Maharaja Hari Singh’s birth anniversary on September 23 has been declared a public holiday in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the first time in India after Independence that the erstwhile monarch of a princely state is celebrated. The decision came after senior BJP leaders met the UT’s Lieutenant Governor on Thursday evening, in the backdrop of protests by Dogra groups in Jammu demanding the holiday in memory of the Dogra ruler.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said the holiday is a “tribute to the Maharaja’s services”. A notification will be issued in the next few days. Celebrations erupted in some parts of Jammu after the announcement. Rajput and Dogra groups said it was their long-pending demand.
Jammu and Kashmir — since divided into two UTs in 2019 — was one of 562 princely states that acceded and integrated with India upon or after Independence in 1947. The 2019 revocation of special status under Article 370, and downgrading and division of into two union territories — other being Ladakh — also wiped out a legacy of the Dogra empire.
When the British formally left on August 15, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority state, wanted his state to remain independent, so he had a standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan.
But he signed an Instrument of Accession with the India in October that year to get support of its army against an invasion by tribal raiders backed by Pakistan. He later lived in exile in Mumbai, where he died in 1961.
Even after the accession, the state had its own code of punishments — Ranbir Penal Code, named after one of Hari Singh’s predecessors, Ranbir Singh — and laws that were reminders of the reign. Among the most notable was the State Subject law that barred outsiders from owning land in Jammu and Kashmir. But all that was gone as Article 370 was hollowed out on August 5, 2019.
Over the past year, protests with demand for a public holiday on his birthday intensified in the Jammu region, where Hindus are more in numbers and Dogras/Rajputs form a significant chunk.
Upon acceptance of their demand, the BJP hailed it as “a tribute to nationalist forces”.
“I congratulate the entire country, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Dogras in Jammu for this achievement,” said Nirmal Singh, BJP leader and former deputy chief minister, “We thank the Lieutenant Governor and central government too.”