It was no secret that the border feudatory territories of Hunza, Nagar, Chitral and the District of Gilgit where the British influence was deep, wanted him to accede to Pakistan Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad and some adjoining areas of Punjab were also openly demanding that since the State was predominantly muslim therefore he should accede to Pakistan. They were even assuring him that his and his dynasty's interests would be safeguarded in Pakistan. On the other hand, the hindus and sikhs of Mirpur were feeling edgy and nervous and therefore, for obvious reasons the hindus of Jammu and the majority population of Ladakh wanted him to sign the Instrument of Accession in favour of India.
What was he to do in those circumstances? The valley of Kashmir was predominantly inhabited by Sunni Muslims .... Jammu on the other hand had a majority of Muslims but there was a sizeable population of Hindu Dogras too. From Muzaffarabad to Mirpur one came across Punjabi Muslims while Shias inhabited the regions of Gilgit, Skardu and Kargil. Then how could anyone forget the Buddhists of Ladakh? And, the choice before him was to either accede to India or Pakistan!
So what was he to do? Complicating the situation was the confounding fact that Prime Minister Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel wanted him to transfer power to Sheikh Abdullah before they could consider his offer of Accession !
'From the vantage point of him may be easy to say that the Maharaja could have handled the entire crisis better but, in my 'Autobiography' (Oxford University Press), I have recounted in some detail the events that took those tumultuous times, the difficulties that my father faced during the political crises of Partition, and also ideological divergence from his views Regretfully, he has received a very negative press and, therefore, I am glad that the author, Harbans Singh has researched and written the "Maharaja Hari Singh: The Troubled , Years" that not only puts the Maharaja in the right focus but also highlight the valiant role of the Jammu & Kashmir State Forces that the historians generally ignored. History will, no doubt, judge my father more fairly than the contemporary historians have commend Harbans Singh for per a valuable service by writing this book.
Harbans Singh began his career as a College Lecturer in Pathankot (Punjab). After 10 years of teaching he quit the profession and took up odd assignments and jobs for the next ten years before opting to make a living out of writing. He has been contributing to various newspapers, English as well as Hindi, and has been a regular book reviewer for The Tribune, Chandigarh. In the process he has written extensively on the subject of Jammu and Kashmir. 'Maharaja Hari Singh: The Troubled Years' is the first of the three books that he plans to bring on the subject. The second part of the trilogy will encompass the period when Yuvraj Karan Singh was appointed Regent in 1949 to the year when the nomenclature of Sadr-i-Riyasat and Wazir-i-Azam were replaced by Governor and Chief Minister. The third part intends to cover the later period when the Congress, despite its majority in the Assembly, chose to hand over power to Sheikh Abdullah, thereby reviving National Conference and then the gradual slipping of the State towards unrest, militancy and terrorism and giving a shot in the arm of the separatists.
Growing up in the former princely State of Rewa in the 1950s was an exhilarating experience. The statue of a Maharaja astride a horse guarded the entrance to the park of a palace complex that also housed government offices but the park itself had become the venue for public meetings that took place frequently. Occasionally, apart from a solitary organizer and speaker the only persons sitting there as an audience, would be those manning the petro-max lamp, the audio system and the durreewala. This, however, never discouraged people from venting their impatience and anger against the republican polity that had ushered a system that was too slow in delivering on its promises. In the backdrop of feudalism, the republican spirit was truly evolving.
In that Rewa, Dussera was a special festival that brought out people from allover the society on to the roads. Before the ritual consigning of the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran and Meghnad to flames in the evening the high point used to be the Dussera procession that would be led by the ruler of the former State. The excitement would begin to build from morning itself as it was believed that Maharaja Martand Singh would be riding in his custom built Rolls-Royce, made of silver, we were told. Every one willingly believed this. Amidst the buzz people jostled for vantage points on the road and the roof tops hours before the procession arrived.
There were two more occasions when Maharaja Martand Singh made a public appearance. He would preside over the Sports Day of the school named after the Maharani and also the much awaited final of the local football tournament. One of the indelible impressions of those years was that even though the Maharaja might have lost all power yet he occupied a special place in the hearts and Iives of the 'people'. This always made me asking father about the Maharaja of our State. He lived in Bombay, he would say, with discernible testiness. I am sure my father must have given some appropriate explanation that could satisfy the curiosity of a growing child but the Maharaja's living in Bombay remained a mystery for a few more years.
In 1959 my father was transferred to Bhilai when the steel plant was still under construction. In contrast to Rewa, Bhilai was a melting pot where caste and class did not define the worth of an individual, and it was exciting to be part of the whole process that was committed to leapfrogging decades. However, the riddle of my Maharaja (this 'my' had become very important now as everyone in the school had something to boast about their 'my' part of the country) always troubled me. Thus growing, in the April of 1961 I had appeared for my Board examination when my father informed me that I was to accompany him to Samba, our 'home', to attend a marriage of one of my cousin. It was during that visit that I was first exposed to the impact that Maharaja Hari Singh had on the lives of the Dogras.
The excitement of the visit was interrupted on 26th April by the news that Maharaja Hari Singh had passed away in Bombay. He had passed away while his son the Yuvraj was away in some foreign land and none knew what to do next. The movement of the people that day was restless as gloom descended and all meaningful activity came to a halt. No smoke came out of any hearth that evening and my father and I slept on the floor like numerous more. However, the State Government had maliciously refused to share the grief of the Dogras. The radio station played songs and the State flag continued to flutter. This was provocative and we heard that demonstrating students in Jammu had been fired upon and arrested.
Later, when I had acquired the habit of reading books from my father and as I read more and more about transfer of power and the problem that Kashmir had become, I realized that most of the accounts left me restless. All these accounts parked much of the blame at Maharaja Hari Singh's door. He delayed the accession or he was unable to make up his mind, was the near unanimous verdict. But most galling used to be the account of his departure from Srinagar.
My father, Maharaja Hari Singh, played a momentous role in the modernization of Jammu & Kashmir. His first statement, after assuming the high office in 1925, was "justice is my religion". He was a social reformer and, despite the objections from the orthodox priests, in 1929 he threw open the doors of all temples in the State to the dalits. In a memorable speech at the Round Table Conference on Indian Constitutional Reforms held in London in 1930-31 he stated "As Indians and loyal to the land of our birth, we stand as solidly as the rest of our countrymen for our enjoyment of a position of honour and equality in the British Commonwealth". He was also a distinguished sportsman, holding a world record in the sport of duck shooting, a sparkling polo player and a great patron of the turf in Mumbai.
Unfortunately, the last years of his rule were overshadowed by the traumatic events preceding and accompanying Partition. Locked as the State of Jammu & Kashmir was between the two nations, India and Pakistan, that emerged after the British withdrew, l: offered 'Standstill Agreements' to both the countries i 1947. However, Sheikh Abdullah, who had begun h virulent anti-Dogra campaign way back in 1931, seize the opportunity when Partition came to oust Maharaj Hari Singh and assume power himself with the blessing of Pandit Nehru. My father left the State in 1949 neve to return and passed away in Mumbai in 1961.
From the vantage point of hindsight it may be easy to say that the Maharaja could have handled the entire crisis better but, in my 'Autobiography' (Oxford University Press), I have recounted in some detail the events that took place in those tumultuous times, the difficulties that my father faced during the political crises of Partition, and also my ideological divergence from his views. Regretfully, he has received a very negative press and, therefore, I am glad that the author, Harbans Singh has researched and written the book, "Maharaj Hari Singh: The Troubled Years" that not only puts the Maharaja in the right focus but also highlights the valiant role of the Jammu & Kashmir State Forces that the historians have generally ignored. History will, no doubt, judge my father more fairly than the contemporary historians have done. I commend Harbans Singh for performing a valuable service by writing this book.
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