Jammu: On 24 January, when the Opposition legislators from National Conference and Congress had walked out of the legislative council of the Jammu and Kashmir legislature, BJP lawmaker Ajatshatru Singh, grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh, moved a resolution demanding 23 September, the birthday of the last Dogra monarch of the state, to be declared a state holiday.
The resolution was passed with a voice vote in the House and was supported by members from both the coalition parties including the PDP MLC Vikramaditya Singh, another grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh. It was nothing short of a political masterstroke by two grandsons of Maharaja, who represent the two ideological poles of J&K’s political spectrum but are bound by blood relation.
Days later, the resolution has put the coalition government in a bind which has led to a new clash of narratives. Before asking his colleague in the legislative council to withdraw his resolution, PDP leader and education minister Naeem Akhtar said he is also of the opinion that not only a holiday but even more should be done in Maharaja’s memory.
“Where do you find such diversity like our civil secretariat, where you can find a minister namely Lal Singh and his commissioner secretary is Mohammed Afzal. The seeds were sown by Maharaja Hari Singh,” Akhtar, who is the government spokesman, said. “His biggest contribution was that he connected people and regions”.
The government, however, opposed the idea of having a holiday on Singh’s birthday, but Ajatshatru insisted on a vote. The resolution moved by junior Singh said: “This House resolves that 23 September, the birthday of HH Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Maharaja of the state, be declared as a state holiday as a mark of respect for him.”
Every year on 13 July, Akhtar, like the majority of his party leaders and other politicians, visit Nowhatta area and pay tribute at Martyrs Graveyard, where 22 Kashmiris who fell to the bullets of Dogra soldiers lay buried. In Kashmir, the day is observed as a Martyr’s Day to pay homage to those Kashmiris who were killed in 1931 in a revolt against the atrocities of the autocratic Dogra rule.
“There is a consensus among the general public in Kashmir, including National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party,” says political analyst Noor Mohammad Baba, “that Maharaja Hari Singh was a cruel leader. That is the reason every year both PDP and NC leaders line up in Iddgah on 13 July which is observed as Martyrs’ Day”.
This day is quite important as it marks the start of the first conscious political struggle against the despotic leader, Baba adds.
But in Jammu, the Hindu-majority region of the state, Maharaja Singh is a revered public figure. The resolution by his grandson has sparked a sort of euphoria here. The Maharaja is seen here as someone who was a social reformer and worked for women education and upliftment of weaker sections of the society.
Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh too backed the idea and said Maharaja deserved the step taken by the Upper house. "Maharaja was a true nationalist and choose to go with India. When asked in the first round table conference of princely states of India about his (Maharaja's) decision to join which dominion, he said he will work in the service of the people of India," he said.
“We have been demanding this for ages but no one listened to us, and this resolution is long pending of the people of Jammu and it should be fulfilled,” Ravi Singh Slathia, State President of Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha (ABKM), says.
But in Kashmir valley, Maharaja is an unpopular figure. Engineer Rasheed, the firebrand MLA from north Kashmir’s Handwara district on Friday asked the government and opposition to “clear their stand” on the issue. He wanted them to choose either of the two events: Either the Martyrs’ Day of 13 July or Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday on 23 September.
“How can we praise Sheikh Sahab and Maharaja at the same time,” Rashid asked in the House. “Tell us with whom you are.”
The National Conference leader from Jammu, Davinder Singh Rana, had earlier supported the resolution but on Friday when the house met, the NC leader Akbar Lone said his party did not support the resolution. “That might be the personal stand of Rana Sahab but the party does not stand with that,” Lone said.
National Conference later on Friday staged a walkout from the upper house against the passage of the resolution. NC MLC Bashir Veeri said a plot was hatched to somehow keep the opposition out of the house and then the resolution was passed.
“It was a ploy of the ruling PDP-BJP combination to get the resolution passed. We condemn this and firmly believe no monarch deserves to be celebrated,” Veeri said.
Updated Date: Jan 28, 2017 13:23:22 IST