Durbar Move: Old Practices, New Realities

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by Dr Sirfaraz Ahmed

Darbar Move is the name given to the bi-annual exercise of shifting the secretariat and all other state-level Government offices from one capital city to another in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.  It involves housing offices from May to October in State’s summer capital-Srinagar and rests six months from November to April in its winter capital-Jammu.

But the practice is not particular to Jammu and Kashmir, in historical context

Sultan’s Delhi To Dulatabad

The historicity of this exercise was that Sultan Muhammad Tuglaq was the first ruler in India who introduced the idea or practice of shifting capital from one place to another. This experimental practice was initiated but failed in wake of strong opposition which started during Muhammad Tuglaq rule in 1325-1351.

Jammu and Kashmir Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti inspects a guard of honour in the Civil Secretariat compound during the opening of offices as part of the Darbar Move on May 9, 2016.
(KL Image: BILAL BAHADUR)

The Sultan wanted to maintain both Delhi and Daulatabad as his capitals because both were centrally located. The new capital had its strategic value as it was safe from Mongolian invasions which constantly threatened Delhi. The Sultan also did his best to make Daulatabad a suitable place for his offices and the people. A regular postal service was established between Delhi and Daulatabad.  All facilities were provided for those who were required to move to Daulatabad. A broad road was constructed for their convenience; shady trees were planted on both sides of the road still a large number of people died because of rigorous travelling and the scorching heat. However, when the people of Delhi hesitated to shift to Daulatabad, the Sultan got annoyed and he ordered all the people of Delhi to proceed to Daulatabad with their belongings. Sources say that even a blind man was dragged from Delhi to Daulatabad till 1351 AD.

Mughals’ Agra to Kashmir

Mughals were perhaps the second ruling clan in India who introduced the practice of temporary shifting of Emperorship from Agra to Kashmir for summers season in order to escape the unbearable heat of the plains.   Jahangir was very fond of the scenic beauty and the pleasant climate of Kashmir, which he admired as Paradise on Earth. His visits to Srinagar became a yearly routine.

The shifting of ruler from Agra to Srinagar used to take more than a month each way and it has been described as a city on the move. The Emperor’s routine comprised several thousand laps forged from one tented camp to another covering about 30 kilometres a day. Each tented camp was a self-contained city with all amenities of life available at that time. The only consideration of this move was the Emperor’s pleasure. Expenditure administrative requirements or time taken hardly did not matter for them. Of course, the economy of the region on the line of march got a boost and to an extent that the people benefited from it, till Jahangir’s period.

Britisher’s Calcutta to Shimla

During the British rule in late nineteenth century introduced the practice of the capital moving to the hills for the summer period. Thus we had the concept of summer and winter capitals for the Central and State Governments. Initially, India’s winter capital used to be in Calcutta and the summer capital at Shimla. This was also the pattern in the provinces, each having its winter and summer capitals. Bombay Presidency did better. It had a winter capital at Bombay (now Mumbai), summer capital at Mahabaleshwar and monsoon capital at Poona. It is interesting to know that when the practice of shifting to summer capitals started, the then Secretary of State for India questioned the necessity for it because of the heavy economical expenditure involved in these moves. Those were the days when air conditioners/coolers had not been even heard of and the British found the summer heat of the plains much too oppressive.

The Viceroy justified the expenditure involved in the annual move from Calcutta to Shimla on two counts. Firstly, the output of work at Shimla was almost double than in Calcutta’s sweltering summer, Secondly,  Calcutta was at one end of the Empire and far remote from the North West Frontier, which required close supervision for strategic reasons. Apart from dealing with turbulent tribesmen, the requirements of the Great Game of that time, to counter Czarist expansion, had to be kept in mind. The necessity for the move to summer capital was accepted by the British Government. However, during the Second World War, this practice was suspended as a measure of economy and after Independence of India, it was abandoned.

Dogra’s Jammu to Kashmir

In Jammu and Kashmir, the practice of move to a summer capital Srinagar was introduced by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1872. In 1856, the health of Maharaja Gulab Singh began to fall so he decided to entrust the affairs of the administration to his son Maharaja Ranbir Singh. Thus it was in February 1856 A.D that Ranbirsingh was installed on the Gadi and Maharaja Gulab Singh himself remained as Governor of Kashmir.

It was during the reign of Ranbir Singh that the construction of Jhelum Valley Cart Road was started between Srinagar and Jammu. He also built a pony track between the Jammu and Kashmir. The palace of the Maharaja was situated on the left bank of the Jehlum at Sherghari. Maharaja Ranbir Singh used to hold his darbar for discussion on social matters. There used to be  from fifty  to hundred courtiers who sat at the distances according to their degree, the holding of darbar was the everyday custom of the court in winters at Jammu and in summer at Srinagar. Here a custom initiated by Maharaja Gulab Singh to escape the heat of Jammu as well as to show his presence in the newly acquired territory of Kashmir turned into a regular tradition.

The same tradition is till this day continued. Nonetheless, the practice of Durbar Move in Jammu and Kashmir was formally initiated by Gulab Singh’s son Maharaja Ranbir Singh who took the Durbar (Royal Court) to Kashmir for the six months of summer in 1883 in order to escape the sweltering heat of Jammu. At that time this could have been a need to meet people’s aspirations and also to escape from harsh weather conditions when technology was not that much advanced. But in the present era this is a total waste of money when we have so many alternatives available and also have so many issues to think about and deal with where this money could prove to be a great asset.

In January 1987, the then Prime Minister – late Rajiv Gandhi visited J&K. He was accompanied by Dr Farooq Abdullah the then Chief Minister of J&K. Due to bad weather heavy snowfall put the normal life out of gear in valley beside disrupting all modes of traffic, he was stranded in Kashmir when the Headquarter of the state Government (Darbar) was in Jammu. He felt it very serious and asked Dr Farooq Abdullah Chief Minister of J&K to take a fresh review of this age-old practice. To initiate the process on this issue the Government constituted a committee headed by Shiekh Ghulam Rasool the then (Finance Commissioner) as its Chairman and two experienced bureaucrats – Mohammad Shafi Pandit and Ms ShushmaChowdhary as its Members. A sound report was accordingly submitted to the Government by the committee known as “Darbar Move The Reality” keeping in view all pros and cones of the system.

While considering the recommendations of the committee, the Government in the first phase bifurcated some state-level offices and are functioning smoothly at their respective divisions to the entire satisfaction of their employees in general and common people in particular.  But unfortunately before taking next step some vested interest persons/groups gave it a shape of agitation in Jammu region only with the result no action was taken further.

However, Pandit believes that Move can be rationalized, if abandoning was a problem.  In this background,  former Chief Minister  Omer Abdullah has rightly studied this issue and expressed his personal opinion and not that of the Government.  “There should be reverse darbar move so that the Government is with the people when they are facing hardships”. Now when the whole world turned into a Global village by the advancement of digitalization this anachronistic practice of darbar move needs to be reviewed.

The Socio-Cultural Perspective

Sirfaraz Ahmad

The Darbar Move aftermath covers the entirely and the totality of social phenomena from family to polity, from thinking pattern to behavioural pattern. During my interaction with a cross-section of the State Government employees as well as common masses at various parts of the State, I regularly used chats, interviews and questionnaires to try to know more of this decades-old practice.

While interacting, I received a unilateral flow of opinions and information about this practice. Surprisingly, I found a deep anger in the voices of people in general, because one way or the other they face a lot of socio-economic problems. In general, people who are associated with this decades-old practice, accept that they experience some irregular disorders in daily life like; anxiety, fear, restlessness, isolation, bad intentions, psychological trauma, social identity crises, personality disorders, nightmares, etc.

Advanced Available Acceptable Alternative

Without moving employees and with the support of information technology everyone wants that full-time Civil Secretariats offices should be opened throughout the year in both the regions Srinagar as well as in Jammu without any break, with only Governor and Chief Minister of the State shifting after every six months, being head of the State. (Ceremonial move can be continued to satisfy the emotions of both the regions).

Simultaneously, ministers and MLA,s  can be regularly on tour rotation in offices and in their own constituencies. HOD’s and other staff members can be called as and when required. In fact, this will also create opportunities of promotions for many when two proper functional secretariats offices with full staff strength are created as there is huge stagnation in various departments.

(Author is as Assistant Director at State Gazetteers Department (J&K Govt))

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