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Have the despots ever been celebrated?

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Come September 23, shrill demands for commemoration:

By:  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.

  1. a) 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;
  2. b) 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.

  1. c) 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.

Individual accounts

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 Poonch uprising and the modus operandi of MHS to suppress it are a treasure trove for visualising his mindset targeted at Muslims (Choudhary Ghulam Abbas (CGA), 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 Poonch 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.

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.

Royalty’s nemesis

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).

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.

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