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Jammu and Kashmir: BJP, PDP spar over decision to declare Maharaja Hari Singh's birth anniversary as public holiday

Srinagar: The ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir (PDP-BJP) is at loggerheads over a decision to declare 23 September, the birth anniversary of the last Hindu ruler of state Maharaja Hari Singh, as a public holiday. Senior BJP leader and deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh wrote a letter to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Friday, asking her to suspend all government work on Saturday.

But the PDP has been against remembering the birth anniversary of the Dogra ruler. Rather, it commemorates 13 July as martyrs day in memory of 22 Kashmiris who were killed by Dogra soldiers in 1931 while protesting against the "autocratic" rule in Srinagar.

The controversy got triggered after the State Legislative Council adopted a resolution in January this year that called upon the government to declare 23 September as a public holiday. The resolution was moved by former minister and BJP MLC Ajatshatru Singh, grandson of the late Maharaja.

 Jammu and Kashmir: BJP, PDP spar over decision to declare Maharaja Hari Singhs birth anniversary as public holiday

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh. PTI

But what has fuelled the controversy further is that apart from the PDP, other mainstream political parties in the state – including the National Conference and the Congress – as well as separatists also pay their respects to the Kashmiris killed in the agitation against Dogra rule.

Every year, the chief minister pays obeisance at the martyr's graveyard in Srinagar. As do former chief ministers, Farooq and Omar Abdullah. Former minister and PDP general secretary Qazi Afzal said that if a holiday is declared on Hari Singh's birth anniversary, then one should also be declared in memory of the 1931 martyrs.

"There is a need for public representatives to discuss the issue. There are many other public holidays that need to be declared... if there is a demand to announce the birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh as a holiday then it is also the right of those who have helped Kashmir achieve freedom against the Dogra rule. A public holiday should be declared in their memory as well," he said.

PDP MLA Javed Hussain Begh said that the BJP shouldn't rake up the communal politics. "BJP has got the opportunity to rule India. It shouldn't do politics which reduces it to the status of a religious organisation. It should carry along all segments of society."

He said that the atrocities committed by Dogra rulers cannot be ignored. "Not only Dogras but Afghans, Pathans and Sikhs have also committed excesses on us."

The BJP and Jammu based trade organisations and political parties have, however, said that a public holiday should be declared while describing Hari Singh as a "true democrat".

But, even after Singh's letter to Mehbooba over the issue, the general administration department (GAD) – which is headed by Mehbooba – has not issued any notification to declare 23 September as a public holiday. Commissioner secretary of GAD, Khurshid Ahmad Shah, told Firstpost: "We have not declared any holiday. As on date, nothing has been done."

BJP's general secretary (org) Ashok Koul said: "If there could be a holiday to pay respects to Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah, why can't there be a holiday on the birth anniversary of Hari Singh? We don't believe that the last Dogra ruler was an autocrat. Hari Singh was a democratic leader and even the NC recognised it when it said that he brought state subject laws to protect the rights of people to the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir."

Former minister and panthers party chairman Harsh Dev Singh said that the Maharaja was the 'embodiment of justice and pluralism'. "Maharaja's services for the society had endeared him with the masses not only within the state but across the country as well. As an enlightened secular ruler, Hari Singh had said after ascending to the throne in 1925 that: 'I have no religion, my religion is justice',"

"He was one of the greatest nationalists and Indian patriots who had challenged the British Crown in 1931 at the Round Table Conference in London declaring that: 'I am an Indian first and then a Maharaja'. The revered Maharaja shall always be remembered for showcasing his nationalistic ethos when he acceded the State of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India by signing the historic Instrument of Accession on 26 October, 1947," said Harsh Dev Singh.

Noted historian Professor Ashraf Wani, however, said that the conflict over the holiday stems from the distinct identities of the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

"All the three regions are geographically and culturally different. Kashmir fought against the Dogra Maharaja and he was Hindu. We commemorate 1931 as we were fighting against the autocratic and communal state, while Jammu Dogras feel that they are our rulers and they consider our martyrs as enemies. There is no common ground between the three regions,"

"Kashmiri Muslims fought as they were victims of a feudal and communal state. Kashmiris were treated as beggars and their land rights were confiscated. It was a sectarian rule, like any medieval rule. Non-Muslims were landlords and Muslims were tenants. It was a colony of the Dogra Maharaja, where the Kashmiri Pandits were benefitted as they were co-religionists," Wani added.

He said that separatists in Kashmir also commemorate 1931 as 'martyrs day' as they believe that the Kashmiri freedom struggle started after 1931, whereas mainstream politicians believe that freedom was achieved in 1947. "Our freedom struggle got a violent expression in 1931. For the Hurriyat, this was the beginning of the occupation. For the NC, the PDP and the Congress, we got freedom in 1947; but for the Hurriyat, the freedom struggle continues."

On 13 July each year, separatists have been regularly issuing statements describing those killed in 1931 as martyrs. Earlier this year in July, separatist leader and chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Mohammad Yaseen Malik said that 13 July martyrs had "raised their voices against illegal occupation, oppressive rule and tyranny, endured bullets on their chests but refused to bow their heads before the forces of falsehood,"

"The present struggle is actually the continuation of the struggle started in 1931. Today's oppression is similar to the oppression at that time. Our young ones are being pushed to the wall and killed with impunity. It is ironical that rulers and other pro-India forces, despite being agents of oppressors, celebrate martyrs' day and shower flowers on the graves of these martyrs and thus try to deceive the people of Kashmir."

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Updated Date: Sep 22, 2017 18:03:23 IST