The duplicitous games played with the only monarch who embraced Indian nationalism long before freedom could be seen on the horizon, whose accession retained India’s civilisational and geographical link with the land of sage Kashyap, is best gauged from his anguished letter to President Rajendra Prasad on 16-17 August 1952, three days before the monarch was abruptly abolished.
The 9000-odd word missive details the treachery of the Delhi durbar, choreographed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah; Louis Mountbatten had moved on after initiating the State’s ruination. That such an important historical document is untraceable in the collected works of Indian statesmen is a telling commentary on how State-funded historians have fiddled with the history and memory of the Indian people. The integrity of such collections can be restored only by making every letter public, so that the nation can assess the heroes, villains and knaves for itself.
Writing from exile in Poona, Hari Singh informed the President that since his accession to the throne in 1925, the British had strengthened their hold on the State due to its great strategic importance. Hari Singh incurred their wrath as he tried to curtail their domination.
They instigated a religious rebellion in 1931 with slogans like ‘Down with Hindu Raj’ and ‘Islam in danger’; its key leaders like Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas and Maulvi Yusuf Shah received official posts in ‘Azad’ Kashmir. Within the kingdom, the leaders gained Congress cooperation by calling themselves ‘National Conference’. In 1947, Mountbatten hinted that the Maharaja join Pakistan, while the Government of India’s attitude was desultory.
In September 1947, Hari Singh was asked to appoint Mehr Chand Mahajan as Prime Minister; the latter was briefed by Sardar Patel and promised full cooperation. But on October 21, 1947, Patel wrote to MC Mahajan saying that Sheikh Abdullah (released from prison) was anxious to help the State deal with the troubles and wanted his hands strengthened. Nehru penned a similar letter to Mahajan, urging formation of a provincial government headed by Abdullah, the “most popular person in Kashmir”. Nehru urged withholding accession to India till such Interim Government was installed in the State. (Accession finally happened on October 26-27in well-known circumstances).
Nehru again pressed Hari Singh for Abdullah’s elevation on November 13, 1947. On December 9, 1947, Minister without Portfolio, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, urged immediate changes in the State’s constitutional and administrative set up, and sent a draft Proclamation approved by Abdullah, for Hari Singh to issue. Gopalaswami insisted on the matter on March 1, 1948, claiming Sheikh was vital to India’s case in the Security Council. Nudged by Nehru, Abdullah made some polite noises and on March 5, 1948, the Maharaja issued the Proclamation referred to in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
Between March 1948 and April 1949 when he was forced to quit the State, Hari Singh complained that Sheikh Abdullah and his party assumed total control, ignoring the king and directly securing the consent of the Government of India for whatever they wished. Sheikh objected when the Maharaja and his wife began touring the State to interact with the people and got Delhi to make the Maharaja quit the State ‘for a few months’.
The Yuvraj was appointed Regent, but reduced to a figurehead. The Proclamation of March 1948 stipulated appointment of a Dewan and reserved subjects, yet Abdullah subverted this repeatedly with Nehru’s backing. Hari Singh’s record of this constitutional sabotage makes painful reading even today as the nation reels in shock at the brutal mutilation of its brave jawans defending its difficult borders.
After the king’s eviction, Sheikh Abdullah aspired for absolute control. In a frontal attack on the Maharaja, he began interfering with his private properties, including administration of the Dharmarth Trust created by the dynasty of which Hari Singh was sole Trustee. Charities and institutions maintained from Trust revenues were starved of funds, costs of Puja in temples and Devasthans denied, and the Jammu branch of the Imperial Bank of India ordered to deny the Trustee the amounts of the fixed deposits of the Trust and to transfer the deposits to its Bombay Office! This single episode is the best instance of how Nehruvian secularism would unravel in independent India. Even now, there should be an inquiry into whose orders made the bank act in this manner.
By far the worst was Sheikh Abdullah’s slander – repeated by Nehru in an exceedingly rude letter to the Maharaja – that Hari Singh ran away to Jammu when the invasion began, when the truth is that he left on October 25 at the urging of VP Menon and in the larger interests of the State as the raiders were already at Baramulla. It was Sheikh Abdullah who fled from Srinagar for Delhi (and Nehru’s home) and did not return till Indian troops started landing in Srinagar.
In November 1950, Vishnu Sahay urged the Maharaja to set up a Constituent Assembly for the State, as foreshadowed in the March 1948 Proclamation, and now demanded by the National Conference. A draft Proclamation was sent for the Maharaja’s comments.
Hari Singh objected to this manner of setting up the Constituent Assembly as he was the properly constituted authority in law to promulgate the Proclamation, and not the Regent (Yuvraj). He felt the powers and functions of the Constituent Assembly should be express, well-defined and accurately worded and exclude from its purview matters not expressly entrusted to it. It should report to the authority that constitutes it, i.e. the ruler who shall seek the advice of the Parliament of India in the matter. But ultimately, the Maharaja was forced to permit the Yuvraj to set up the Constituent Assembly.
Warning the President of the dangers ahead, the Maharaja said the Indian Government had failed to appreciate the legal position; Nehru was taking it for granted that the relevant Articles, particularly Article 370, of the Indian Constitution can be altered and/or amended to suit Sheikh Abdullah. But Article 370 refers specifically to the Maharaja’s Proclamation of March 5, 1948. That is the law which governs the State of Jammu and Kashmir until a new Constitution is framed, approved and adopted not only by the Constituent Assembly of the State but also approved by the King and then by the President of India. But Nehru asked the Yuvraj (who is acting only as Regent) to become the elected Head of State with immediate effort, even before the State Constitution was framed, let alone approved and adopted. He thus deposed the king and the dynasty.
How, the aggrieved king asked the President, could the Government of India take all these steps over the head of the person on whose authority they entered the State and are continuing there and who was the Chief Author of the Proclamation on which is based the future construction of political set up in the country? Despite acting in good faith on the advice of the Indian Government, Mountbatten, Nehru, Patel and Gopalaswami, and despite Abdullah’s promises and assurances, he was eliminated by a process which was neither fair nor honourable.
“Only history and posterity will be able to do justice to our respective points of view,” Hari Singh concluded. Perhaps the time for this has arrived.
~ by Sandhya Jain