Maharaja Hari Singh
From the Dogra lineage, Hari Singh, assumed power in 1925 and ruled till 1948. He introduced many reforms, which included throwing open all public schools, colleges and wells to the untouchable.Updated: Sep 09, 2002 16:50 IST
From the Dogra lineage, Hari Singh, assumed power in 1925 and ruled till 1948.
He introduced many reforms, which included throwing open all public schools, colleges and wells to the untouchables in 1931. The next year, all state temples were also thrown open to them. In 1940, he proclaimed untouchability a cognizable offence. He was also responsible for two more important social reforms. One was the prevention of juvenile smoking and the other was the removal of legal disabilities on the marriage of Hindu widows.
Equally important was the change, which occurred in India’s political atmosphere. On the national scene, two distinct political groups dominated - the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. In the state, anti-monarchy forces were gaining ground under Sheikh Abdullah who arose as a charismatic leader of the Kashmiri Muslims and led a strong anti-Dogra agitation, the "Quit Kashmir" movement in 1931.
Hari Singh was unable to adjust to the fact that monarchy was on the decline and could not grasp the importance of evolving with the changing political scenario.
In 1947, following the partition of the sub-continent, there arose the question of the settling the position of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state had the choice of either going with India or with Pakistan.
Hari Singh proved indecisive at this crucial juncture. He offered a standstill agreement with India and Pakistan.
Pakistan signed it but India did not. Violating the agreement, Pakistan inflicted an economic blockade followed soon by a tribal invasion of the state on October 22, 1947.
Hari Singh requested India to send in troops but Mountbatten, India’s governor-general, put a condition for the help: Accession first and troops later. On October 26, 1947, Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession brought to him by VP Menon, the Centre’s emissary. Thereafter, Indian troops landed in Srinagar on October 27, 1947, to quell the invasion.
But the tide was clearly against Hari Singh. He had the forces aligned against him in the Centre and the state. He nursed an animosity towards Nehru because Nehru supported his archrival Sheikh Abdullah.
His attempts to bring about changes in the state and efforts to retain power did not yield results. Clearly, Sheikh Abdullah was the chosen leader of the Kashmiri Muslims.
In 1934, Hari Singh had sanctioned the creation of a Legislative Assembly called the Jammu & Kashmir Praja Sabha. In the first elections to the Praja Sabha, the Muslim Conference bagged 14 seats out of 21 reserved for the Muslims. In the next election in 1936, it was able to raise its strength to 19. This established the claim of the Conference to be called the major political party in the state. In June 1939, however, Sheikh Abdullah broke away from the Muslim Conference and established a new party, the National Conference, which soon secured a large following.
Hari Singh acceded to the popular demand for more power to be given to the Praja Sabha. He called upon the Praja Sabha to nominate a panel of six members (three Muslims). From this panel he nominated two members as his Ministers, one of whom was a Muslim. This step was welcomed by all sections of the Assembly and led to the appointment of Mirza Afzal Beg and Ganga Ram as the Ministers. The former belonged to the National Conference while the latter was a Dogra politician.
With increasing feeling among the Kashmiris in the state that they should be granted more rights and Sheikh Abdullah gaining in authority, Hari Singh retired to Bombay. Apparently, it was felt that it would help if he were away from the state for some time. His son, Karan Singh, then only 17, took over as Regent of the state on June 20, 1949.
Under him, elections to the State Constituent Assembly were held. National Conference won all the 75 seats. In its very first session of October 1951, the assembly abolished the Monarchy and with this Dogra rule in this state came to an end.
Maharaja Hari Singh breathed his last at Bombay on April 26, 1961.
First Published: Sep 08, 2002 21:59 IST