On the eve of the 70th anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, Rajya Sabha MP Karan Singh said his father Hari Singh, the then Maharaja of the state, and other Dogra rulers have not received much credit for extending the northern frontier of India.
Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947 in exchange for help from the Indian Army to fight tribal raiders from Pakistan who were invading Kashmir.
“My father’s main concern was how to save Kashmir,” the Congress leader told Hindustan Times.
He, however, regretted that negative historical accounts have been written about his father and other Dogra rulers.
“There has been a lot of misinformation with regard to my father. I think he was a very enlightened ruler. When he first came, he said, ‘I have no religion, my religion is justice.’ Then he took a large number of social welfare measures. Abolished that obnoxious practice of begar (forced labour), brought about reforms and built colleges,” the former Union minister said.
Singh credited Maharaja Hari Singh for “progressive” decrees, such as ordering all the temples to be opened to who were then called Harijans ( Dalits) in 1929.
“There was a deliberate attempt to try and be-smudge his image. I am not saying feudalism does not have its weaknesses,” he said, referring to the alleged inadequacy in highlighting the role of the Dogra rulers, from the time Maharaja Gulab Singh (who founded the rule).
“The man (Gulab Singh) started as a foot soldier in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army and grew by the sheer dint of merit and bravery. He was made the Maharaja of Jammu…He never received much credit for building up the state; and for not only stabilising, but extending the Northern frontier of India,” Dr Singh said.
He pointed out that if Jammu and Kashmir had not existed, perhaps India’s frontiers would have been at the Pir Panjal. “And all those vast Himalayan regions that were conquered by Dogra troops would not have been part of India,” he said.
Underlining the valour of the Sikh and the Dogra rulers, Singh said: “Rana Pratap and Chattrapati Shivaji, were great people, but they all fought within the territory of India. It was only the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Dogras under Maharaja Gulab Singh who extended the frontiers of India.”
At a time when tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated, Singh said his father’s only concern at the time of signing the accession was to “save Kashmir” from plunderers.
Commenting on the terms of the accession, he said it was signed on three principles-- that only foreign affairs, defence and communications would be handled by the Centre, and the rest will be under the state’s control.
“We were in Srinagar and my father was holding the Dusshera Durbar when news came that tribals had launched an invasion from Pakistan. [Over the] next two-three day, they were sweeping into the valley,” Singh told HT.
He recalled how the Maharaja, after advice from the government of India, agreed to sign the accession deed to be able to get military help, even as state forces under Rajinder Singh, managed to hold up the invaders near Uri for a crucial 48 hours.
Singh dubbed the present turmoil in Kashmir as “extremely tragic”. He said civil society in India needs to show more sympathy for the Kashmiris even if they do not approve of their actions.
“Everyone looks upon Kashmir as a political problem. It is a political problem, but it is also a great humanitarian problem...Politically people think, they (Kashmiris) have been doing this (demand for self rule) so they deserve it, that is not an acceptable attitude,” he said.