Contrary to the prevailing perception, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Hari Singh, was toeing the line to have an independent State after the lapse of the British Paramountcy from the very beginning. After the announcement of the 3 June plan, when the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, was discussing the policy of accession of the Princely States to one Dominion or the other, the Maharaja was curious to know whether he could remain independent. Since the ruler was Hindu Dogra and the majority of his subjects were Muslim, his State being the border one was a real problem. Lord Mountbatten tried to discourage Hari Singh and advised to accede to Indian Union or Pakistan Union before 15 August 1947, the date when the British were to hand over power to the natives and return .
“He assured the Maharaja that, so long as he made up his mind to accede to one Dominion or the other before 15 August, no trouble would be ensue, for whichever Dominion he acceded to would take the State firmly under its protection as part of its territory,” notes V.P. Menon, the then Constitutional Advisor to the Viceroy in “Integration of Indian States”. Mountbatten added, if he acceded to Pakistan, India would not take it amiss and that was a firm assurance on this from Sardar Patel himself.
Immediately after the transfer of power on 15 August, Lord Ismay went to Srinagar, persuaded the Maharaja to take one course or the other as soon as possible, but it was not possible for him to come to a decision. That led to a situation where the raiders backed by Pakistan army attacked Jammu and Kashmir on 22 October 1947. The Maharaja sought help from India but as Dr. Karan Singh, M.P. and his heir apparent, says : “My father was considering which of the two Dominion to join, but the tribal invasion changed everything. Actually, the invasion forced my father to side with Union of India. My father sought help, and India put condition of accession before my father.” In an interview to “Greater Kashmir” daily of Srinagar on 9 September 2016, Singh said his father had no alternative at that point of time.
While supporting Dr. Singh’s contention, Harbans Singh, the author of “Maharaja Hari Singh : The Troubled Years” hints about the intentions of the Government of India : “The Maharaja had, by now realized that the Government of India, like the National Conference, was adamant that the issue of empowerment of the Kashmiri leader be settled first before dealing with the accession issue. It was in these circumstances that he declared general amnesty and released among others Sheikh Abdullah…Finally, the Sardar advised Maharaja Hari Singh to make a substantial gesture to win Sheikh Abdulla’s support if India were to come to the help of the State.”
Once the Sheikh was handed over the charge of the administration of the State following advice of Nehru and Patel, he went haywire to malign the Maharaja and manipulating his ouster from the State. While releasing the biography of the Maharaja written by Harbans Singh on 19 September 2011, Dr. Karan Singh confessed, “his father could never opened up and shared his agony with Gandhiji, Nehru or Jinnah. His story developed like the Greek tragedy. If some kind of understanding between the Maharaja and Sheikh was possible, the history of Asian Continent would have been different.”
By March 1949, the relationship between the Maharaja and Sheikh had grown bitter. Patel invited Maharaja Hari singh, his wife Maharani Tara Devi, and the young Yuvraj Karan Singh to Delhi in April. The three checked into Maidens Hotel and later shifted to the Imperial Hotel. The Prime Minister Nehru invited them for lunch at Teen Murti House. A few days later, on 29 April, Sardar Patel invited the three of them for dinner. After dinner the Sardar and the Maharaja talked in private. Harbans records: “The Maharaja listened to him in utter disbelief and shock. It could not be happening to him and certainly not by Sardar Patel in whom he had put utmost trust. He had thought that his interests were safe as long as Patel was in Delhi and that he would see that his role and sacrifice was duly acknowledged. Alas ! He had been betrayed.”
“Opening the conversation about the State, he (Patel) told him of how difficult Sheikh Abdullah had become and that he was insisting that the Maharaja abdicate in favour of his young son. However, he said, he was as was the Government of India, of the opinion that it was not necessary for the Maharaja to abdicate. They all felt that if the Maharaja and Maharani stayed out of the State it would serve the purpose of fighting India’s plebiscite battle in the UNO by Sheikh and National Conference. This was the need of the time and as a loyal son of India the Maharaja will not hesitate in making this sacrifice in the national interest, added Patel.” Patel suggested the Yuvaraj could be appointed by the Maharaja as Regent to carry out his duties and responsibilities in his absence. Hari Singh was speechless since he could understood the whole game.
His last hope was the Yuvraj refusing to be the Regent but he was managed by both Sardar and Nehru respectively. Though it was earlier decided that the Maharani would be staying with the Yuvraj in the State but Patel vide his letter of 23 May 1949 from Dehradun informed the Maharaja that it would not be possible for her to stay with Yuvraj but she could visit him occasionally. The Maharaja who merged his entire State with India realized that he would not be able to return ever alive to his Janmabhoomi. He proved to be right. The Maharaja died in 1961 at Mumbai in isolation and misery since he could never go back to his State after near abdication on 20 June 1949 in favour of his 18 year old only Yuvraj, Karan Singh, following advice of the Sardar. The only solace he could have taken in his lifetime was the Yuvraj as the Regent and Sadr-e-Riyasat(Constitutional Head) had dismissed Sheikh Abdullah on 8 August 1953 with utmost confidentiality as the Vazir-e-Azam(Prime Minister) since he lost confidence of his Cabinet and got him arrested for his anti-national activities. The very next day i.e. on 9 August, Bakshi Gulam Mohammad was installed as the Sadr-e-Riyasat ! Sheikh remained behind the bar for nearly eleven years till 1964 but later bounced back having tie up with the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Next Column: The Maharaja of Patiala and his Punjabiyat
( The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail : [email protected] )