Shifting focus on the other side, the Kashmir story remains incomplete without mention of Maharaja Hari Singh. His supporters and critiques have their own reasons in support or against. While some have painted him as a worst villain of the majority population yet the other school of thought, particularly Dogra Rajputs, continue to project him as a benevolent ruler, friend of poor masses and different from his predecessors. The royal family particularly Jamwals take pride even today to have ruled the State. The Dogra consider Jammu as their motherland and Kashmir as a conquered territory ruled with the help of all fair and unfair means. Hari Singh was an exception as he was western educated and he alone among the royal family had taken to western way of life. He had the distinction to have learnt Kashmiri language and abolished ‘ Purdah ‘ for ladies of his dynasty.
Some of the revolutionary steps taken by the Maharaja during his rule, as claimed by Rajputs, are mentioned as under:
- Maharaja Hari Singh made primary education compulsory.
- Maharaja stopped the practice of child marriage and actively promoted widow re-marriage
- ” Justice is my religion” was Maharaja’s first statement after assuming the high office in 1925
- Maharaja ruled the State of J&K from 1925 to 1948
- Maharaja established the High Court on March 26, 1928
- Maharaja made a formal proclamation by throwing open the doors of State Temples and places of worship to the Harijans in 1932
- The Maharaja addressed Round Table Conference in London in 1930 and strongly advocated for the independence of India
- Maharaja established the department of Rular Development in 1937
- In 1940 Maharaja proclaimed untouchability a cognisable offence
- Maharaja established the J&K Bank in 1938
- Maharaja abolished the practice of ” SATI “
- Maharaja enacted the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution of 1928
- Established SMGS hospital (Jammu) 6 May, 1940 at a cost of Rs 8 Lakhs
- SMHS hospital was established in the bigning of 1948 at a cost of Rs 15 Lakhs
- Improved cannals and irrigation system in Jammu. etc etc.
After conversion of Muslim Conference into National Conference, S.M. Abdullah with active support of front line leadership started proactively a public awareness campaign in Shari Khas (down town), Srinagar. Principally the aim was to introduce naive, simple, gullible and innocent people to the idea of “Nationalism”. Simultaneously Muslim League, a formation of disenchanted members, started to offer resistance to S.M. Abdullah. on 10 June 1939 Abdullah publicly displayed congratulatory telegrams received from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru. In a changed political scenario and vitiated political atmosphere Muslim League projected itself legal and moral heirs of ‘Mujahid Manzil’. However on reaching Mujahid Manzil the M.L. members were beaten up as N.C. members and supporters out numbered them. In his speeches Abdullah attributed attempt at forcible take over of Party headquarters by M.L. supporters as a govt sponsored action.
During the summer of 1939 heightened activities of various religious, political, social groups were clearly noticed. It may be interesting to note that Kashmiri Pandits suddenly became hyper active. The reason being that during Maharaja Partap Singh’s rule a graveyard located at Durga Nag, Srinagar was forcibly occupied by the govt and made one ‘Mahant’ namely Shiv Rattan Gori as its custodian and caretaker.
The Mahant, over a period of time, raised a structure on the occupied land. On his death Kashmiri Pandits anointed a pandit to succeed the Mahant. The government made several attempts to eject Kashmiri Pandits but failed. On 2 August 1939 a large gathering of Kashmiri Pandits assembled at Durga Nag. The government forces made several attempts to disperse the gathering and resorted to lathicharge. Shiv Narayan Fotedar, President Youvak Sabha, and Kashap Bandhu etc resorted to sit-in at the spot. Kashmiri pandit students joined the agitation. Shops and business establishments belonging to Hindus were closed. The scene was shifted to Sheetal Nath and it was decided to offer arrests of five Pandits on daily basis. On 3 August while ‘ Satyagraha’ was on at Durga Nag, a large procession was taken out from Sheetal Nath. The procession on reaching near Durga Nag, the police resorted to severe lathicharge. Some Pandits in the melle jumped into the river who were rescued by boat-men located in the canal area (Dal gate). On 5 August, 1939 the govt in a press release held Kashmiri Pandits wholly and solely responsible to vitiate peaceful atmosphere. According to govt version the Pandits without any title or right created problems by forcibly occupying the land which was being looked after by Shiv Rattan Giri under the authority of Dharmarth Trust. The communique further said that pelting of stones was started by agitating pandits in which scores of govt officials including senior police officers were injured. More than 50 Pandits were arrested. Anti govt activities of Pandits were extended to a few other places including Hari Parbat temple. The pandit students were stuck off from schools and few among them were fined. The agitation continued till 18 August. It was suddenly announced that the government and Pandit leadership had resolved the issue. The case was referred to court of law and till delivery of judgement the police will protect the place.
It was not merely changing the name of Organisation which in about eight years of its existence had become a formidable force in Jammu & Kashmir State. It was a change of political ideology and historically important decision. S.M. Abdullah was at the center of this change. Indeed, it was not a cake-walk for him. There were dissenting voices, though few in number, yet could not be ignored. Was S.M. Abdullah espousing cause of Pandit Nehru will remain an important question political analysts, researchers and historians can throw light on. However, intriguing question remains that had Muslim Conference,, survived in its original form and strength till October, 1947 what would have been Kashmir’s political scenario?.
Abdullah’s justification for converting M.C into N.C was primarily for unity and broaden the base of the movement. But the results were quite contrary. Except for selected few Kashmiri Pandits namely D.P. Dhar, Janki Nath Zutshi, S.L.Saraf, Sri Kanth Raina, Shyam Lal Watt and Prem Nath Dhar, the community showed openly and publicly their disapproval particularly during June 1939 when Muslims were celebrating the Eid Milad. While the route of the Milad procession (9 June, 1939) was nicely decorated, but conspicuously Pandit dominated areas such as Ganpatyar to Bana Mohalla were giving a different look. This amply signified that ” Nationalism” continued to remain only a weak slogan.
Be that as it may, S.M. Abdullah immediately after formation of National Conference set up a religious body named ‘ AUQAF Committee’ to administer most revered shrine, Hazratbal and look after other properties. The arrangements to celebrate Milad was also given to the Committee. This was to the dislike of the Hindus. The criticism was taken to the public domain which resulted in generating mutual bitterness, writes Prem Nath Bazaz. Abdullah was again in the eye of the storm. But he grabbed the occasion and started organising celebrations for Milad coinciding 24 April, 1940. He untiringly and painstakingly worked for great success of the celebrations to belie growing popular belief against his person and demonstrate his unshakable devotion to Islam and commitment to Muslim interests. He remained unmoved when charges of establishing ” Muslim Raj ” were leveled against him. However Sheikh Abdullah was deeply angered and replied by saying that he was a ‘Muslim first and Muslim last’. (Ref: Inside Kashmir p 327).
(As an important development Kashmiri Pandits came on roads on 1 August, 1939 to protest against the govt. on Durga Nag land dispute. Details coming up in next write up).
Continued from previous titbit
Only a handful of speakers namely Ch. Hameedullah Khan, Molvi Rafi-u-din, Gh. Haider Gori, Molvi Abdullah, Sheikh Ahmed Din Banhali and Ghulam Ahmed Ganai (Bhadarwah) opposed the resolution. The crux of the speeches remained that ” there can be no unity between the weak (Muslims) and strong (Hindus). Many Hindus in Jammu are money lenders and Muslims constitute poor peasantry. Rajputs pride themselves as rulers and do not need any unity. Kashmiri Pandits interest is confined to services alone. The speakers mentioned above loudly announced that change of organisational name will be an exercise in futility.
When the resolution was put to vote on 10 June, 1939, out of 176 delegates, only three voted against. It was in this session that the National Conference adopted its flag consisting of a red cloth in the background with the sign of a white plough inscribed at its centre. Basic design of the flag was prepared by one enthusiastic Kashmiri Pandit namely Prem Nath Dhar. After minor adjustments the flag was approved. The red background of the flag represented working class and the plough meant ingratiating and submissive majority. Only a few could visualize that one day this flag shall be seen hoisted on the Maharaja’s palace. Moulana Masoodi prepared the national anthem in Urdu:
Lahra Ai Kashmir ke Jhanday Tifl-o-jawan wa peer Kay Jhanday….
Those who were overtly and covertly opposing the proposal of converting Muslim Conference into National Conference got geared up. Moulana Masoodi and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed played a dubious role by sitting at the fence. (Ref: Aatish Chinar). However S.M. Abdullah remained convinced that this paradigm shift will prove a sustainable political change. Significantly Nehru failed to push Hindus into National Conference. Except a few leaders, most of the Hindus particularly Kashmiri Pandits seemed discontented with the N.C.
To be Continued.
S.M. Abdullah was elected President of National Conference in its first session held at Anantnag (Islamabad) from 30 September to 2 October, 1939. Budh Singh, J.L. Kilam, G.L. Dogra, Kashap Bandhu Mahindra Singh (Jammu) and P.N. Bazaz were nominated as members of the Working Committee. Ch. Ghulam Abbas and Hamidullah Khan also attended the session. The Conference passed National Demands resolution highlighting the following:-
- Responsible Govt earlier demanded by Muslim Conference on 29 August, 1938,
- Decleration of Legislature as sole decesion making body viz-a-viz control on expenditure and revenues.
However powers of Expenditure on Military Service, Expenditure on Political and Foreign Affairs, Payments of debts and liabilities incurred by the Maharaja and Dharmarth Trust be retained by the Maharaja. Except control on Military, External Affairs and Political decisions and related matters, every issue be submitted to the vote of Legislature which will come into effect entirely on the basis of adult franchise. Provision should be made for due representation of labor, trade, landlords and educational interests. Election on the basis of joint electorate, reservation of minorities, protection of linguistics, religions, cultural, political and economic rights as enumerated by Indian National Congress be followed. Description on the basis of caste or creed in employment in defense shall be done away with by appointing a Minister who shall be responsible to the Assembly.
During the visit of Barrister Jinnah to Kashmir in June, 1936, S.M. Abdullah got distanced from him. Most of Muslim Conference front ranking leaders were aware of this development. Subsequently Abdullah accompanied by Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed met J.L. Nehru in 1937 at Lahore Railway Station which was quite significant. On the insistence of Pt Nehru, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah accompanied the former who was traveling to N.W.F.P (North West Frontier Province). Bakhshi was asked to break the journey and return to Kashmir. During long conversation while travelling to Peshawar the Sheikh fell flat before imposing and magnetic personality of Nehru and by the time he returned to Kashmir he was completely won over by Nehru. Badshah Khan all along the tour days remained a co-traveler. These facts have been boldly mentioned by S.M. Abdullah in his autobiography ” Aatish Chinar”. During the travel the Sheikh was immensely impressed by Nehru’s extraordinary interest in Kashmir affairs, not only as a political leader but as ‘ son of the soil’. During the entire tour S.M. Abdullah convinced Nehru that Muslim Conference was never thriving on communal politics and the Party is quite eager to bring non Muslims into the Organisational fold. The Sheikh argued that Hindu press outside Kashmir demonized him by leveling false accusations.
Inputs from ‘ Inside Kashmir’.
To be Continued.
This post needs to be read in the backdrop of Ch. Ghulam Abbas’s speech text. While the dye was cast to change Muslim Conference into National Conference there were murmurs and whispers among a small group of educated M.C. members. At one stage Ch Abbas realizing that his public posture of supporting the move of S.M. Abdullah, a fatal damage could be caused to the Organisation. Ch. Abbas, however, didn’t relent and started expressing his discontentment publicly. As a damage control exercise a series of meetings were held by Abdullah, Ch Abbas and P.N. Bazaz to iron out mutual differences. Abbas and a few delegates expressed fears about continuation of political movement in case the change was effected. Abbas was not sure that the Hindus would sincerely support the freedom struggle. Abdullah and Bazaz ultimately succeeded to bring Abbas into the loop so as to extract his support for the resolution in the plenary session of the Conference. After rigorous discussions it was decided that special session of M.C be convened at Srinagar so as to take decision about setting up National Conference. However this understanding was conditional as mentioned below:
- National Conference will struggle for the religious, economic, political and administrative grievances of majority population,
- Already existing separate electorate shall not be disturbed,
- S.M. Abdullah will not fall in line with the Congress politics,
- N.C. will continue struggle for Responsible Govt.
According to S.M. Abdullah, at one stage, his associates namely Abdul Majeed Qarshi, Allah Rakha Sagar and Ch Abbas unexpectedly were supported by Moulana Masoodi, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed, Mirza Afzal Beg and Molvi Abdullah.(Ref: Aatish Chinar). However it was agreed to leave the decision to the Working Committee of M.C which was convened on 24 June, 1938 at Srinagar. During the Working Committee meeting ( 52 hours of threadbare discussions) Bakhshi and Beg openly and unequivocally supported the view point of Ch Abbas, Molvi Abdullah and Ahmed Din Banhali to observe restraint and continue with Muslim Conference. But Abdullah remained content as overwhelming majority supported the proposal of change of the name. The Working Committee meeting concluded by recommending the change of name after observing necessary formalities such as amendment of Constitution.
To be Continued.