By Khursheed Wani
A few years ago, on July 13, Mehbooba Mufti led her party leaders to Srinagar’s Martyr’s Cemetery for paying homage. Entire Kashmir was shut in response to separatists call. No sooner did Ms Mufti step onto the stone pavilion near the historic landmark, rocks started raining from all directions. A chaos followed. Mehbooba picked up sandals in her hands and began scurrying to safety, barefooted, chanting verses of the Quran loudly. Her security detail quickly guided her to the bulletproof vehicle.
The stone-throwers resented her arrival at the graveyard that carries historic significance and remains a symbol of Kashmiri people’s struggle against the autocratic Dogra rule.
On January 24, when legislative council adopted a resolution in Jammu to recommend September 23, the birthday of Hari Singh to be declared as state holiday “as a mark of respect” for him, the stone-throwing on Mehbooba Mufti gained a proper context. Had the stone-throwers visualized several years ago that the martyrs interned in the historic graves in the enclave of Bahauddin Naqshband’s shrine would be insulted by her regime?
Hari Singh was at the helm of affairs when the tyrannical regime trained guns on hundreds of unarmed Kashmiris outside the central jail in Srinagar killing at least 22 people on the fateful day of July 13, 1931. More than 500 died in the subsequent days in the Kashmir periphery. The people had gathered to listen about the fate of a non-Kashmiri revolutionary Abdul Qadeer who had dared to speak against the repressive regime before his arrest by the Dogra militia. This day revolutionized Kashmir and marked beginning of a sustained campaign against the despotic rule. Ironically, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah also emerged on the political firmament of Kashmir on this fateful day.
Hari Singh should have been tried for the crimes and atrocities he inflicted on the beleaguered Kashmiri population. But he continued to rule the state for next 16 years till he fled away on October 26, 1947 as the consequence of “tribal raids”. The end of 101 years of Dogra rule, ironically, did not translate into freedom of Kashmir though.
The legislative council resolution has a symbolic connotation. If the state celebrates July 13 as martyr’s day and all offices (except the state high court) observe it as holiday, how can the same state celebrate the birthday of the killer? On the face of it, the passage of a resolution does not mean the realization of a proposal. However, the Hari Singh resolution, proposed by his grandson Ajatshatru, highlights the political underpinning that is brazenly regional and communal. It reflects the Hari Singh’s admirers’ yearning to see the return of hegemony that had seemingly ended in 1947.
The ruling PDP, which is in coalition with BJP, supported the resolution albeit with customary opposition by the leader of house Naeem Akhtar. Interestingly, Akhtar opposed the resolution on the plea that the state can ill-afford to add yet another holiday in the long list. A few days ago, in the assembly Akhtar had proposed to include the ‘contributions’ of Dogra rulers in the text books. Interestingly, the opposition NC did not see anything objectionable in the resolution though its had walked out of the house on a different account when the resolution was put to voting. For the record, the memorial of Maharaja Hari Singh was erected in Jammu city during the NC rule.
The Hari Singh resolution yet again indicates how the PDP plays second fiddle to the BJP and buckles on crucial issues. Since this coalition began on March 1, 2015 the surrenders have been done on regular intervals. After the demise of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Mehbooba had attempted to offer some resistance in the backdrop of “ill-treatment” meted out to her father. She sought to negotiate the terms of coalition but then something serious happened behind the scenes and she fell in line. Mehbooba hurried to Delhi and infirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi that she was ready to pursue the coalition on the terms and conditions already agreed upon by the two parties.
Mehbooba knows that nothing moves in J&K against the wishes and whims of the ruling BJP. She and her party has resigned to this reality because continuation of the regime acquired pivotal importance for their survival rather than pursuing the Kashmir-centric political ideology.
The rebellion that erupted in Kashmir after the killing of Hizb ul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani shattered the politics of PDP. Mehbooba often says that the happenings in Kashmir weakened her case to pursue the “agenda of development and political settlement.” In this backdrop, it is not unlikely that she would link the passage of resolution in praise of Hari Singh to recurring incidents of stone-pelting in Kashmir.