Jammu and Kashmir: In the Shadow of Imperialism                                                                               Home
Maharaj K. Kaul

[Taken from Essays in Inequality and Social Justice (Essays in honor of Ved Prakash Vatuk), Edited by Kira Hall, Archana Publications, Meerut, India, 2009]


With an uncooperative Maharaja, the British found it difficult to achieve their goals easily in Gilgit.  They therefore chose to use the communal weapon, having already effectively employed it in the Provinces of British India to disrupt the freedom movement led by the Congress Party. In their efforts, they found a willing ally named Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.

Abdullah, who was to become the leader of Kashmir, had just returned home after completing his education at Aligarh. Abdullah belonged to the new breed of educated Kashmiri Muslims, who began to appear in the late 1920s. He represented the aspirations of this emerging class in many respects, especially as many of them hoped to obtain positions in the upper echelons of the state civil service. Despite new policies of the Maharaja that recognized the need for increased representation of Muslims in various branches of government, change was slowed by the lack of competent Kashmiri Muslim candidates and an entrenched and reluctant bureaucracy. In 1930, Abdullah founded the Muslim Reading Room in Srinagar, which became a forum for this emerging class in Kashmir. In the Jammu region of the state, another organization similar to the Muslim Reading Room of Srinagar—the Young Men’s Muslim Association—functioned to articulate similar demands for educated Jammu Muslims. Both organizations worked under a communal banner.

The atmosphere in Jammu and Kashmir around this time had already been communalized through propaganda distributed by Punjabi communal Muslims. By 1930, the All-India Kashmir Muslim Conference, founded in Lahore under the leadership of Mohammad Iqbal, had been active for a few years. Besides Iqbal, prominent individuals associated with this organization included the leader of the Qadianis, Mirza Bashiruddin Ahmad Mahmood (who was its President), Sir Fazal Hussain, and Sir Mohammad Shafi. None of these people had at any time been associated with anti-colonial freedom struggle or any non-sectarian mass struggle in British India. Indeed, the Qadianis were avowedly pro-British and communal, and they worked through Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and the Muslim Reading Room in Kashmir. 1930 was also the year when Sir Mohammad Iqbal, in his Presidential Address to the annual session of the All India Muslim League at Allahabad, proposed the idea of a Pakistan that would include Kashmir. This fired the imagination of all pan-Islamist communalists in northern India and did not leave Kashmir untouched, as mass movements of Muslims there came under increasing communal influence.

The first impact of this Punjab-originating communal virus was felt in Jammu. On the Muslim holy day of Id on April 29, 1931, two minor incidents involving Muslims, one in Jammu and another one in a village 25 miles south of Jammu, took place. In the Jammu incident, the Maulvi leading the prayer was asked by the police to refrain from making a political speech at a religious event; and in the village incident, police made a precautionary intervention to prevent a possible fight over the ownership of the tank in which Muslims were having ablutions. Both of the events were blown out of proportion. Muslims across the state raised the battle cry of “Islam in danger.” Inflammatory posters were prepared by the Jammu-based Young Men’s Muslim Association; the Muslim Reading Room in Srinagar lent additional support to their activities. When a series of public meetings were held in Srinagar at various mosques, a rapid succession of events followed that ultimately led to a confrontation between state authorities and a violent mob on July 13, 1931. Six people died on the spot as a result of police firing. In retaliation, the mob of Muslims carried their dead into the heart of the city and incited people to loot and burn Hindu-owned homes and businesses. Rioting followed in various Srinagar localities, and Hindu residents were attacked.

The next day, on July 14, 1931, the Maharaja announced the appointment of an Enquiry Commission, headed by a Parsi, Chief Justice Mr. Barjor Dalal, and including as official members two State High Court judges, one of whom was Hindu and the other a Muslim. From the testimony of various important witnesses, it became clear that the communal disturbances were encouraged and facilitated by a key member of the Maharaja’s Council of Ministers: G. E. C. Wakefield, the Police Minister responsible for law and order and the only English Minister in Maharaja’s State Council. The revelation led to Wakefield’s dismissal. He settled in Murree, Punjab, where he organized the group European Friends of Kashmir and continued financing Abdullah-led communal disturbances through Qadiani President, Mirza Bashiruddin Ahmed Mahmood.

By the end of September, order had been restored in Srinagar. But the British Resident nevertheless issued a twenty-four hour ultimatum that indicated that he “took a very serious view of the situation and feared widespread outbreaks in the Punjab.” It demanded, among other things, that “a European, Indian Civil Service officer, be appointed as the Chief Minister” (Bamzai 1962:659). The ultimatum, as a lesser punishment, is reported to have been negotiated by Nawab Hamidullah of Bhopal, Tej Bahadur Sapru, and K. N. Haksar, in conjunction with Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy. The British had actually planned to strip the Maharaja of all his powers and appoint a British Administrator for the State (Ramusack 2003:121). By dismissing key government officials and agreeing to the appointment of a British Prime Minister, the Maharaja saved himself from being deposed.

Although peace seemed to be returning to Srinagar, a series of events unfolded in Jammu and the western areas of the province that led to large-scale violence against the Hindus and Sikhs of these regions. Communal Muslims from Punjab were again responsible for precipitating these events. Intense communal troubles, much more severe than Srinagar had witnessed, flared up in Jammu province. The trouble started first in Mirpur, located in the southwest of Jammu on the border of Punjab. But it quickly spread to neighboring Rajauri, Kotli, and Bhimber. Aroused by hate speeches delivered in mosques, Muslim mobs rampaged for about three months. Hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs were killed, and many were converted to Islam under death threats. Hindu and Sikh shops and businesses were looted or burnt down. Hundreds of villages in the area were plundered. Temples, Dharamshalas, and Gurudwaras were burnt or desecrated. By the end of January, over 4,000 residents had fled to Jammu city or sought refuge in Tehsil headquarters.

Hari Singh was unable to control this new outbreak of communal violence and sought British help. This was the opportunity that the British had been waiting for. They dispatched British troops to the state and quelled the rebellion. When Lt. Col. E. J. Colvin, an Indian Civil Service Officer, was appointed as Prime Minister of the state on February 22, 1932, the Maharaja was finally brought to his knees. Within the next four years, Maharaja Hari Singh signed a Deed of Lease of Gilgit to the British government, which brought an end to the state’s control of all of Gilgit, relinquishing both Gilgit Agency and Gilgit Wazarat to the British. The sixty-year lease was signed on March 26, 1935, and one year later, Col. Colvin, with mission accomplished, relinquished his position of Prime Minister. The British control of the area where “three empires meet” had at long last been achieved. An intrigue that lasted ninety years had finally borne fruit. Thereafter, British pressure on the Maharaja eased and Hari Singh had only the popular movement to contend with. But once the British abandoned the movement, it shed its communalist color, and by the late 1930s, it had begun to turn secular in outlook and functioning.

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