Maharaja Hari Singh: The Troubled Years, Harbans Singh, Brahaspati Publications, Pp 372 (HB), Rs 695.00
Kashmir is critical to India’s relationship with Pakistan and the general public is not aware of the historical facts surrounding the creation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and its integration into India – this is the theme of the book. Among the key players in the history of the state and after the war was the late Maharaja Hari Singh, the father of the present Yuvraj Karan Singh.
This book attempts to examine the tumultuous period in the history of Jammu & Kashmir and critically appreciates the forces at work – forces that continue to torment the new rulers albeit in their new avatars and forces that have muddled the process of rebuilding the state as a powerful component of the Republic of India. This book is a tribute to Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu & Kashmir for standing up to the bullying British, who willed his tradition-bound clansmen and community to accept the social and political reforms and who maintained his dignity as best as he could in times of adversity.
Hari Singh was a social reformer and despite objections from the orthodox priests in 1929, he threw open the doors of all temples in the state to the Dalits.
It was on 20 June 1949 that V.P. Menon, Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel air-dashed to Jammu to make Hari Singh sign the Instrument of Accession. It was the same Instrument that had been signed by the 500-odd princely states of India with only Hyderabad and Junagadh refusing to sign before the Union Jack was lowered for the first time in the state.
The author says that it was the British who started the anti-Hari Singh moves. It was no secret that the border feudatory territories of Hunza, Nagar, Chitral and Gilgit, where the British influence was deep, wanted him to accede to Pakistan. Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad and some adjoining areas of Punjab were also openly demanding that since the sate was predominantly Muslim, therefore he should accede to Pakistan. They were even assuring him that his and his dynasty’s interests would be safeguarded in Pakistan. On the other hand, the Hindus and Sikhs of Mirpur were feeling edgy and nervous and therefore for obvious reasons, the Hindus of Jammu and the majority population of Ladakh wanted him to sign the Instrument of Accession in favour of India.
The Valley of Kashmir was predominantly inhabited by Sunni Muslims; Jammu had a majority of Muslims and a sizeable population of Hindu Dogras while Shias inhabited Gilgit, Skardu and Kargil; the Buddhists lived in Ladakh. The choice before Hari Singh was to either accede to India or Pakistan. The author says that complicating the situation was the confounding fact that Prime Minister Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel wanted Hari Singh to transfer power to Sheikh Abdullah before they could consider his offer of accession.
Hari Singh had written that it was at this juncture that Sheikh Abdullah launched his ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement, that is, at the time when the British had decided to leave India. “This would have affected the fate of the princely states too but that man (Sheikh Abdullah) was incredibly lent support by the Congress leaders at that critical juncture. Did I have any choice but to arrest him?” asked Hari Singh.
The author of the book says that Prime Minister Nehru wanted Hari Singh to hand over power to Sheikh Abdullah, “a regional and communal leader in the name of devolving power to the people!”
More interesting are the pages that Hari Singh is said to have written while mourning over the desire of court-singer Malika Pukhraj to migrate to Pakistan and whom the Maharaja had encouraged and helped since her childhood.
(Brahaspati Publications, D/4-C, DDA Flats, Munirka, New Delhi-110 067; brahaspati [email protected])
A perceptive treatise on Raja Dharma
Raja Dharma with Lessons on Raja Neeti, Justice (retd) Dr MRama Jois, Universal Law Publishing Co., Pp 163 (HB), Rs 295.00
The constitutional law of ancient India declared that the king or the ruler was absolutely necessary to maintain the society in a state of dharma which was essential for the fulfilment of man’s desire for artha (wealth) and karma (desires and aspirations). Notwithstanding the fact that there were innumerable states under different kings, India was “forged into a nation neither on account of a common language nor on account of the continued existence of a single political regime over its territories but on account of a common culture evolved over the centuries,” as stated by the Supreme Court of India. India thus represents a cultural unity – something more fundamental and enduring than any other bond which may unite the people. The king or the head of the state concerned had the Diwan and a council of ministers to help in governing the kingdom. Thus the emperor or king was subordinate to the rule of law. The Western doctrine that the ‘king can do no wrong’ was never accepted under Raja Dharma. Thus dharma, including Raj Dharma was regarded as supreme and the king was only the penultimate authority. This system was continued in the princely states during British rule also. Applying the directive given in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, princes became kings after being educated and trained to get equipped in how to carry on the administration of their kingdom.
In Part I of the book, the principles of Raja Dharma as incorporated with practical lessons given by T. Madhava Rao constitute a source of inspiration and guidance to the present-day rulers, to enable them to secure the all-round happiness of the people – the main object and purpose of the state. The book begins with discussion of the hoary past when an ideal stateless society existed. There was explicit obedience to dharma, but this did not last long. Then came the Raja Dharma where the king helped by his ministers ran the state. The proponents of Dharmashastra declared that the king (state) was absolutely necessary to maintain the society in a state of dharma which was essential for the fulfilment of artha and karma. The book describes the constitution of council of ministers, education and training of future rulers, the various departments as mentioned in Smritis and Kautilya’s Arthashastra and how effective the Raja Dharma as shown by the various historical evidences available – like Emperor Asokas’ edicts, Rajataringini, Raja Dharma and its fundamental principles which constituted the constitutional law in India.
Part II contains all the lessons imparted by Diwan Sir T. Madhava Rao to the rulers of Baroda state on various dates in the year 1881. The lessons talk of giving highest priority to the happiness of the people, what constitutes the ideal conduct of the ruler, why he should hear his well-wishers, why he ought to beware of intrigues, the importance of the chief secretariat, principal departments of public service and transparency, acquiring knowledge, efficient judiciary, etc.
The author also gives an insight to avoiding falling into pitfalls while administering a state. The jurist points out the drastic fall in professional ethics in all spheres today and it is at this juncture that the teachings of Madhava Rao become highly relevant in the context of administration and statecraft.
(Universal Law Publishing Co Pvt Ltd, C-FF-1A Dilkhush Industrial Estate, G.T. Karnal Road, Delhi-110 033; www.unilawbooks.com)
The lingering pangs of partition
Mapmaking: Partition Stories from Two Bengals, Debjani Sengupta (Ed.), Amaryllis, Pp 207, Rs 295.00
This collection of stories is evocative and ironic but even more pertinent is critic-cum-writer-cum-scholar Ashis Nandy’s foreword, which explains the reason for bringing together stories by writers from both West and East Bengal and which include writers like Ritwik Ghatak, Hasan Azizul Haq and Manik Bandopadhyay who reveal how Partition has shaped the narrative of the two regions that share a common language, culture and heritage.
Unlike most of the present generation who identify 15 August 1947 with Partition of the country and freedom from colonialsim, it was a few like Sadat Hasan Manto who identified it with the decision of British India to divide one nation into two counties and the carnage that marked it. The human suffering accompanying the event was as important as Independence. It is when one reads these stories that one finds that as it did to Manto, Independence meant genocide, necrophilia, ethnic cleansing, massive uprooting and the moral collapse of a moral universe to many other writers too. The stories question the finality and resolution of Partition, the insufficiency of memories and the instability of borders. As the stories unfold a tragic tale of the loss of a world, we once again come to witness how every time narratives of the Partition are retold, they point towards our changing values, our present and our future.
Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘The Road’ is a short story about Israel, whose son, who loved to draw and paint, dies and Israel is ready to leave for Pakistan. He is sad because he has to leave behind “that room, this road, you and so much else…won’t my heart break to leave all this behind? But I need a place to live; that’s why I must go.”
Manik Bandopadhyay’s ‘The Final Solution’, has Mallika who sees her young child hungry and husband suffering from malaria, while a widowed sister-in-law needs to be take care of. On the promise made by one Pramatha, who she knows is engaged in the flesh trade, but for the sake of providing milk to her young baby, Mallika agrees to visit his place. “She had accepted the fact that Pramatha was going to engage her in prostitution, but she couldn’t tolerate the thought that he had placed to enjoy her first, before introducing her to the profession.” She hits a bottle of liquor on his head and when he falls unconscious, she strangles him with the saree that he had given her to wear. She takes all the money from his pocket and returns home happily, telling herself that now no one in her family would starve because she would go to the railway station every evening in her frayed saree and tackle the sharks in the same way as she did Pramatha.
Dibyendu Palit in his ‘Alam’s Own House’ conveys through Alam who says, “I took the opportunity because I wanted to come to Calcutta. Otherwise all this ‘seminaring’ is just pretence. One language, one dress, same food and climate – the difference is only political…” when he comes to meet Raka. She has already received news of his arrival and decides to leave Calcutta after leaving a letter behind for him to read. She writes: “Your intentions lie elsewhere – you want to uproot me…We had to change our addresses – this wall dispossessed us and many others too, before us…Now I’m running away – far from your love. The pain you will feel – I shall not…”
Aleen Bandopadhyay tells the story of a Hindu youth named Paran whose wife Kironi has been caught in the riots in East Pakistan. He goes out in search of her and finds himself surrounded by Muslims. He goes to his Muslim friend Hashmi to seek help and who gives him refuge but fears being done to death by his clansmen. He tells Paran to float under a pitcher in the river and escape. He, however, offers to walk along the river bed and keep a watch on him. Two young men get suspicious and aim a spear at the pitcher. The spear pierces the top of Paran’s head as he rises from the deep – “like a fountain, with blood gushing out of his face and shoulders.”
The two youth suspect Hashmi for aiding and abetting Paran and they chase him but he escapes to his village, where he hears that the villagers have taken Kironi as their prisoner. Hamid tells them, “Then take me too.”
Resistance does not pay despite being powerful and this is shown in Syed Waliullah’s story, ‘The Tale of a Tulsi Plant’, which is about the life of a humble, abandoned tulsi plant, the modest but ultimate marker of domesticity in a Bengali household.
The book attempts to open a window to see and recognise our own selves on that side of the border. Instead of showing violence and riots, arson and looting, the stories end on a somber and analytical note to the Partition of 1947 and one can see the attempt to erase a little of the terrible division that cleaved through our being in 1947.
(Amaryllis, J-39 Ground Floor, Jor Bagh Lane, New Delhi-110 003; www.amaryllis.co.in)