26th October is a red letter day in Indian history. On this day in 1947 the then ruler of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir finally signed the Instrument of Accession (IOA) paving way for merger of the princely state with India. The delay in signing the Instrument of Accession and its subsequent implications leading finally to a Pak Army led attack to forcibly annex the State which began on October 22, 1947. Consequent to the signing of IOA, the first wave of Indian soldiers air landed at Srinagar airfield on the morning of October 27 to save the state from marauding tribal raiders hired as mercenaries by the Pakistan Army. 26th October referred to as the Accession Day did not get the due recognition it deserved because of the subsequent Kashmiri politics.
The post accession history of J&K has been a victim of the battle of narratives. Narratives were built and promoted to downplay the Dogra ruler and marginalise the Dogras of the Jammu region, while giving the credit to Sheikh Abdullah and his Party – Jammu & Kashmir National Conference popularly referred to as NC. Like history is written by the victor, the winner in the battle of narratives is also the one who is powerful. Undoubtedly, with the help of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sheikh and his Party emerged as the most powerful entity over shadowing even the Maharaja who was finally forced to live in exile till he died. His cremation was also done at the place of exile and only his ashes were brought to his erstwhile kingdom which he had very diligently and proudly acceded to India.“It was the bad luck of His Highness that both the most influential powers of that time namely the British Government and Jawaharlal Nehru were against the Maharaja for their own reasons,” lamented Dr Karan Singh.
The popular narrative revolves around the theory that, “But for Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, Kashmir wouldn’t have been part of India.” While it attempts to portray Sheikh and Nehru as the heroes and saviour of Kashmir, it totally downplays to the extent of ignoring the contribution of the then ruler of Jammu & Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh and the valiant State Forces led by the Dogra officers. The initial onslaught of the attackers was resisted valiantly by the men of 4 Kashmir Infantry (presently 4 JAK Rifles) commanded by a second world war veteran Col Narain Singh, OBE. The then Prime Minister of the princely state Mehr Chand Mahajan has recorded in his book “Looking Back”, “In Muzaffarabad and Domel, the gateway to Kashmir, there was only a battalion of State Forces commanded by Colonel Narain Singh, but this Unit had about 40 percent Muslims who could not be trusted in the communal situation that had arisen. Despite the word from Maharaja to disarm this part of his Unit Col Narain was not ready to do so on the plea that they were his most loyal soldiers and had served under him in Burma and elsewhere in the Great War. Ironically, he met his death at the hands of his own Muslim soldiers who joined the raiders. Large number of fellow Dogra soldiers were also assassinated at Domel.” It was the treachery of Muslim troops of the State Forces that opened the road to Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. Later the Dogra soldiers under the command of Brigadier Rajendra Singh, Chief of Staff of the State Forces, fought last man last round and tried to prevent them from reaching the capital Srinagar. Brig Rajendra Singh attained martyrdom in the line of duty and was awarded Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) posthumously. The Dogras of Jammu till date hold a grudge that despite being promised by none other than the defence minister of the nation George Fernandez to upgrade the award to Param Vir Chakra (PVC), the promise remains unfulfilled till date.
The role played by local Kashmiris particularly Maqbool Sherwani also deserves praise but the contribution of State Forces cannot be ignored and credit due to them must be given.
Subsequent politics played by the Kashmiri politicians made accession debatable. This was done to secure a special status for the State on the plea of safeguarding the majority Muslims and the Kashmiri identity ignoring the fact that the State was an amalgamation of three regions namely Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The tunnel vision of Sheikh and his party blatantly ignored the other two regions who complained of regional discrimination. A State within the State was created with full support from Nehru with inclusion of Articles 370 and 35A in the Indian Constitution. There was resistance from the people of Jammu & Ladakh. A movement was launched in Jammu to oppose the imposition of – Do Pradhan, Do Nishan and Do Vidhan (Two PMs, Two Flags and Two Constitutions). The agitation was dubbed as communal by Nehru and suppressed. It picked up momentum with Jan Sangh, a newly emerged nationalist party also joining the moment. Its founder president Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee became the victim of vindictive politics of the Sheikh and died while in custody in Srinagar. Possibly, the first case of custodial killing of independent India. The struggle for the total integration of the State with rest of the country for which abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A was essential continued thereafter. The struggle was long and arduous. It finally came to an end on August 5, 2019 when the present government announced its epoch making decision of abrogating the said articles which was approved by 2/3rd majority in both houses of Parliament. The government also announced the decision of reorganisation of the state by dividing it in two Union Territories effective October31, 2019. While the decision received overwhelming response in Ladakh, the response in Jammu was mixed. However, after understanding the government’s logic for the same the resentment gradually subsided?
The people began to see a new ray of hope especially in Jammu because they had been the victim of regional discrimination. The new UT administration was welcome by the people hoping for a fair play and equality for both regions. However, the grouse of discrimination still remains despite the administration’s best efforts to be fair. Many blame it on the old mind-set of the bureaucracy despite the changed environment. This is one aspect which needs to be addressed by the UT administration holistically. The new government has come down heavily against corruption with central anti-corruption laws becoming applicable in the UT. This has created a scare among the high and mighty who had used their official authority for personal benefits or/and for benefitting their cronies. Law and order has improved and terrorism is on the decline. Separatist forces under the banner of Hurriyat have been made defunct and marginalised. Tricolour flies proudly all across J&K on government buildings and other places. The youth is coming out in hordes to join the state police, army and central paramilitary forces. The word ‘alienation’ is used more often by the disgruntled politicians who have been boycotted by the public but on ground the alienation though not totally removed is minimal. The UT has announced 100% coverage of its population for health insurance under Ayushman Bharat.
The discriminated and neglected members of the West Pakistan refugee’s community, the Balmikis and the Gurkhas were overjoyed with their newly attained identity and freedom. STs were happy with their political empowerment. The women also expressed joy at being treated equal citizens by ending their discrimination.
Despite the effects of Covid, substantial development has taken place. UT government emphasis has been on completing the long overdue languishing projects, improve connectivity, better health infrastructure and implementation of Aatm Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. The government has been transparent to the extent that it for the first time hoisted on the web all the developmental projects carried out by it and invited observations from the public. The naysayers continue to criticise but the results are visible on ground. For employment generation the government has launched a fast track project. It is not feasible for the government to undo the entire mismanagement, adhocism and arbitrariness of the previous regimes in such a short span.
There are few voices being raised in Jammu for grant of separate statehood. In the national interest and under the prevailing security environment this is not the right time for such a demand. Political and economic empowerment of Jammu region will ensure that these demands are minimised. Government of India will have to factor the aspirations of the people of Jammu in any action they take in future with relation to the UT. A thorough overhaul of the bureaucracy is needed to steer the UT out of present mind-set and inertia.
The UT administration needs to be applauded for setting right two mistakes done by the Kashmir centric leadership as regards holidays in the erstwhile state were concerned. The celebration of 13 July as Martyrs’ Day with official sponsorship was grave injustice to the sentiments of Kashmiri Pundits and the people of Jammu & Ladakh. It has been done away with from the current year. Secondly, the Accession Day, a historical event in the history of the State, received no official recognition. It was celebrated with gusto by various political and social organisations in Jammu but without the government’s participation. This historic wrong has also been rectified with an official holiday on 26th October and due recognition of the Accession Day. That is why this year’s Accession Day is different on two counts. It is the first Accession Day celebration after reorganisation and with a proper holiday. Let us pledge to uphold One Nation, One Constitution and One Flag and bid good bye to sub-nationalism for ever.