J&K lacks empathetic leadership

Only a local leader who knows J&K's history emotions of its people can bring peace


The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was fully formalised when the Maharaja of Jammu and the founder of the Dogra dynasty— Gulab Singh, who was also one of the initial owners of the Kohinoor—bought Kashmir for 7.5 million nanakshahee rupees from the British in 1846, under the treaty of Amritsar.

In 1822, Gulab Singh was confirmed as a raja (Governor General) by his suzerain Ranjit Singh (the Sikh ruler also known as the Sher-e-Punjab). 

Irrespective of that, Gulab Singh stayed aloof during the first Anglo-Sikh war in 1845, which helped the British defeat the Sikh empire. This defeat resulted in the partial subjugation of the Sikh empire, and the cession of Jammu and Kashmir as a separate and the largest princely state in British India.

Henceforth, the princely state of Jammu Kashmir was ruled by the Dogra rulers. Dogras are an Indo-Aryan ethno-linguistic group living primarily in the Jammu region. They speak Dogri, which is very close to Punjabi, and their culture is an interesting mix of Punjabi and Pahadi traditions. 

Meanwhile, the adjoining valley of Kashmir, which was an important centre of Hinduism in the 1st millennium, followed by Buddhism and then Shaivism in the ninth century was taken over by Islam from the 13th to the 15th century. The Mughal empire took over Kashmir from 1586 to 1751, and finally the Afghan Durrani empire ruled from 1747 to 1819.

In 1819, the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh annexed Kashmir, and were defeated by the British in the Anglo-Sikh war in 1846.

Gulab Singh died on June 30, 1857, just about a year after becoming the first Dogra Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. He was succeeded by his son Ranbir Singh.

Ranbir Singh developed a city called R.S. Pura (Ranbir Singh Pura).

Before Independence, the state’s only railhead was the R.S. Pura station built in 1867; it handled rail traffic heading up to Sialkot Junction, Wazirabad and Narowal (all in Pakistan now). The last train passed this station in 1947; it was loaded with refugees from Pakistan, and they settled near the rail line leading to them being called Patris. 

Ranbir Singh was succeeded by his son Sir Pratap Singh. In 1925, Pratap Singh’s heir and nephew Hari Singh became the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir , he self-governing salute state which was outside British India, but in a subsidiary alliance with it.

Hari Singh was the last ruling Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and is considered the most controversial ruler responsible for the mishandling of the state. 

He faced an agitation in Kashmir in 1931, a rebellion in Poonch in 1947, and is also blamed for his alleged complicity in the 1947 Jammu massacres. 

Hari Singh had very ambitious plans for the state during the Independence of India, which also coincided with the partition of India.

While he wanted to remain independent and did not want to join either India or Pakistan during the partition, he also wanted to alter the demographics of the state by eliminating the Muslim population and ensuring a Hindu majority. 

Hari Singh and his armed forces mishandled the law and order in the state which caused large-scale communal violence in the state.

He targeted the Muslim population and reportedly massacred many Muslims and Gujjars around Jammu on October 14, 1947. 

On November 16, 1947, Sheikh Abdullah arrived in Jammu and set up a refugee camp in Mohalla Ustad.

The violence initiated the mistrust that has remained between Hindus and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir in the decades that followed. 

Hari Singh’s other desire was to keep Jammu and Kashmir independent of India or Pakistan.

He appointed a new Prime Minister Major Janak Singh, and asked him to send telegrams to both India and Pakistan on August 12, expressing the State's intention to sign standstill agreements with them. 

Standstill agreements were signed between the new dominions India and Pakistan and stated that all the administrative arrangements, existing between the British Crown and the state would continue unaltered between the signatory dominion (India or Pakistan) and the princely state until new arrangements were made.

The Government of Pakistan replied telegraphically on 14 August, 1947, confirming that the status quo would be maintained.

The telegraphic agreement bound the Government of Pakistan to continue the existing administrative arrangements about communications, supplies, and postal and telegraphic services. Jammu and Kashmir’s postal and telegraphic services, which were formerly part of the Punjab provincial services based in Lahore, were taken over by Pakistan. Also on August 14, when Pakistan became independent, Pakistani flags were hoisted on most of the post offices until the Maharaja's government ordered them to be taken down.

However, only two months after the independence, on October 20, 1947, Pakistan breached the standstill agreement and attacked Kashmir under Operation Gulmarg, forcing Hari Singh to wake up to the new reality of the Indian dominion. He wrote to the Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, seeking military aid.

Attached to this letter was the signed instrument of accession to India. Mountbatten signed the instrument on October 27, 1947. As per the instrument of accession, however, only defence, external affairs, and communications would be handed over to the government of India, while control over all other sectors was to be retained by the ruler, under the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution Act, 1939. 

These conditions were peculiar to Kashmir’s accession to India, unlike the 565 other states that had chosen to integrate fully with India. Article 370 was therefore introduced in the constitution to preserve the specific terms under which Kashmir had agreed to accede to India. 

Under the new arrangement on March 5, 1948, Sheikh Abdullah was elected as the first Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state with a Hindu ruler. He immediately agitated against Hari Singh and urged for self-rule in Kashmir. 

Subsequently, in 1953, Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed a year after Karan Singh (Hari Singh’s son) was appointed the Sadr-I-Riyasat (President) of the state and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was appointed Prime Minister.

However, in 1965 the designations Sadr-I-Riyasat and Prime Minister were replaced by the terms Governor and Chief Minister. 

Sheikh Abdullah again became the chief minister in 1975 after signing an accord with Indira Gandhi.

This accord was an attempt to make Sheikh Abdullah sign an accord relinquishing multiple special provisions that the state had.

There were 23 constitutional orders passed to integrate the state into the Indian union and 262 Union laws had been applied to the state. However, the accord recognised the State's right to legislate on matters such as welfare, social and cultural issues, and Muslim personal law.

With time, Article 370 had remained a mere emotional crutch for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to relive their Maharajah’s attempt to protect their special status.

Politicians from time to time had diluted Article 370 and the special status of the state in exchange for power, free flow of money to the state, and the vast amount of corruption that happened as a trade-off for not revolting against the Indian government.

These politicians were mostly of Kashmiri origin, as New Delhi adopted the appeasement policy to keep them under control by giving them a sense of power and ignoring the rampant corruption that they practised.

Some of the special provisions in the Article were very special to the people of the state, especially for the people of Jammu who always idolized their erstwhile Maharajahs. The Dogras of Jammu still hold on to the sense of royalty they enjoyed through their Maharajas who ruled a Muslim majority state and that, too, a state with unparalleled beauty. 

However, the Kashmiri politicians have been extremely astute and taken advantage of every situation in the state. They always held the Indian government at ransom and took advantage of the naivety of the peace-loving Dogras of Jammu.

Jammu has been historically the capital of the state with its legacy of dynamic rulers, its Sikh-Dogri, Rajputana and Pahadi culture making Jammu a unique melting pot of progressive and inclusive culture. 

In spite of Hari Singh’s hostile intentions against other communities, Karan Singh—his only heir, from his fourth wife Tara Devi, the princess of Kangra—turned a leaf in the history book of Dogra rule by taking more to academics and religion. 

Karan Singh also failed at his various attempts to make a mark in politics. After the Congress denied him the Lok Sabha ticket from Jammu in 1985, he ran as an independent; Janak Raj Gupta, a young and dynamic Congress leader, defeated him with a margin of over 1.5 lakh votes.

Jammu, over the subsequent years, allowed the centre government of India to buy peace in the state at the cost of compromising their right to development and preservation of their blue-blooded culture.

The attention of the Government was diverted completely to Kashmir, whose leaders always kept New Delhi at gunpoint with the threats of plebiscite or seeking UN’s or even America’s intervention. 

It is no surprise that even today many self-proclaimed activists from Kashmir run to the other countries to blackmail the Indian government. This has been the pattern inherited through the ages to keep the turmoil simmering in the state for the personal glory of these activists.

Kashmir has been over the years mollycoddled by the Government of India with unlimited and unquestioned resources for its development while the real vertex of the northernmost India—Jammu, has been ignored and starved of attention, resources or development. 

The Dogras of Jammu in turn have lost the zest to fight for their rights in the absence of any dynamic and powerful leader in the recent past and have reconciled to the fact that the burden of Kashmir is something they will have to keep carrying.

The recent G20 event which ignored the Jammu region is just another example of how Jammu is dwindling into the shadows and as always is pushed back to glorify Kashmir.

The only solution to this situation lies in the rise of a discerning, dynamic and empathetic leader who belongs to the state and can find a balance of culture and can rule the battered state with emotion and intelligence. 

The history and the culture of the state needs to be preserved, while empathy is required to undo the damages done to the Muslim community over the years and to bring Jammu to equal prominence in development and representation.

(The writer is an architect and entrepreneur from Jammu and is based in Delhi.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.)

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