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Hari Singh — the last Dogra king who gave J&K its special status was an ‘autocrat’ too

On the death anniversary of J&K's Maharaja Hari Singh, ThePrint remembers his ‘feudal’ rule, legacy and more.

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Srinagar: The special status of Jammu and Kashmir has become one of the most polarising issues in Indian politics. The issue, more or less, has also become the cornerstone of political campaigns seen in this election season.

But, the man — Maharaja Hari Singh — central to this debate, is often forgotten.

Singh, who is the last Dogra King, is undoubtedly the most known and remembered figure in the Valley owing to that fact that his actions were intertwined with Kashmir’s past, present and future.

ThePrint recounts the life and legacy of J&K’s last ruler on his death anniversary, 26 April.

Also read: Morarji Desai, the prime minister for whom time in PMO was ‘tougher than prison’

Early life & his regime

Born on 23 September 1895 in Jammu, Singh was the son of Raja Amar Singh Jamwal whose brother Pratap Singh was the king of the state. When Hari Singh’s father died in 1909, the British took a keen interest in his studies. After his basic education in Mayo College in Ajmer, Rajasthan, Singh went to the British-run Imperial Cadet Corps in Dehradun for military training. At the age of 30, Singh ascended the throne of the Maharaja of J&K when his uncle Pratap Singh passed away in 1925.

Dr M.Y. Ganie, a history professor and director of Srinagar-based Institute of Kashmir studies, told ThePrint the arrival of Hari Singh marked a major change in the Dogra dynasty. His own uncle Ghulam Hasan Ganie served in the Dogra administration and the professor recalled how he would often talk about the accountability of institution under the Dogra regime.

“There was a reason behind that. The Dogra dynasty was feudal in nature and did not care much about governance. It was only after the British intervention that the regime focused on improving governance here, but that too was limited,” professor Ganie said.

“After Hari Singh ascended the throne, he took many measures. The Muslim population of the state was quite disenfranchised till his arrival. Hari Singh introduced rules under which children were forced to receive modern education in what came to be known as Jabri schools. Jabar means force,” he said.

Among other reforms ushered by Hari Singh was strengthening the Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy Act 1923 introduced by the earlier administration. Singh, according to Ganie, ensured that the landless peasant population of Kashmir got their due.

Hari Singh also wanted to restructure the state bureaucracy to improve governance. With this purpose in mind, he started to import bureaucrats from other parts of British India especially Bengal. The British, too, were happy to see the reforms.

However, Kashmiri Pandits, who at that time were more educated and had a better representation than their Muslim counterparts, resisted the move.

“The Kashmiri Pandits under the Dogra regime were highly educated and intellectually very strong. They knew that importing officials from Bengal would have long-term ramifications on governance and policy, hence they resisted,” Ganie said.

“They compelled the Maharaja to introduce the State Subject law, which defined citizenship of Jammu and Kashmir. This according to me is the bedrock of J&K’s special status. The tussle within the services became the foundation for the movement to protect the state’s indigenous identity,” Ganie said, adding, the overall regime of Singh was commendable.

Feudal regime, but Singh’s initiatives were ‘forgotten’

Jammu-based journalist and political analyst Zafar Choudhary while speaking to ThePrint said history has not been fair to Hari Singh.

Choudhary said while Hari Singh’s rule was no doubt feudal in nature but initiatives taken by him are mostly forgotten.

“Whenever Maharaja Hari Singh is discussed, it is in the context of the events of 1947-48, which is unfortunate. History has not been fair to him,” he said.

Clearly Ganie and Choudhary and many others in the state tend to see the positives of the last Dogra king. These voices believe Hari Singh was, in fact, better in comparison to his predecessors. But, a vast majority of people in the Valley tend to disagree, often not taking the pain to compare Hari Singh with his predecessors or simply blaming him not only for the Kashmir stalemate, but also for his conduct before 1947.

Also read: Bankim Chandra — the man who wrote Vande Mataram, capturing colonial India’s imagination

Revolt against Singh

A popular uprising against Hari Singh began in 1931 when Abdul Qadeer of Swat (Modern Day Pakistan), an employee of an English army officer, was put on trial for treason and conspiracy to overthrow the regime. Records suggested 24 Kashmiri people were killed in that summer. The uprising against Hari Singh had begun and till date July 13 is remembered as Martyrs’ Day across the Valley.

Though Hari Singh largely contained the rebellions between 1931 and 1947, his real test came with the partition of British India. Hari Singh, backed by his administration, wanted J&K to remain an independent region, espoused by his Prime Minister Ram Chandra Kak, historians here said. But, according to the two-nation theory, the state, was supposed to join Pakistan on account of the princely state being a Muslim majority.

Hari Singh even signed a Stand Still agreement with Pakistan in order to maintain status quo till the final decision on Kashmir was agreed upon. India, however, did not sign the agreement. In the meantime, people from Chenab Valley’s Poonch region, in June 1947, raised arms against Hari Singh’s Dogra soldiers even as the subcontinent was engulfed with communal riots.

The rebellion was carried out mostly by former Muslim soldiers of the British Army who had returned from the First World War. The rebellion in Poonch region of J&K followed by a brutal crackdown by Singh’s forces gave the newly-created Pakistan a pretence to send over tribal militias. For long, the Indian state maintained that the tribal militias were Pakistani troopers. The intervention by Pakistan is now known as “Kabail raid” in local parlance.

Hari Singh, who had till then successfully maneuvered his way between India and Pakistan to remain independent, was caught in a fix. Under pressure from the Nehru government to allow Indian troops in Kashmir to defend the region and the insurgency in Poonch, Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to join India, reluctantly, according to Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmir-based political expert.

Hussain said this period of Hari Singh was marked with his transformation into a despot. He cited the example of “Jammu massacre” — mass killing of Muslims in Jammu region during partition — under the watch of Hari Singh.

“Even though he reluctantly signed the temporary Instrument of Accession to India, he did not give consent for the application of the same for the future of J&K. But despite that, the brutal crackdown in Jammu region is a testimony to the fact that he had become a despot. However, he alone cannot be blamed for what is now known as the Jammu massacre. At the time Sheikh Abdullah was appointed as the Head of the emergency administration by the Maharaja”.

Australian author Christopher Snedden in his book Kashmir: The Unwritten History wrote in detail about Jammu Massacre and claimed that the revolt against Singh was the result of the disenchantment of Pashtuns with his rule.

Dynasty ends

In 1952, Hari Singh’s rule as the Maharaja was terminated and thus the 106-year-old dynasty came to an end.

Though Hari Singh’s only son Dr Karan Singh, later on, served as the President of J&K, he abdicated mostly owing to his brand of politics that was influenced by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, much to the dislike of Hari Singh.

“I grew up greatly influenced by the nationalism that Nehru represented. My father was very angry, but I don’t regret that at all,” Dr. Karan Singh had said in an interview to The Week magazine in 2017.

Hari Singh remained the titular Maharaja of J&K even after he was made to appoint his son as the President or Sadr-e-Riyaasat of the state.

Sheikh Abdullah was appointed the Prime Minister of J&K. Historians claim that both the moves were forced upon Hari Singh, but whatever is recorded of this period of turmoil in Kashmir, has been put up for debate just like his own identity, a hero for some and a villain for others.

Hari Singh died in Bombay on 26 April 1961.

Also read: Girija Prasad Koirala, Nepal’s India-born PM who evolved from ideologue to peacemaker


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  1. Do you Take the responsibility of this fake Article full of misinformation and peddling lies. @The Print

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