Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Recalling the first Jammu Dogra President of the National Conference

Balraj Puri argues for greater recognition and honor for a true secularist from Jammu named Budh Singh

(Mr. Balraj Puri, 81, was born in Jammu city and attended the Ranbir High School and the Prince of Wales College in Jammu. He is a journalist, human rights activist and a writer who has been an eye witness to the turbulent history of the State. He has written 5 books, including the historical "5000 years of Kashmir" in 1997. He is the Convenor of the J&K State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, based in Jammu.)

Budh Singh: The symbol of unity of the State

Does not the founder of freedom movement in the state deserve to be honoured in better ways?

Mahatma Budh Singh, whose 127th birth anniversary was celebrated on May 28 in Jammu, is fittest symbol of the unity of the State. People of Jammu gave him the highest honour by electing him thrice president of the Dogra Sabha, the only public organisation permitted at that time. The people of Kashmir gave him the unique honour of twice electing him the president of then premier political party, the National Conference.

The other person who occupied this august office was Sheikh Abdullah. He used to call Budh Singh as his spiritual father. The Sikhs of the country honoured him by selecting him one of the Panj Piaras (the holy five) to lay the foundation stone of renovated the Panja Sahib, their most sacred shrine.

He is thus most relevant today as the only inter-religions and inter-regional bridge of the State which is otherwise drifting in divergent directions.

Budh Singh was founder of the freedom movement in the state. He resigned from what used to be a very prestigious post of the deputy commissioner (then called Wazir Wazarat) in 1925 to lay the foundations of the movement for freedom and against autocracy in the state six years before the Muslim Conference was formed and fourteen years before it was converted into the National Conference in which Budh Singh played the major role.

During his three-term presidentship of Dogra Sabha Budh Singh politicised it and declared it as the Congress Party of the state. The Dogra Sabha was banned when it gave a call for hartal on the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi. Thereafter Budh Singh founded the Kisan Party in 1934. The same year he was elected to the first State Assembly called the Praja Sabha from Mirpur-Poonch constituency. Thus the freedom movement and secular politics started in Jammu much earlier than it did in Kashmir Valley.

Even in service he had espoused the cause of common man and identified himself with Congress and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1915 he was the first known person in Jammu and Kashmir State to respond to the Swadeshi Call of Mahatma Gandhi and started wearing khadi and black turban to identify himself with Akali Dal which had launched anti British agitation as an ally of the Congress. He was also the first person to give vocal expression to protest against the practice of "beggear" according to which any person could be coerced to do labour work without any compensation. He organised as deputy commissioner a public meeting in Hazuri Bagh in Srinagar in 1915 to protest against this inhuman practice. Perhaps this too was the first public expression of the grievances of Kashmir.

Budh Singh was imprisoned for varying terms for three times. For the first time he was detailed in a dungeon cell of Bahu Fort. Though no formal charge was made for this detention yet the Cabinet had taken exception to and proscribed his two Urdu pamphlets entitled "Kisan ki dastan" and "Garibon ke dukh ka illaj". The cabinet got special permission, to detain him, from Maharaja Hari Singh who was at that time abroad.

In fact Budh Singh had become embarrassment for his other party colleagues soon after they assumed power after independence. His austere and some what puritan and exacting standard of life was out of tune with the new culture of power. In less than two years, his portfolio was changed from Relief and Rehabilitation to Health and then to Information and Broadcasting. Eventually he resigned from the cabinet in October 1950.

I was one of those who demanded setting up of a separate Provincial Committee of the National Conference for Jammu region. Budh Singh was the natural choice to be its President. But this role, too, was not much palatable to some of his Kashmiri colleagues. He records in his autobiography that it hurt him when Sheikh Abdullah accrued him of regional bias in his role as Provincial President of the party. He was got rid of this role as also removed from the state politics when he was sent to Rajya Sabha in 1952.

Sheikh Abdullah had not forgotten or forgiven Budh Singh's differences with him in 1953. When the Sheikh came from Delhi to Jammu to assume the Chief Ministership, I advised him that the first thing he should do was to see Budh Singh and seek his blessings. Abdullah angrily retorted that he would not do so on account of Budh Singh's role in 1953. I, too, protested in almost similar tone that the Sheikh was joining hands and seeking cooperation of the Congress party which was wholly responsible for his dismissal and arrest in 1953. He had also accepted a dinner invitation from Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad who had stabbed him in the back. He had also condoled the death of DP Dhar at his residence who was the key figure in the coup of 1953. On what basis he could single out Budh Singh for such a hostile attitude. I left the Sheikh at that. But in my very first next meeting, he told me that soon after I left he rushed to see Budh Singh and got his blessings. He thanked me for my frank advice. Otherwise, he said, this lapse would have been a permanent burden on his conscience. He was deeply moved by the affection with which Budh Singh received him and gave him his "Ashirwad".

While after years of efforts, Farooq Abdullah agreed to name a road — from Ranbishwar Chowk via MLAs hostel to Indira Chowk — after Budh Singh. After his government, the name was changed to MLAs Hostel Marg. After a long struggle and threat of Satyagrah, I eventually succeeded in getting it renamed as Mahatma Budh Singh Marg.

But does not founder of the freedom movement in the state deserve to be honoured in better ways?

My demand for starting Budh Singh chair in the University of Jammu, though agreed in principle by the previous government in the State, has yet not been implemented. But is there any other personality in the State whose message is more relevant today?

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