60 years of Praja Parishad Movement
Praja Parishad movement had been started with the objective of thwarting Sheikh Abdulla’s design to establish Jammu and Kashmir as a separate and independent state. The sacrifice made by Praja Parishad leaders will always be written in golden letters in the history of the national movement of India. Abdulla had established himself as a prominent muslim leader amongst the Muslims of Kashmir valley long before Independence. He was instrumental in instigating people against His Highness, the ‘Maharaja’ Hari Singh of Kashmir. He earned the support of Congress and British government both. However, in Jammu, where the majority Hindu population held the ‘Maharaja’ in great esteem, Abdullah received no attention. He succeeded in gaining the confidence of Jawaharlal Nehru. In due course of time, Jammu and Kashmir was to be merged into the Indian Republic, and Sheikh became a natural beneficiary. Nehru entrusted him the rule of Jammu Kashmir, as the chief of interim government.
Having got the reign of Jammu and Kashmir in his hands, Sheikh Abdulla started the persecution of Hindus, who had been the supporters of ‘Maharaja’ during Pre-Independence days. He wanted to establish Jammu and Kashmir as an independent state, uncontrolled by India and its constitution, something that the Hindu population could not tolerate. As a consequence, in order to put up a resistance and counter Abdullah’s move, the Hindus organised themselves under the banner of Praja Parishad in the leadership of Shri Prem Nath Dongra, who was formerly the Deputy Commissioner of Muzaffarabad. Shri Balraj Madhok also became a pillar of this organisation. Shri Hari Vajeer and Shri Hansraj Sharma were made the President and Secretary respectively and Praja Parishad movement became people’s voice in Jammu and Kashmir. But the Sheikh regime started suppressing their activities.
Under these circumstances, the Praja Parishad leaders met the Prime Minister and Home Minister, apprising them of the frightening situation growing in Jammu and Kashmir, but nothing happened. Instead, Abdullah became more revengeful. He not only banished Shri Balraj Madhok and his family from the state but also lodged Shri Prem Nath Dongra in Jail.
Having served jail for two terms, Shri Prem Nath Dongra was released on June 19 , 1952, when he met the President of India and handed over a memorandum to him. He apprised the President that Praja Parishad cannot tolerate the segregation of Jammu and Kashmir from India. He said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir want to be ruled by the Indian Constitution, Parliament, Supreme Court and Tri-colour Flag. He added that Praja Parishad people want the same rights for Jammu and Kashmir citizens as are given to all other Indian citizens, because Jammu and Kashmir are parts and parcel of the Indian Republic. He also declared the commitment of Praja Parishad that it would oppose tooth and nail any efforts made to segregate Jammu and Kashmir from our matribhoomi Bharatvarsha.
Meanwhile the elections of constituent assembly were held in Jammu and Kashmir for which 44 candidates of Praja Parishad filed their nomination papers. Shockingly, all these nominations were rejected and, on the other hand, all the 75 candidates of Abdullah’s party National Conference were declared elected. This was a sheer violation of law and justice.
And with this began the Satyagrah movement of Praja Parishad followed by greater atrocities and persecution of its workers and leaders. Lathi-charge, tear-gas shells, arrests, and harassment became day-to-day occurrence, even though the agitators were perfectly peaceful and non-violent. On one occasion, the Deputy Commissioner forced Subedar Basant Singh to accept the membership of National Conference and resign from Praja Parishad, which he flatly refused. Consequently, he was sent to jail. The licences, permits, pensions and even properties of Praja Parishad workers were being confiscated. Sheikh Abdullah regime used all possible methods to suppress the Praja Parishad movement, which was gaining momentum day by day.
On November 23, 1952, while addressing a public meeting, Shri Prem Nath Dongra was arrested and sent to jail. Intensifying their protests and venting out their anger, vast majority of people took to streets. All the suppression and persecution by the administration could not stop the movement. On December 14, 1953 the Praja Parishad activist Mela Ram was killed in police firing while he was trying to unfurl the National Tri-colour Flag at the collectorate in Chhamb. However, the protesters succeeded in unfurling the national flag. While the agitators were trying to carry the dead-body of Mela Ram, the police again resorted to firings, which killed several others. More than 250 persons were injured in Bhadravah alone, which included women workers as well.
On January 11, 1954, two youth leaders Bihari Lal and Bhika Singh were killed near Heera Nagar on Jammu-Pathankot Road. In Punjab and UP large number of people gathered to pay their obeisance to these martyrs. The movement was at its peak in Jammu, where people used to gather in large number to express their solidarity with the movement and express resentment over the atrocities of Abdullah government. The Sheikh militia again resorted to firings in Sunderbani on December 14 , 1954 in which Krishna Lal and Ramji Das were killed. When information reached Delhi, people took to streets and 60 persons were injured in Hauz Kazi during police firings.
At that time Jan Sangh was holding its Annual Convention in Kanpur, where it was decided to send an eight-member delegation to Kashmir for assessing the situation, but the Prime Minister did not allow them to go there. At this Jan Sangh, Hindu Maha Sabha and Akhil Bhartiya Ram Rajya Parishad decided to observe ‘JAMMU DIWAS’ on March 5, 1954. In order to prevent this, section 144 was promulgated in all the places of Punjab, UP and Delhi. However, a large public meeting was held near Delhi Railway station by the renowned sanyasin Swami Karpatriji Maharaj. The meeting was also addressed by Shri Syama Prasad Mookerjee. In this meeting it was announced that the Asthi Kalash of Praja Parishad martyrs would be brought to Delhi the next day.
Large number of people gathered at Delhi Railway station on March 6th to receive the ashes. All the platforms were jam-packed by the people. Heavy police contingents were deployed to avoid any untoward incident. Meanwhile, people came to know that the police have planned to pounce upon and seize the Asthi Kalash as soon as the train reaches platform. Somehow the message was passed on to Praja Parishad leaders and they got down even before reaching Delhi station, and managed to reach Chandni Chowk, where the entire mob assembled in few minutes only. Shri Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Shri Nirmal Chandra Chatterji, Shri Nandlal Sharma and Vaidya Guru Dutt were arrested before they could pay homage to the martyrs. However, the police could not deter people from gathering in different places, despite fierce lathi-charge and throwing of tear gas shells. People started gathering in Delhi from different parts of the country. Demonstrations were held in other places also. Such was the insensitivity of the police that the Vice-President of UP Jan Sangh Mata Heera Bai Aiyyer, along with large number of her women workers, was arrested from Delhi and they were released around mid-night about 20 kms away from Delhi. The suppression and atrocities were being committed in jail also. The Satyagrahis were not given proper clothes and beds in jail even during the coldest of winter. April 20, 1954 was observed as ‘Daman Virodhi Diwas’.
Thus Praja Parishad succeeded in expressing the aspiration of people in Jammu, in highlighting their agony, in exposing and thwarting the evil design of Sheikh Abdullah and in taking Jammu and Kashmir on the path of unification with Mother India. Our countrymen shall ever be indebted to these great leaders and martyrs. They shall ever be cherished in our memory as the true sons and daughters of Mother India.