Maharaja Hari Singh: An icon or a villain


harisinghIt was this day (on September 23) in 1895 that Hari Singh was born and became the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir on February 25, 1925, at the age of 30. Two years after he assumed the reigns of the Dogra kingdom, he notified the State Subject law on April 20, 1927, while an additional clarification or explanation to this law was issued on June 27, 1932.

What was his contribution to the welfare of the masses whom he ruled? There are no clear answers as an objective assessment of his contributions has not been done till date. Due to the vitiated atmosphere spawned by identity politics, Maharaja Hari Singh is portrayed as a villain by most Kashmiri commentators.

In contrast, there are not very many narratives in Jammu which take account of his sterling qualities of head and heart. Since he was the last Maharaja of the state who fell out with Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, and his ardent supporter, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, tendency in most quarters is to ignore Maharaja Hari Singh’s contributions.

By most Kashmiri analysts and politicians, there is an overt attempt at portraying Maharaja Hari Singh as the root cause of most ills afflicting the society. They also tend to accuse him of being an “autocrat’’ conveniently forgetting to mention that prior to 1947 independence of India, the country was largely ruled by autocrats only.

The problem with Jammu and Kashmir historical narratives is that it is deeply contested. One version, let us say that of Kashmiris, is contested and sought to be run down by the Dogras, or large sections of Jammu people. The converse is also true. Given this, there is hardly any common ground and a fair assessment and perspective on history is difficult.

Perhaps one of the major reasons for our failure to assess Maharaja Hari Singh has been the abolishing of the royalty by his son and successor Karan Singh. Dr Karan Singh has been, for most part of his life, aligned with the Congress of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Maharaja Hari Singh was forced to give up the administration of J&K through the proclamation of March 5, 1948. This is a proclamation that needs to be studied in some depth to understand the dynamics of the fluid situation then. By this proclamation, Maharaja Hari Singh virtually signed his own death warrant, but in the hope that Karan Singh will be able to salvage the situation.

Influenced by Pandit Nehru, Karan Singh walked on a path which was entirely different from the one which his father had envisaged, or expected of him. This led to irreconcilable differences between the father and the son.

It is because of Maharaja Hari Singh’s decision that the State of Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India. It was his signing the Instrument of Accession with the Indian government that made J&K an integral part of India. For this single act alone, we have to be eternally thankful to him as the state could have otherwise been a part of Pakistan where minorities have no rights.

Maharaja Hari Singh led from the front in difficult situations, and never left it to his minions to report things to him. In 1928, when floods hit Srinagar, and bund threatened to breach at one place, he was there on the spot, and spent the entire night with his men to plug it.

One way of paying tributes to Maharaja Hari Singh is sure to read, and understand, more about him. Let us all pledge to do that on his birth anniversary.

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