Full of dignity, intelligence, and knowledge, Dr Karan Singh the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir is an intellectual prince who has had more fascination for literature, and religion as compared to his passion for power, and similar things for which princes have a liking. Dr Singh is also a distinguished scholar,administrator, and a diplomat who has represented the Indian cause successfuly in the comity of nations. Dr Karan Singh was born on March 9, 1931 at Cannes in France where his father Maharaja Hari Singh, and taken his mother Tara Devi. Maharaja Hari Singh had succeeded his uncle Maharaja Pratap Singh as the ruler of the state, and it was expected that Prince Karan Singh would succeed him but this was not likely to happen.
The birth of the young prince however led to celebrations in the entire state, and an order was issued banning the slaughter of animals, fishing and shooting were prohibited for the next three days, and these were declared public holidays. Offerings were made in religious places, and all sweets were distributed in the all the schools in the state.
Despite being a monarch, his father was smart and had the foresight to groom the young prince as a leader who would have to function in a democratic set up. Maharaja Hari Singh knew that with British rule coming to an end, it was likely that Prince Karan Singh would have to live in a democratic world. To ensure that the Prince was groomed propely, the Maharaja put in place a very rigourous regime for him, and he had to undergo tough education, and military training. And no doubt the hardwork at that time has paid him handsome return, and Singh is known today as an intellectual, , poet, writer, lyric, singer, musician and statesman. It was because of this that the young prince was allowed to see his mother only for one hour in a day.
In 1940, the young prince was admitted to Cathedral High School in Bombay, and later he shifted to Presentation Convent, Srinagar. Thereafter, he was admitted to Doon School in 1942 from where he was passed in 1945. The schooling was strenous and the young prince had to do his own work, and he would get a measly Rs 5 as pocket money. It is said that it was during his stay in Doon School, that Prince Karan Singh was able to break the feudal mindset, and learnt to live like a common man. This learning kept him in good stead during his long tenure in the public life.
Singh graduated from Partap Singh college in Srinagar, and pursued Masters in Political Science from Delhi University. After that he completed his doctorate from Delhi University on Aurobindo. The young prince entered politics at the age of 18 years, when the Maharaja appointed him as the regent in 1949. In 1950, he was appointed as the Sadar-e-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir, and later appointed Governor in 1964. He has the distinction of being the only Sadar-e-riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir state. It was Yuvraj Karan Singh who abolished monarchy in the state on September 15, 1952.
As the Sadar-e-riyasat he ably handled the political turmoil post -independence after the tribal invasion in Jammu and KAshmir. It was he who dismissed the Sheikh Abdullah government in 1953, and appointed Bakshi Ghulam MOhammad as the PM. Having worked closely with Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, the Prince had learnt both political and governance skills to excel in a democracy. It was PM Indira Gandi who inducted him in union cabinet as Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, and he went on to become the youngest ever cabinet minister at that time. However, in 1973 he resigned after a Avro aircraft crash but the PM did not accept it. From 1973 to 1977 he was the Minister of education and culture, he was the one who deviced the slogan “Development is the best Contraceptive”. It also goes to his credit that the compulsory warning on cigarette packets that ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ came into existence.
Despite being a prince, it was his faith in the democratic system which made him voluntarily surrender the privy purse which played an important role in the abolition of privy purses for the princes across the nation. Whatever money he received as privy purse was donated to a charitable trust. Singh was also elected to the Lok Sabha from Udhampur seat, and he was the only sitting Union Minister in north India who won his seat after the withdrawal of emergency.
Singh is also an avid environmentalist, and he found the India Forum and People’s Commission on Environment and Development. He is also the active member of the author’s guild of India, and the Indian Board of Wildlife and several others. Being an academic par excellence, he has been appointed chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Benaras Hindu University as well as President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations