Maharaja Hari Singh, last Ruler of an independent Jammu and Kashmir

Written by: Dr Shabir Choudhry
I am grateful to ‘Voice of Dogras’ for inviting me to speak on the occasion of birthday of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Ruler of an independent Jammu and Kashmir State. This function is to be held in the British Parliament on 10 October 2016.
Due to family commitments, I am unable to personally take part in this important function; however, I promised Madam Manu Khajuria, Chair of ‘Voice of Dogras’ that I will send my message in writing.
Chair, Friends and colleagues
All those who have made some contribution to history are controversial people; and Maharaja Hari Singh is no exception to this. The fact that he is a controversial figure is tantamount to acknowledging that he has made some contribution to the history of Jammu and Kashmir and the region; and which is still considered to be significant.
Critics of Maharaja Hari Singh
Maharaja Hari Singh’s critics could be characterized as follows:
1/ People of the Valley of Kashmir erroneously think they are the chosen people; and people belonging to other regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir are inferior to them. Since Maharaja Hari Singh belonged to Jammu, they never accepted him as an equal, or even a ‘Kashmiri’, hence the Quit Kashmir Movement against the Maharaja, at a crucial time when important decisions were being made in whole of the Indian Sub-Continent.
At this important juncture of history, people and the ruling elite of Jammu and Kashmir must have been on the same page to safeguard interests of the Jammu and Kashmir State; alas some political aspirants had other ideas which were detrimental to the interests of the State.
2/ Muslims of the State, in Particular Muslims of the Valley of Kashmir regarded him as a ‘biased’ Hindu Dogra; and examined his Rule from religious perspective. Most literature against the Dogra rule or Hari Singh was produced by the Muslims of the Valley which had religious and regional bias.
This literature, to a large extent, had inbuilt bias against Hari Singh and his administration; and many people of Pakistan, Pakistani occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kashmir Valley were and still are influenced by that literature.
3/ Other critics of Hari Singh view his administration in the light of the Western democracies of 21st century. Little they know what were the political, economic and social conditions of the people in the British India, and especially in the Princely India. All these approaches to evaluate his rule and his legacy are wrong, as they will reach wrong conclusions.
Was he a communal Ruler?
We have to analyze his rule and achievements under the prevailing political, economic and social conditions of that time. Moreover, we should examine his administration as a Ruler of a multi-religious and multi-ethnic State; and not as a follower of a particular religion.
He may not appear a democrat, especially if we see his rule in the light of democracy we see in Britain or in the Western Europe; but he was far ahead of other Princely Rulers of India. He was the first Ruler to grant Assembly to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Among the biggest criticism against the Maharaja Hari Singh are events which culminated into the tragic event of 13 July 1931, in which more than 21 innocent citizens got killed and injured. And because of these events people label him as ‘anti-Muslim’. His officials could have been too harsh with Muslims, and there were heavy taxes imposed on Muslims, which generated resentment and hatred against his rule, especially in 1947 when religious sentiments were running very high.
But is it not true that officials even in 21st Century democracies, at times, treat people harshly and exhibit anti certain community actions? Are we not complaining about taxes and high prices on various items used in everyday life in 21st century? In other words people always complain about inequality and unfair treatment in every society. This is not to suggest that officials of the Maharaja were pious people and they were not biased or oppressive. Muslim subjects strongly felt that they were treated unfairly and that they were burdened with heavy taxes which resulted in resentment and anti-Dogra sentiments.
Anyhow, before we comment on the events in which Muslim sentiments were very seriously injured, thinking people need to see why these four incidents happened at that particular time. No one can trace any such incidents before 1930/31 or after this.
Then question arises why these events happened at that time. Why sentiments of Muslims were hurt. Can people remember there was a Round Table Conference in London in 1930? This is where the British asked the Maharaja to lease areas of Gilgit to the British that they could check the Soviet Russia’s activities from there.
As a loyal son of the soil, the Maharaja refused. The British made it apparent that they did not like this rather rebellious attitude of the Maharaja Hari Singh; and that there would be a political price for this.
At that time Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir was a British gentleman called Mr Wakefield. His services could be utilized to teach Hari Singh a lesson, hence four communal incidents in which Muslim sentiments were very profoundly hurt. Colonel Tej K Tikoo, commented in the following words:
‘Clipping the Maharaja’s wings would serve their immediate purpose. Besides, it would serve its other strategic purpose; coerce him to submit to the British demand for lease of Gilgit, the all important strategic outpost in the Great Game.’ The Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Wakefield, ‘was ideally placed to implement the conspiracy on the ground’. 1 It looks he completed his task effectively.
These communal events, bad and undesirable as they were, were orchestrated systematically to inflame religious passions of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir and in the British India. They held the Maharaja Hari Singh responsible for these communal events, and were determined to overthrow him. In this struggle, Muslims of Punjab were supporting them.
It is true, the Muslims were politically suppressed and economically strangled, but was that not the case in the rest of India too; and there were other reasons why they were behind, one reason was their refusal to learn English and lack of cooperation with the British who were, at that time, masters of India.
Abdul Qadeer was an employee of an English army officer, who was on holiday in Kashmir, staying in a house boat in the Nasim Bagh. When the Muslims were killed as a result of firing, and their passions were running very high. When the crowd was emotionally charged, out of nowhere, Abdul Qadeer Khan appeared on the scene and delivered a powerful speech to inflame passions of the Kashmiri Muslims. He said:
‘Muslim brethren! The time has now come when we should meet force by greater force to put an end to the tyrannies and brutalities to which you are subjected; nor will they solve the issues of disrespect to Holy Quran to your satisfaction. You must rely upon your own strength and wage a relentless war against oppression’. Pointing his finger towards the palace, he thundered: ‘Raze it to the ground’. 2
Abdul Qadeer Khan was arrested and imprisoned, but not many people know that under the pressure of the British he was released secretly. Important point was he came, played his role brilliantly, created the chaos which the British wanted; and disappeared.
Glancy Commission
After the tragic killings of 13 July, The All India Kashmir Committee was established to support Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir and lobby the British on their behalf. They conducted a successful campaign to exert pressure on the British to intervene to stop the killing of innocent people. Due to internal and external pressure the Maharaja appointed a Commission, which was known as the Glancy Commission.
The Commission had the task of looking into the grievances of the community groups in the State, particularly the Muslims, who had serious complaints against the Government. The Maharaja also promised that once the Commission had completed its task, he would hold a conference under the chairmanship of Mr. Glancy, to consider constitutional reforms.
The Commission completed its task and presented the report on 22nd March 1932, and made 12 recommendations, of which these are the important ones:
1. That certain Muslim religious shrines should be restored to Muslims;
2. Complete religious liberty should be enjoyed by every class and community;
3. A special inspector of Mohammedan education should be appointed and the number of Muslim teachers increased;
4. All communities should receive a fair share of Government appointments;
5. All vacancies should be properly advertised;
6. There should be decentralized power so that ministers could function properly;
7. Certain taxes should be abolished and industrial development should receive the urgent attention of the Government.
In my opinion Hari Singh was a true nationalist. His vision and care for his subjects could be seen from the fact that in order to protect interests of his subjects he introduced State Subject Laws in 1927, that no non-Kashmiri can buy any land in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is sad to note that whereas, India, by and large, has respected State Subject Laws, Pakistan has openly contravened these laws, especially in Gilgit Baltistan where tens of thousands of Pakistanis have settled; and a large areas of the region are leased to rich Pakistanis who are plundering our natural resources.
He exhibited statesmanship by dealing and having very tough negotiations with great and clever leaders of that time, for example, people like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Mountbatten, and Sheikh Abdullah etc. He must have had strong nerves to put up with the pressure of Muslim League, Indian National Congress, Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, and Mountbatten who were forcing him to either accede to Pakistan or India. He did not surrender to this pressure; and as a loyal and brave son of the soil, he protected the interests of Jammu and Kashmir State; and opted to remain independent.
He wanted to preserve his independence which he gained after lapse of the British Paramountcy on 15 August 1947. As the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, he concluded a Standstill Agreement with the government of Pakistan. He also offered India a Standstill Agreement. India did not refuse to sign the Standstill Agreement; but wanted to discuss this matter further.
It must be remembered that he was the first Princely Ruler to establish the Constituent Assembly. He was gradually giving away his powers to the people and the Assembly when, Pakistan, in violation of the Standstill Agreement, attacked State of Jammu and Kashmir on 22 October 1947. If there was no tribal invasion, it was more than likely that Jammu and Kashmir would have been an independent country with a constitutional monarchy.
When he was forced by the Tribal attack to seek help from India, in his letter to Mountbatten, Governor General of an independent India he wrote: ‘so that it has become difficult to stop the wanton destruction of life and property and the looting of the Mahura power house,…The number of women who have been kidnapped and raped makes my heart bleed…. I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian Dominion… . I have accordingly decided to do so, and I attach the instrument of accession for acceptance by your Government. The other alternative is to leave my state and people to free booters. On this basis no civilized government can exist or be maintained. This alternative I will never allow to happen so long as I am the ruler of the State and I have life to defend my country…’ 3
If one impartially read these sentences, one can see his pain on the destruction and loss of life of his Subjects. No matter what was attitude of some of his officials, this letter shows he cared for his people, whether they were Muslims or non-Muslims.
In my opinion, the biggest tribute to his rule is that even his Muslim critics also demand protection under the State Subject Laws, be they are in Srinagar, Jammu, and Muzaffarabad or in Gilgit. Furthermore, majority of the people seeking unification and independence of Jammu and Kashmir demand all the areas of the State of which he was the last Ruler.
1/ Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus p 133
By Colonel Tej K Tikoo
2/ Justice Yusuf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight For Freedom, Vol. 1, p.374.
3/ Maharaja Hari Singh’s letter to Mountbatten written on 26 October 1947
Dr Shabir Choudhry
Chairman Institute of Kashmir Affairs
Writer, TV anchor and author of dozens of books on Jammu and Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations.
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