Hari Singh birthday finally a public holiday, BJP banks on a return gift from Jammu

Hari Singh birthday finally a public holiday, BJP banks on a return gift from Jammu

In what will be a boost to the BJP ahead of expected elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has fulfilled a long-pending demand of the Jammu province by declaring the birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh, falling on September 23, as a public holiday.

Jammu has long felt that the last Dogra ruler of J&K never got due recognition from successive governments both at the Centre and in J&K, despite being instrumental in ensuring the Union territory’s accession to India. On the contrary, following Independence, as the Kashmir province gained in prominence, Hari Singh was driven out and spent the last 12 years of his life in virtual exile in Bombay (as it was called then).

The BJP has long promised to make September 23 a public holiday. But though it ran a coalition government in J&K between March 2015 and June 2018 with the PDP, it could not fulfill the promise, apparently due to opposition from the latter. Kashmir-centric parties fear that any celebration of Hari Singh would be seen by their constituents as a justification for the killing of Kashmiri protesters by troops of the then Dogra ruler in 1931. That incident has been marked as Martyrs’ Day in Kashmir, and the L-G only recently removed it as a gazetted holiday.

With other assurances to Jammu region too pending, such as more job opportunities — especially after the scrapping of the special status in 2019 — the administration has pressed ahead with what was the lowest-hanging fruit.

Announcing Hari Singh’s birthday as a public holiday, Sinha said it was to acknowledge his contributions to both J&K and the nation.

Earlier in 2019, October 26 – the day in 1947 that the Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession – was declared a public holiday. Alongside, the J&K administration dropped Martyrs’ Day on July 13 and the birth anniversary of National Conference founder Sheikh Abdullah on December 5 from its list of gazetted holidays.

In the Jammu region, Hari Singh, who remained the titular head of J&K till 1952, is a well-regarded figure who had soon after his coronation in February 1926 conducted free elections and formed a Praja Sabha to rule the state, with laws provided in the Ranbir Penal Code. His tenure also saw temples and educational institutions being opened for all, and the setting up of hospitals to provide free treatment. Hari Singh was also among the first princely rulers of the country to say he would join an ‘All India Federation’, at a round table conference held in London in 1930.

While the demand for a public holiday on his birth anniversary was spearheaded by the Yuva Rajput Sabha, the political impetus in both the state and at the Centre was provided by the BJP. After the announcement on Thursday, the Yuva Rajput Sabha took out a “victory procession”. BJP leaders, including former deputy chief minister Dr Nirmal Singh, expressed gratitude to the L-G and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

L-G Sinha’s announcement clearing the demand followed hours after a meeting with senior BJP leaders including Ravinder Raina and Devender Rana.

Along with this decision, the nomination of Ghulam Ali Khatana, a senior BJP leader belonging to the nomadic Gujjar tribe, to the Rajya Sabha is also seen as positioning by the BJP to consolidate its base in Jammu ahead of the polls.

Former State Public Service Commission member and political analyst K B Jandial said the BJP was set to use the Hari Singh declaration as a rallying point in the elections in Jammu.

Post-delimitation, of the 43 constituencies in Jammu division, at least 30 are predominantly inhabited by Hindus, and the BJP hopes this latest move will give it an edge.