King of the lost kingdom
Reviewed by Pushpesh Pant

Maharaja Hari Singh: The Troubled Years
By Harbans Singh. Brahaspati Publications, New Delhi. Pages 333+xx. Rs 895

Maharaja Hari Singh: The Troubled YearsAS Dr. Karan Singh has mentioned his brief but moving forward to this work, that Maharaja Hari Singh has received a very negative press. He has been depicted mostly as a playboy who was indifferent to the plight of his people. In contrast, Sheikh Abdullah is portrayed as a valiant freedom fighter—the Lion of Kashmir—who took on the might of self-indulgent royalty in the valley to liberate his people. He is shown a democratic hero with socialistic leanings in sharp contrast to the feudal villain. Sheikh Abdullah’s friendship with Jawahar Lal Nehru kept him in the limelight in the years of India’s freedom struggle and it has been easy to fall under the sway of his "charisma". Events since those early days have taken most of the sheen off the image of Sher-e-Kashmir and a majority of the present generation of Indians believes that it’s Pt. Nehru and Sheikh Saheb who are primarily responsible for the mess, call it a festering sore if you like, in Jammu and Kashmir and not the much-maligned Maharaja.

History will indeed judge the last Dogra ruler of the northernmost state of India much less harshly than his contemporaries did. The present volume doesn’t claim to be a work of scholarship that uncovers hitherto hidden or inaccessible archival material. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be undervalued. The author has painstakingly put together in one place all the relevant material on the subject in one place so that the reader can make up his own mind about events that took place in that tumultuous period. The references he has cited are mostly drawn from published sources (The autobiography of Dr Karan Singh, his correspondence, memoirs of first-hand witnesses ranging from General D.K. Palit to Malika Pukhraj etc.) that have been in the public domain for a long time. What makes his contribution special is that he has used long extracts judiciously and provided the much-needed context.

The principal character is allowed to speak in the first person most of the time and the supporting cast too is made to come alive. The author is sympathetic to the Maharaja but this has not affected his objectivity. What cannot but strike the reader is that it wasn’t only Hari Singh Ji who was betrayed by those whom he trusted, but Nehru and his colleagues too were taken for a ride by the British and the Sheikh. What may shock some is the ease with which the Government of India, under the decisive influence of Nehru, seems to have gone back on its word and assurances given to the Maharaja.

A poignant note is added as the Maharaja explains with great anguish his reasons for deciding to abdicate. These were primarily, " ... not to embarrass the Government of India and the Yuvraj." Dr.Karan Singh too has referred to his ideological divergences from his father’s views. It is difficult to get over the feeling that the precocious young idealistic crown prince was mesmerised by Nehru and manipulated in a Machiavellian manner to dictate the course of events in Kashmir. Pt. Nehru’s hubris (hurt ego?) and perfidy of a narcissistic Mountbatten complicated matters even more. The Maharaja’s sense of deep hurt is easy to sympathise with. The material put on record by the author is thought provoking and ruthlessly exposes the hypocrisy and naiveté of Nehru in the matter of Kashmir. Historians have for long split hairs about the accession of Kashmir to India and other writers have provided blow-by-blow accounts of the warfare when ‘slender was the thread’. However, nothing matches the emotional charge of the book under review.

Harbans Singh deserves kudos for his immensely readable fast-flowing narrative that admirably balances emotion with reason and provides enough material for the reader to make up his own mind. It’s difficult to do justice to a book on a complex and controversial subject like this in a short review. Strongly recommended for the specialist and general reader alike.

This, the publisher states, is the first non-musical offering from Brahaspati Publications. One looks forward to similarly exciting and satisfying fare from them in future.