In a move likely to raise tempers in the Kashmir Valley, the J&K administration has set up a committee to look into the demand for a public holiday on the birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler of the erstwhile princely state.
According to an order issued by the General Administration Department (GAD), the 4-member panel will be headed by Principal Secretary (GAD) Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, and will have as members the administrative secretaries of the social welfare and the culture departments, besides the Divisional Commissioner, Jammu.
“Sanction is hereby accorded to the constitution of a committee regarding the issue of commemoration of birthday of Maharaja Hari Singh Ji and its observance in general/under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir,’’ the order said, adding the committee may “co-opt any member(s) as and when required”.
While the demand for a holiday on the monarch’s birthday on September 23 has been a rallying point for Jammu-based mainstream political parties and others across the social spectrum, it is bound to cause resentment in the Valley, which is already simmering over the delimitation commission’s draft report proposing six additional seats for Jammu, and only one for Kashmir.
Also, the move will be compared with the UT administration’s 2020 decision of dropping from the list of public holidays the birth anniversary of former CM and National Conference founder, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on December 5 , and the Martyr’s Day on July 13. It was Abdullah who had launched the Quit Kashmir movement against the Maharaja between 1931 and 1947. Instead of the two holidays, the administration had instead added to the list October 26, the day the Maharaja had signed the instrument of accession ceding his state to the Union of India in 1947.
PDP spokesperson and former MLA, Firdous Tak alleged the Centre and the UT administration are “more focused on appeasing a particular community’’ rather than ensuring development promised at the time of abrogation of Article 370. “The orders being issued by the present administration only speak about a power centre that is more located in BJP and RSS headquarters rather than in Raj Bhawan and the civil secretariat,’’ he said.
CPI (M) leader and former MLA, M Y Tarigami said the administration is trying to “divide people”. “These are not really important things on which we have to divide people. There is no doubt that Maharaja Hari Singh constitutionally ceded the state to India by signing the Instrument of Accession, but politically the moment was led by Sheikh Abdullah who was a towering personality,” he added. “Now declaring holiday on the birthday of Maharaja Hari Singh and not on Sheikh Abdullah’s, you are sending a message to the people of Kashmir that you do not matter.”
However, Ankur Sharma, leader of the IkkJutt Jammu, which had been strongly supporting the demand, said there had to be “some celebration” for the Maharaja who had ceded the erstwhile princely state despite opposition, including by Pakistan. “Moreover, why shouldn’t we as Jammuites own him as he was a nationalist and a progressive ruler who opened the doors of the temples for scheduled castes, encouraged education of girls, created autonomous institutions. We had a High Court nearly two decades prior to India’s independence,’’ he said.