Who is pioneer of ideology of an independent Kashmir?

Concept of an independent Kashmir is not new, as there is thousands of years long and dignified history to support this reality. However, in the recent past some people are making conflicting claims that so and so is the pioneer of ideology of an independent Kashmir.
For example, some people claim Sardar Rashid Hasrat is Baba e Khud Mukhtari – meaning grandfather of concept of an independent Kashmir. Others claim Maqbool Butt was the father of this concept – independent Kashmir. But recently some people from Mirpur have started claiming that Khaliq Ansari is the pioneer of ideology of an independent Kashmir.

Without hurting sentiments of any individual, tribe or a group I want to assert that none of the above is pioneer of this ideology or concept, although all three of them have made a valuable contribution to the struggle for an independent Jammu and Kashmir, and suffered for their dedication; and we all admire that. As stated above, an independent Kashmir existed on the map of the world with different boundaries, so no one in 20the Century could claim to be the pioneer of this concept.

However, the State of Jammu and Kashmir which was forcibly divided in October 1947, its founder was Raja Gulab Singh; and Maharaja Hari Singh was its last ruler. Hari Singh succeeded to throne in 1925 after death of Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh; and introduced some economic, social, legal, administrative economic and political reforms. He introduced State Subject Ordinance, political reforms like a right to vote and a Legislative Assembly, Compulsory primary education, laws prohibiting child marriage; “The Land Alienation Act” forbidding transfer of agricultural land to the non-agriculturists, and certain tax immunities for agriculturalists.

In order to empower people the Maharaja Hari Singh set up Village Panchayats; and also established Department of Rural Development in 1937. To support trade and industry he abolished numerous taxes, and the Government encouraged the people to purchase local products. He too great interest in manufacturing units of matchboxes, tents, carpets, woodworks, crafts, tannery goods, silk yarn, food etc. To me he took a bold step of establishing The Jammu and Kashmir Bank in 1938 that took control over the government treasury. Branches The Jammu and Kashmir Bank were established in Srinagar, Jammu and some other towns.

He was a reformer and from every characteristic of nationalism, Hari Singh was a nationalist leader with a forward looking approach to governance. We have to view his governance in light of the prevailing political and social situation of that time and not what is available to people in 21st Century. One writer complimented him by saying: ‘Maharaja Hari Singh was great reformer, a nationalist and patriotic in spirit, betrayed by both Pakistan and India in their respective commitments. Maharaja Hari Singh breathed his last at Bombay on April 26, 1961.’

He did his best to preserve integrity and independence of his State, and care for all his subjects. Towards the end of the British Raj in India, he emphatically resisted the pressure to accede to either India or Pakistan; and after lapse of the British Paramountcy on 15 August 1947, he became a sovereign ruler of Jammu and Kashmir State.

During the British Raj he provided a legal protection to his citizens that no one from outside the State of Jammu and Kashmir could purchase any land and exploit his people. The State Subject Ordinance of 20 April 1927 not only granted people of Jammu and Kashmir class 1 citizenship, it also confirmed his love and care for his people and his State. He didn’t want rich people of India to purchase land in Jammu and Kashmir and do what Jews did to people of Palestine. In order to protect rights of his citizens the State Subject Ordinance affirmed that:

‘In matters of grants of the State scholarships State lands for agricultural and house building purposes and recruitment to State service, State subjects of Class 1 should receive preference over other classes….’

On 15 August 1947, State of Jammu and Kashmir also gained its independence. As a sovereign ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, and in order to protect and promote interests of Kashmir, he concluded a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan; and also offered India do the same. The above examples clearly demonstrate that he was a nationalist and wanted to preserve integrity and rights of his State and his citizens; and if that is not nationalism then one may ask what nationalism is.

Some Muslims with tunnel vision and overwhelmed Muslim nationalism might put forward this view that the Maharaja was a Dogra – and a non Muslim and an autocrat so he could not be a Kashmiri nationalist. Religion and nationalism are two separate things. Religion is a personal matter of citizens, as it is for them to decide what religion to follow (or not to follow) and the State has no role in determining faiths of its citizens; and nationalism – love for a country and its welfare has nothing to do with any religion. One person could be a devoted Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or a Buddhist and still be a patriotic citizen of Jammu and Kashmir.

Apart from the Maharaja Hari Singh other notable nationalists of the time were people like Sheikh Abdullah and Prem Nath Bazaz who played a leading role in politics of Jammu and Kashmir. It was they who clearly advocated equality for all citizens. Struggled for political and social reforms and forcefully advocated Kashmiri nationalism.

It must be pointed out that when the Maharaja Hari Singh passed the State Subject Ordinance in 1927, Khaliq Ansari was only two years old; and Sardar Rashid Hasrat and Maqbool Butt were not even born. We respect all three figures for their respective struggle and suffering. What they have done for the cause of an independent Jammu and Kashmir no one can take that away from them. However, we are not enhancing their status or doing justice to them, to their struggle or to history by associate wrong things to them.

Email: Writer is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs Affairs.Email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.com