Come September 23, shrill demands for commemoration: Have the despots, moreover cowards, ever been even celebrated?
A A Latief U Zaman Deva
Despotic realms including their abhorrent great helmsmen as reminiscent of past are alluded to in politico-societal discourses in civilised countries for reiterating & furthering the pledges to their respective national heroes to strengthen democracy as a political creed but a singular departure is visible in urban Jammu centric characters/entities who bizarrely pitch for commemorating the birth day of Maharaja Hari Singh (MHS).
None can deny the applicability of the factum of despotism to the Dogra rulers exercising as they were in person the absolute powers in a macabre, brutal & oppressive ways but their chauvinistic votaries stung by ostrich syndrome would nevertheless repeat the demands. Historically the despotism in its all forms and manifestations has never been adulated even in seldom streaks by societies championing democracy except in the sub-continent due to myths about unsubstantiated ancient history. During the 18th & 19th Centuries Maria Theresa of Austria, Catherine II of Russia, Frederick of Prussia and Joseph II of Roman empire heralded ‘Benevolent Despotism’ by exercising the political powers in conformity with the principles of enlightenment for greater public benevolence, but none of them even being as pioneers of enlightenment, stand shoulder to shoulder with iconic figures representing liberty, freedom and democratic movements.
Mayhem the outcome
Quite on the heels of partition followed by independence, around 550 Princely States/Provinces were supposed to settle the issues about accession & merger with Govt. of India who did so without indulging in procrastinating deliberations excepting Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, Travencore and Junagadh but the tough course of actions unleashed therefore resulted in their rulers/Dewan acquiescence with the general milieu of the country. From out of about 550 rulers a host of them, symbolizing the popular aspirations, exhibited patriotism of highest standards who no doubt deserved focussed commemoration not necessarily by declaring their birth days as holidays in respective areas otherwise a large no of holidays across in the States/Union Territories should there be approbation for remembering them by declaring their birth days as State holidays.
A ruler who in the wee hours of 26th October 1947 fled from his capital, in an entourage of 25/50 vehicles leaving practically no dependable mobility with the local administration packed with whatever he could lay hands on, instead of lending moral support by his stay put in the palace in Srinagar to his forces fighting the tribals far from the city at a distance of more than 100 Kms can be anything but not a role model worth bequeathing him for generation to generation heroically;
In The Story of the Integration of the Indian States, V P Menon (page 400) records an excerpt from his deliberations with MHS which is reproduced as under:
“Just as I (Menon) was leaving, he (MHS) told me that before he went to sleep he had left instructions with his ADC that…if I failed to return it meant that everything was lost and in that case his ADC was to shoot him in his sleep”.
Nero in Rome, Hitler in Germany and men of their ilk chose suicide to confronting the reality but in contrast Tipu Sultan, the King of Mysore, fought British Army & embraced martyrdom in the battle of Srirangapatna. Two of MHS’ predecessors namely Ranbir Singh and Pratap Singh instead of facing the vagaries of harsh winter and combating the plague in Kashmir respectively had also in the past run away from Srinagar to Jammu and how could MHS would have been with a distinct DNA to fight head on the aggression. Who deserves commemoration cowards or the gallant and the brave?
Immediately after signing the Instrument of accession MHS appointed Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (SMA) as Emergency Administrator and allocated Kashmir Division to him and decided to manage himself the State of affairs in Jammu Division along with Meher Chand Mahajan, the State’s Prime Minister supplemented & complemented by State Civil & military forces. Without State resources and paraphernalia SMA, by galvanizing rank and file of his party, ensured that not a single life was lost in the anticipated reactions to savagery elsewhere in the State prompting Mahatma Gandhi to say that ‘Kashmir is the citadel of hope for the entire sub-continent’ but Jammu, in presence of Maharaja and his entire administration, went through a genocide resulting in annihilation mercilessly/exodus of 2.5 Lakh indigenous Jammuites from the loop comprising of modern day districts of Kathua, Samba, Jammu, Udhampur and Reasi short of trans-Chenab areas. In 1941 the Muslim population was 40% in Jammu district including district Samba which is now 7% only & includes more than half from remaining districts of Jammu Division residing in Jammu, after 1947/48, being Winter Capital and Divisional headquarters. The Census 1941 reveals 120858 as the total population of non-Muslims in Muzafferabad, Mirpur & Punch districts but in war of 1947/48 Uri & Karnah Tehsils from Muzafferabad and Punch the HQ Tehsil of Punch Wazarat with substantial non-Muslim population fell on Indian side. There are 31619 families registered as displaced families from POK with provincial rehabilitation officer Jammu & on the basis 5 members each family the number of persons comes to 158095 which is higher than the total non-Muslim population indicated in 1941 Census even after accounting for growth in population for years from 1942 to 1947 & the segments of settlements continued to reside on our side of the State in 3 Tehsils. By now this category in the population may have risen upto 6 lakhs and in contrast about one lakh persons only are classified in 1947/1948 as Mahajeren from Jammu in the records of Pakistani Punjab Revenue and Rehabilitation Department suggesting the sparse killings in POK not exceeding couple of hundreds against organised & pre-meditated genocide in Jammu Division as in countless infernos the hapless people were incinerated after collecting & pushing them in ‘ditches/khuds’ by State & Patiala forces and their accomplices under passive assent of the top rung in the Administration; and
the veracity of allegations about contrived plan for engineering the demographic changes in Kashmir Division more so in Muzafferabad district have remained shrouded in mystery despite the rampant misgivings and chronic sense of insecurity quite visible in majority community in the context of the district adjoining western Punjab and the account of events leading to the morning gun fight in proper Muzafferabad on 22nd October 1947 as recorded in the book Sachee Kahani Ek Ma ke by Krishna Mehta, wife of Wazer Wazarat, Muzafferabad. From August 14 the rumours had gripped the border Villages of the district about impending attacks on them for facilitating the fleeing refugees from western Punjab to settle in Kashmir and to begin with, in Muzafferabad & to ward-off the catastrophe the elders had approached the tribal leaders in Waziristan who planned to checkmate the MHS’ administration after Eid i.e. 26th but due to pressure from the locals the operation was pre-poned and commenced on the morning of 22nd & by midday Muzafferabad had been lost. Ms Krishna in her book unveils the marathon meeting held by her husband at the official residence during the night intervening 21st and 22nd October with military and other security officers who incidentally were co-religionists of the ruler & when in the morning the deafening gunfire shorts were heard in the vicinity of the residence of the Wazer Wazarat she rushed into the bedroom of her husband who remained unmoved despite frightened locale (as if something was happening in accordance with a pre-conceived plan) but when she repeatedly manifested her concern he came out of his residence but didn’t come back alive. The conclusion drawn by anti-establishment forces was that the nefarious approach of the hostile elements in the State had been pre-empted largely on the strength of inputs shared with the tribals by the local leadership. But the reality about the whole episode has remained & shall remain in mystery due to passing away of all characters involved and non availability of memoirs if any left behind.
After accession & arrival of Indian Army a group of young political & social activists including Mr Ved Basin, a journalist of impeccable integrity, called for a meeting with Meher Chand Mahajan, Prime Minister of J&K, and during discussion on the prevailing law & order situation he suggested to the delegation to demand parity in the new dispensation but retort of Mr Basin about the untenability of the proposition on the basis of non-Muslim population not exceeding 22% of the State population; behold the oxygen sucking repertoire of the PM when, he asked Mr Basin to ‘look towards Tawi river’ which was seen littered with dead bodies of Muslims and concluding the deliberations he signalled to them to leave it for ‘us’ to enable you to firmly defend the principle of parity;
Khalid Bashir, a former civil servant and renowned writer, in an article in Greater Kashmir on the demise of Mr. Shabir Salaria (former MP and Advocate General) unravelled the gruesome accounts by the latter’s father, a Ranger in State Forest Deptt, countenanced by him from Kathua to Jammu during onslaught on Muslims in October/November 1947, as shared by the Forest officer father with his family and narrated later on by Mr Shabir to Mr Khalid. Salaria the elder had put on saffron coloured apparels before joining the crowds marching by foot towards Jammu and during the march they crossed the entourage of MHS on 3 to 5 occasions when the ‘killer gangs’ would brief him (MHS) about the measures being implemented for making Jammu ‘Muslim mukt’ and MHS instead of reprimanding them had chosen to hear them only like a lifeless statue in tacit concurrence;
The accounts rendered by historians about the causes of Punch uprising and the modus operandi of MHS to suppress it are a treasure trove for visualising his mindset targeted at Muslims (Choudhary Ghulam Abbas, a Jammuite, M Y Saraf from Baramulla and Mir Nazer Ahmed from Jammu). In the discourse about uprisings in Indian States, after independence of British India, the popular outbursts against Nizam of Hyderabad are uprisings and not rebellions, while as the similar kind of uprisings in Punch and other areas in J&K is mutiny and sedition. In both the situations the external factors were primarily responsible for the unconstitutional state of affairs should one opt for a dispassionate approach but the fact is that all pervading elements of popular upsurges were pointing towards yearnings for riddance of royalty for good in both states;
Under the camouflage of evacuations the designed exodus of Muslims resulted in mass killings by ‘Death Squads’ on promised journey towards Pakistani borders & migration of survivors to Punjab Pakistan well documented by the British press and even complaints lodged by SMA with Pandit Nehru against Mahajan and
The unabated discontentment following the tragedy of July 13 1931 saw a deputation of 11 nobles and gentry including SMA and CGA, the 2 youngsters, getting audience of MHS in the month of August & the contents of the proceedings of the meeting in the book Kashmukash, an autobiography of CGA (pages 78 to 80), depict how without compunction or remorse about the loss of innocent people MHS let loose his indignation by leaving from the meeting without deliberations on the memorandum read out by one of the members of delegation. The replication of this kind of outrageous behaviour by Governor General/Viceroy with national leadership would have sounded reprimand and even sacking by the British Govt but MHS was neither of the two but hawkish to the extent of wilders and delegation except the 2 modern educated public cynosures, largely apologists and shame atleast for a nation committed to self esteem.
Sardar Patel considered J&K as a Hindu State with Muslim surroundings & therefore had emerged as a benefactor of MHS & his coterie enabling him in the process to pack the Royal Household and the local Administration with his accolades at positions of reckoning which included M.C. Mahajan as Prime Minister of the State who crafted the course willy-nilly followed by the ruler but in the post independence era he contrararily was a pivotal character in concluding the contours for the constitutional relationship between Govt. of India and State of J&K and piloted the constitutional bill in the Parliament in this behalf. Noticing subsequently the sources responsible for stress and strains brewing in the political landscape of the State & to undo the same he firmly & without any ambiguity (Heir Apparent by Dr Karan Singh) asked in person the Maharaja to leave the State for good who till his death stayed in Bombay (Mumbai) even though on larger canvas viz his peers he deserved a dignified and graceful life. In places of his own choices but the horrendous and savage reigning of his predecessors haunted him as the price he paid by being virtually in exile. Unfortunately he was a mixture of two strands one being Indian nationalism and the other perpetuation of dynastic hegemony with puppets around as otherwise he, instead of putting behind the bars the leadership of National Conference and Muslim Conference along with their supporters at the turning point of freedom struggle, would have accepted the ground realities by shunning the arrogance and reached out to political parties for a break through which was possible owing to the religious and ethnic diversities in the State.
The author can be reached on his twitter handle: @aaluzdeva.