Maharaja Hari Singh acceded Jammu and Kashmir to India on October 26, 1947. The immediate fallout was the transfer of power from Jammu to Kashmir, specifically the Sheikh Abdullah-led National Conference (NC). The development came as a blow to the Dogras of Jammu. It was Jammu that had been at the helm of affairs in J&K since March 1846, when Kashmir became a part of the Dogra Kingdom under the Treaty of Amritsar, signed between Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu and the British.
Secondly, Abdullah had consistently opposed the Treaty of Amritsar, and demanded independence from what he called the “oppressive Dogra rule”, even launching a ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ in 1946.
On November 17, 1947, Pt Prem Nath Dogra, who had to retire in 1932 from the post of Wazir-e-Wazarat Muzaffarabad under pressure from the government, founded the J&K Praja Parishad (PP) with several other leaders, with the objective of “integrating” J&K into India and fighting the “Jammu cause”. Maharaja Hari Singh gave the PP his support.
During his recent visit to J&K, the first since abrogation of Article 370, Union Home Minister Amit Shah called Jammu the land of temples, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Pandit Dogra.
Several factors helped the PP leaders expand their support base. These included the unilateral ceasefire by India on December 31, 1948, that let Pakistan hold on to the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region and what we call Pakistan Occupied J&K; the forced exile of Maharaja Hari Singh on April 23, 1949; the adoption by the Indian Constituent Assembly (ICA) of a motion on September 27, 1949, which said all the four seats in the ICA allotted to J&K may be filled by the ruler of J&K on the advice of his PM Sheikh Abdullah; adoption by the ICA of Article 306 (later, Article 370) on October 19, 1949, which gave J&K a separate status on the “score of religion”; the preponderant representation to Kashmir despite being a smaller region (43 out of 75 seats in the Assembly, with 30 to Jammu and 2 to Ladakh); and lastly, the rejection of nomination papers of PP candidates for the J&K Constituent-cum-Legislative Assembly elections in 1951.
In 1952, Abdullah’s insistence on hoisting the NC flag in Science College, Jammu, the parleys between him and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the political future of J&K vis-a-vis India, and a speech he gave at R S Pura questioning the accession of J&K to India, set off a chain of protests across Jammu province as well as Delhi and neighbouring Punjab. Several sat on a hunger strike lasting days, many were held, around 16 youths lost their lives in police action.
Police invoked the J&K Constitutional Act of 1939, under which the final interpreter of its constitution was its Council of Ministers and not the courts, and the Press and Publication Act of 1932, under which the government could declare any article “seditious” and seize the press which published the article.
The PP under Dogra intensified its agitation against the Abdullah government. On June 19, 1952, they presented President Rajendra Prasad, who was visiting Jammu, a memorandum against the “separatist” moves of the government. On June 26, 1952, the PP held a huge demonstration outside Parliament to urge Nehru to reject Abdullah’s moves for a “J&K republic within the Indian Republic”.
On August 8, 1952, a PP convention held in Jammu to chalk out an action plan against laws “tending to make J&K an independent state”, inluded Mookerjee among the participants. On November 17, 1952, the PP gave the slogan “Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan aur Ek Vidhan (One flag, one prime minister, and one constitution)”, which the BJP has adopted.
The Abdullah administration imposed repeated curfews to control the situation. About 2,500 people were arrested, including Dogra and other PP leaders. There were reports of more than 30 deaths in police firing.
On May 11, 1953, Mookerjee, who had helped make the PP movement a national one, entered J&K through Lakhanpur. He died in Srinagar on June 23 in “mysterious” circumstances.
Finally, with pressure mounting on Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested on “sedition” charges and his government fell on August 9, 1953.
After the fall of Abdullah, the PP movement virtually collapsed, existing as little more than a chapter of the Jan Sangh. Dogra, who had become the Jan Sangh president in 1953, was elected as an MLA in 1957 along with four other PP leaders. In 1964, the PP officially merged with the Jan Sangh.
The last agitation led by Dogra was in 1967-68, over the difference in rates at which subsidised foodgrains were available between Kashmir Jammu. He died in Jammu on March 21, 1972.
Till the time he was alive, politicians from Kashmir would invariably visit his residence at Jammu’s Kachi Chawani to seek his support before the durbar move to Jammu in November.
The writer is former head of History Department, Jammu University, and Member, Indian Council of Historical Research