Hari Singh’s legacy

A G Noorani

IT’S appropriate that Kashmir’s last Dogra ruler, Hari Singh, should be restored to favour by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. Her record would have endeared her to him.

On Jan 27, the PDP-BJP coalition adopted a resolution to declare his birthday a state holiday — even as July 13 is commemorated annually as Martyrs’ Day in remembrance of those killed by his troops. The National Conference and the Congress staged a walk out.

Of his rule, Prem Nath Bazaz wrote that Kashmiris faced unprecedented suppression, more so than under any of his predecessors.

On the night of Oct 25, 1947, he loaded about 100 trucks with precious goods and left Kashmir for Jammu, his ‘native town’. Once there, he took his revenge on Muslims — as Sheikh Abdullah said to his face the following year.

Hari Singh penned, “Sheikh Sahib switched on to the so-called massacre of Muslims in Jammu and started hinting that I had a hand in that … and said that even C.R. Chopra [then governor] and Brig Udey Chand [then IGP] had admitted that I must have had a hand in this. I said, ‘It has taken them several months to say this. Anyway, it is no use discussing the matter here and if you really believe in what they say why not have an impartial inquiry by unbiased and independent persons?’ Sheikh Sahib heatedly said, ‘What is the good of saying that? I started an enquiry [but] it was stopped from Delhi’.”

Mehbooba Mufti could have opposed the resolution. She did not.

Abdullah took up the matter with Singh’s mentor, Vallabhbhai Patel, in 1948, writing, “I regret that in spite of my repeated attempts in this behalf the sentiments of the people of [Kashmir] with regard to the unmistakable part which the Maharaja and his satellites took in the general massacre of Muslims at Jammu are but insufficiently appreciated … I have made no secret of it so far and I repeat it that the Maharaja has generally lost the confidence of the people [who] entertain bitterness against him … There was enacted in every village and town through which he passed an orgy of arson and loot and murder of Muslims. In Jammu the killing of Muslims all over the province continued unabated for weeks under his very nose.”

A widespread belief, certainly not without basis, was that the killing was in pursuance of an organised plan of genocide under which Hindu officials high and low freely distributed arms and ammunition to communalist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In Jammu, thousands of besieged Muslims were made to march to their deaths, under the escort of state forces who themselves actively participated in the bloodshed — an event that took place only a few miles from the Maharaja’s ‘palace’. Jammu was then a Muslim majority province. It ceased to be one.

Singh was complicit with the RSS. In December 1947, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru complained to Patel that “I have received very disturbing news … about the way the arms that we have sent for him have been kept back and distributed to RSS people. I am inclined to think that Mahajan sympathises with these activities and perhaps helps them.” The reason for the diversion then was to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

Interestingly, it was not Sheikh Abdullah but Hari Singh who first threatened secession. “Sometimes I feel that I should withdraw the accession that I have made to the Indian Union. The Union only provisionally accepted the accession,” he reminded Patel in January 1948.

Hari Singh was banished from Kashmir on Sheikh Abdullah’s demand. On June 20, 1949, he signed a proclamation in New Delhi devolving all his powers to his son, Karan Singh, and then left for Bombay.

His subsequent complaints were silenced by a withering letter from Nehru in 1952.

He wrote, “At the time of that crisis you left Srinagar at the dead of night for Jammu. Many of your officers followed your example and [Kashmir] was left without leadership or means of defence, insofar as official authority was concerned … You refer repeatedly to what you consider your rights and the rights of your dynasty. There is little mention in this letter of the rights of the people … Even that formal place that you occupy will be endangered. That place would ultimately be made secure only if you had the confidence and the affection of your people. Since you have lost this confidence and affection, the right also goes … I have seen no evidence of any great sympathy on your part for these people, no desire to help in their distress.”

Mehbooba Mufti could have opposed the resolution. She did not. Having forfeited the trust of her people, she has no option but to keep the BJP happy.

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