The King who acceded J and K to India this day has been tainted by Leftists
Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir
Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, to accede to India. After that, Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India officially, and Indian troops landed in Srinagar to repulse the tribal Pathan lashkars led by Pakistani army personnel. That was perhaps one of the most significant decisions of his life. Somehow, the true import of this decision was never given due recognition by successive Kashmir-centric political dispensations in J&K as also at the Centre. That seems to be changing now and Hari Singh's role is being looked afresh.
Most of the states of India, be it Himachal Pradesh or Haryana, celebrate a day every year as their respective State Day. However, J&K never had any day recognised as its founding day but Accession Day would perhaps been very appropriate for celebrations.
Far-reaching constitutional changes were introduced last year in August and the list of gazetted holidays in the UT saw October 26 as a holiday for the first time in 2020. It was a day of celebrations for a very large section of population in the UT and several functions were organised by different organisations, mainly all over the Jammu region.
By all available indications, a reassessment of the late Maharaja's important role in the events related to J&K is on. Nowadays, unbiased and more sympathetic narratives about him can be found in the public domain. Earlier, Hari Singh was often painted as a villain by many sections of people who blamed him for not having acceded his State to India by August 15, 1947. This delay was blamed for the ills plaguing J&K as if Pakistan's evil eye was not the single most important contributory factor. Incidentally, it needs to be mentioned here that 12 other Princely States had accession to India after J&K. Frankly, leave aside knowing about the names of these states, widespread erroneous perception is that J&K was the last state to join India.
Perhaps, in a few years, there will be better awareness about the legal framework regarding accession. About accession of different states and their dates as more scholars devote themselves to studying this.
A reputation held hostage by Leftists
We need to just think of certain events or episodes related to Maharaja Hari Singh's life and that may help change our perceptions about him. He is painted as a villain in many popular narratives by Leftist historians but we cane scrutinise the records closely and then decide.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir during the Maharaja's time comprised of five distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan. Incidentally, Kashmir was geographical perhaps the smallest region though it was more populated as compared to other regions.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was keen to make his personal friend Sheikh Abdullah Abdullah as Prime Minister of the state. Incidentally, Abdullah was a tall leader, both physically and figuratively, only in the Kashmir region. He was not popular in the other four regions and this was a major flaw in Hari Singh’s assessment of Sheikh's standing.
Maharaja Hari Singh's differences with Nehru-Abdullah duo were based on this fact. Hari Singh's assessment of Sheikh's standing and his loyalties was more realistic than Nehru's. This is proved by later events clearly as Nehru had to dismiss Sheikh in August 1953 and imprison him for anti-India activities.
The Nizam of Hyderabad was perhaps treated far better by Nehru government as its hostile behalf towards Hari Singh indicates. It needs to be remembered here that the Nizam wrote to 10 different nations urging them to help him gain freedom from India. Hari Singh was very dignified in his conduct and did not say, or do, anything against the Indian government ever.
It may be recalled that Maharaja Hari Singh, as early as in 1930-31, had declared himself to be an Indian. He did this during a Roundtable Conference of the Indian Princes held in London of which records are available. This was treated as a cardinal sin by the British who never forgave Hari Singh for articulation of such thoughts.
Hari Singh was a liberal, modern and progressive ruler contrary to an overbearing despot as he is often presented in some accounts. Setting up of schools, colleges, medical facilities and entry of dalits into temples during his rule are clear proofs of the benign changes he brought in.
Even today, all over India, we have narratives centred around Dalits and alleged atrocities on them. However, Hari Singh proposed on ascension that dalits be permitted entry into all temples within his kingdom. When he discussed this idea with the family priest, the latter opposed it. Hari Singh then removed the priest who had been working for some generations for his family, appointed a new priest and stood firm on his idea.
Incidentally, he is on record as having said more than once that "justice alone was his religion as a ruler". Yet, he is sought to be painted as favouring Hindus, and by implication, having worked against Muslims. Nothing can be far from truth as merit and loyalty were virtues he valued as his patronage of Malika Pukhraj shows. She was made the court singer and her education in music was fully sponsored by Hari Singh. He was deeply hurt when she chose to go to Pakistan being a Muslim. Someday soon, as facts emerge more clearly, a reassessment of Hari Singh's place in history is bound to happen.
Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is now out and could be bought here.
Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.
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