(While the Kashmir valley is physically and politically choked, the “New Maharajas” are enjoying the pleasant climate of Jammu and celebrating the erstwhile Maharaja’s birthday!)
Kashmir valley has been politically “choked” right from 1947. The expression of true aspirations is an “anti-national” act in Kashmir. Now added to this political choking has come the physical choking! During last couple of weeks, the Kashmir Valley has received very heavy snowfall intermittently after a long time. This unprecedented snowfall in recent years has completely isolated the valley. There have been no flights for some days and the only road link to India has remained blocked almost for a week. Well, this is not for the first time that the Kashmir Valley has got virtually physically choked. It has happened umpteen times during winter because the natural outlet from the valley to the outside world known as the Jhelum Valley Road has remained politically closed since the events of 1947. That outlet never used to get physically blocked in winter prior to 1947 and was the main access to the outside world. The other road to Jammu via Bannihal used to remain blocked in winter. Even though the link has been upgraded by widening and new tunnels, it still gets blocked in heavy rain or snow. It is a tough job for the Border Roads Organization to keep it open and they have to do it at a huge cost in men and material because it is the only lifeline to the valley! Similar situation is with flights. In spite of having a world class runway which can take any aircraft flown by international airlines, the flights get cancelled because the Air Force which controls the airport does not allow installation of facilities for instrument landing system (ILS) and the precision approach radar (PAR) which can allow aircraft to land even in falling snow with 300 meters visibility. It is time they show magnanimity and ensure landing and taking off by all civilian flights in all kinds of weather!
Incidentally, when the Valley people are facing all the hardships and miseries, the “New Maharajas” of Kashmir are enjoying the pleasant climate of Jammu! Recently, the Legislative Council of the State Assembly passed a resolution for declaring the birthday of the erstwhile Maharaja Hari Singh as a state holiday. A columnist friend has termed it as the betrayal of Kashmir’s Freedom struggle. In 2012, on the unveiling of the statue of the Maharaja Hari Singh in Jammu, a columnist posed a question whether Kashmir had really got rid of the monarchy in 1947? According to the columnist, the event showed that Maharaja Hari Singh continues to be regarded as the beloved King of Jammu & Kashmir by one part of the state even though he had an ignominious exit from the other part and died in exile in Mumbai! Well. The reality is much more than that. We have a new breed of Maharajas who are legitimizing their descent from Maharaja Hari Singh!
The present day monarchy has a different connotation. Following the exit of the Dogra dynasty, we had the dynastic rule of a single family for almost half a century. That has now been followed by another family! We have given birth to new line of maharajas. Similarly, we did not get rid of the feudal lords in 1947 in spite of the revolutionary land reforms but gave birth to a new breed. Earlier the Brahmins used to be the feudal land lords but now we have the new ones, the “Muslim Brahmins”! Aristocracy has been part of the Kashmir Society from the earliest times. Kalhana mentions Damaras as the powerful semi-independent feudal lords who controlled the Royalty of ancient Kashmir. Damaras were feudal land-owners or barons. They mostly lived in the fertile cultivated portions of the valley and their seats formed strong-holds capable of defence. These territorial lords were the true king makers. These earliest aristocrats or nobles continued to be an influential element even under the Sultans of Kashmir. The advent of Islam in the valley introduced a new element. These were the Sayyids who had accompanied Shah-i-Hamadan from Iran. They considered themselves to be superior to the local converts to Islam. Their progeny started a new class of aristocracy. Mughals patronized some of these aristocrats who had sided with them during the capture of Kashmir. However, the rule of Afghans and Sikhs was so harsh that nothing of aristocracy or sophistication survived. They were uncouth and ruthless rulers. Dogras oppressed the local people so much that they were converted into mere serfs. They even murdered Robert Thorpe who dared to expose Kashmiris’ plight in his book, the Kashmir Misgovernment. They also created new class of aristocrats as land barons by importing Rajputs from Jammu as also by patronizing the erstwhile Damaras of Rajatarangini!
Incidentally, Kashmir must be the only place in the world where a state capital is moved from one city to another for the convenience of the rulers. Once the “Durbar” moves to Jammu, the people in the valley are left to fend for themselves. One could not challenge the erstwhile Maharajas as it was their sweet will which mattered and not the welfare of the masses. They wanted to enjoy the best of the seasons and therefore, spent the winter in the warmth of Jammu and enjoyed nature’s beauty in Kashmir’s summer. However, in the present modern age this concept of dual capital is unthinkable. Srinagar is 2000 year old city which has been the capital of Kashmir from the earliest times. The passing of the resolution honouring someone who purchased Kashmir along with its inhabitants and converted them into real serfs should be enough to declare Srinagar as the permanent capital of Kashmir. Let Jammu people have Regional Autonomy and their own permanent capital. Late Balraj Puri died with his unrealized dream of Regional Autonomy for Jammu. One feels it is the right time to honour his memory. Once Srinagar becomes the permanent capital, most of the woes on the developmental side will disappear. In view of the recent clashes and upheavals in the Assembly and total blockade of the valley by nature’s vagaries, it would be more than advisable to debate the proposal of making Srinagar as the permanent capital and granting Jammu, Regional Autonomy.