Maj Gen Goverdhan Singh Jamwal & Col J P Singh
Maharaja Hari Singh was born on 23rd September 1895, in Amar Mahal Jammu, now a world famous museum and the most popular tourist attraction in Jammu.
It is some coincidence that his Coronation was also on 23rd September – that was in 1925. He ruled the most troubled region of the sub-continent during the most turbulent time in history when the sub-continent was divided on the basis of religion. He was under tremendous pressure for acceding to Pakistan because majority of his subjects were Muslim. He took an all time historic decision and signed the Instrument of Accession in favor of India on 26 October 1947. Today J&K is part of democratic India and we the people of Jammu and kashmir are all Indians only due to him.
Four Dogra rulers ruled J&K for 101 years but none ever faced such uncertain and fast moving political and military challenges that Maharaja Hari Singh had faced, including threats to his life and property right from the time of the Round Table Conference. Yet he steered the state to its destination wisely for which he deserves to be remembered and celebrated.
He was son of Raja General Amar Singh Ji; younger brother of Maharaja Partap Singh. He ascended to the throne of Jammu & Kashmir State on 23 September 1925 after the demise of Maharaja Sir Partap SinghJi.
Maharaja Hari Singh was one of the renowned rulers of British India and he ruled over the largest, (87,000 Sq Miles) and strategically the most important State during British rule, which continues to remain in the limelight even today for several political, military and historical reasons. He gained acclame for being “The Last Ruling King of Independent India” since he continued as ‘Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir’ till 15th November 1952 while all other rulers of the erstwhile princely states had ceased to be rulers by 1948.
The rule of Maharaja Hari Singh has been described as glorious by many historians because of several reforms that he introduced in Administration and Judiciary. His commitment to justice and rule of law has been vividly described by Justice T S Thakur, ex Chief Justice of India, in a video which is going viral these days. After ascending to the throne he brought about several rules and regulations for the welfare and betterment of his subjects. There are numerous instances worth mentioning but few of them such as making primary education compulsory for all men & women, prohibiting child marriage and opening all the places of worship for “low caste” subjects are most remarkable. He opened many new schools and colleges to promote education. He managed to check corruption in the administration by adopting unique ways of detecting it, identifying the corrupt officials and punishing them. He banned the “begar” system (a system of forced labour practised in pre-independence period, in which members of populace were compelled to perform unpaid work) and it is said that during his rule none dared to accept bribes or deny wages for any services rendered. He even ploughed himself to get land-holding rights for his subjects.
Maharaja Hari Singh was a member of the Imperial War Council from 1944 to 1946 during the World War II. During the war he visited Middle East where he joined his units which were fighting against Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan). He lived with the soldiers in their temporary bunkers which boosted their moral, the same way as PM Modi’s visit to Ladakh during current Indo-China standoff has done. Showing his solidarity with his forces in the battlefield earned him lot of respect not only of his men but also of the Allied Powers particularly of the British Army.
Maharaja Hari Singh was very popular and respected by his men who defended the State of 600 miles border with 12000 soldiers till the Indian Army came at a cost of 1990 officers and men killed.
Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule witnessed lot of political upheavals. From 1931 onwards his rule faced Kashmiri insurrection against his rule which almost became a mass movement in the valley under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah. He opposed Jinnah’s Muslim League for its communal agenda illustrated in his two nation theory; hence faced his wrath. He was victim of hostility of Indian National Congress because of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah.
Maharaja Hari Singh was a democratic and progressive ruler and was a great visionary. He had made it clear at the Round Table Conference in London that he was for independence of India for which he had to pay a heavy price as the British never trusted him thereafter. As a result he had to face many uprisings fomented and abetted by them. He knew that the era of the dynastic rule was to end soon for which he prepared his subjects by introducing elections for the Paraja Sabha. He also prepared his son to fit in the future democratic set up of the country. Dr Karan Singh bears testimony to it as he became the first elected head of the State as Sadar-i-Riyasat and later Union Minister and Parliamentarian for many years. The credit for preparing Dr Karan Singh for the distinguished career in the changed political scenario goes to Maharaja Hari Singh.
When Lord Mountbatten visited Srinagar in June 1947, he advised Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to Pakistan. Maharaja ignored this advice and instead wanted more time to decide the future of his State. The Maharaja had his own reasons as ascertained by me (Maj Gen Goverdhan Singh Jamwal) while spending a month with him in Bombay along with his ADC Late Capt Diwan Singh in Apr 1954. Why he did not join Pakistan. He treated his subjects as his family. He thought 30 percent of his non-Muslim subjects i.e. the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and 10 percent of Shias and Christians will not be happy in a Country born on religious grounds whereas all including 60 percent Sunni Muslims will live happily in India being a pluralistic Democracy. How true he was, is now in front of us. This was his farsightedness.
There was a provision of Standstill Agreement in the process of transfer of power. Maharaja Hari Singh offered Standstill Agreement to both the Dominions. Unfortunately it was not accepted by Nehru and this changed the course of history. Had Nehru accepted it, Pakistan couldn’t have attacked J&K in October 1947 as the State would have been the joint responsibility of both the Dominions. However following the invasion by Pakistan on 21/22 October 1947, he appealed to the Indian Union for help, which India refused unless he acceded to the Indian Union. He signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’ with the Government of India on 26 October 1947 acceding Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union which included Jammu, Kashmir, Northern Areas, Ladakh, Trans-Karakoram Tract, POK and Aksai Chin.
Due to growing hostility with his Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah, Maharaja Hari Singh appointed Dr Karan Singh as his regent and left for Bombay in June 1949, never to return to his State thereafter. He spent rest of his life in exile. He breathed his last on 26 April 1961 in Bombay. As per his will his Ashes were immersed in Tawi and spread all over J&K.
The events leading to the Accession of J&K with Indian Union created Indo-Pak hostility which has resulted in four wars. Due to nature of transition, the largest State of India today is left half of what the Maharaja had acceded as Pakistan and China have usurped a large part of the original Jammau and Kashmir State that was accedded to India and this has created a flash point.
J&K State, which was knit together by Maharaja Hari Singh’s illustrious forefathers was re-organised on 5th August 2019 into two Union Territories of J&K & LADAKH. Ladakhis are overjoyed on coming under direct central rule but Jammu is not yet reconciled to the downgradation of state of their forefathers’ creation. Like Ladakh Jammu had also aspired for separation from Kashmiri domination. Hence the Dogras are still hopeful of Jammu Statehood. In the mean time they have appealed to the Lt Governor of Jammu and Kashmir to declare 23 September as Holiday as a mark of tribute to the distinguished last ruler who made J&K part of India in the face of all odds.
The author Maj Gen Goverdhan Singh Jamwal, became a lieutenant, an officer of the State Force that became part of the Indian Army after 26 October 1947. Was enrolled in the Independent J&K State from 15 August to 26 October 1947. He was on training in Uniform at Badamibag cantonment at Srinanagar in August 1947. He knows all that has happened between 1947 and today. He was the Brigade commander in Jammu during the 1971 War and was also the Military Secretary to the President of India in the late 70s.