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Maharaja Pratap Singh and controversies of Jammu’s royal court

Last Updated on September 18, 2020 at 11:17 pm

The strong criticism in the British Parliament, exposures made by Sir William Digboy and the protests made by the nationalist press in India against the high-handed manner in which the British Indian government had divested Maharaja Pratap Singh, of all powers of administration, forced the paramount power to review the situation.

The British government, by its own admission, was convinced that the Resident, Col R Parry Nisbet, had obtained what was called the “voluntary resignation” by threatening Maharaja Pratap Singh, for writing alleged treasonable letters. But after achieving their desired goal, both the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy declared that they attached “very little importance to the intercepted letters”.

Maharaja Pratap Singh knew that he could not go to a court of law to seek justice. As aptly put by Dr AS Anand in his book “The Development of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir”, the action taken by the Viceroy was “an act of state” over which no court had any jurisdiction.

Pratap Singh also understood, by this time, that the Resident, though an unwanted evil, could not be removed. As such he had to face the facts boldly and to wait for better opportunities to come.

To remove the impression that the British wanted to annex Kashmir, the Viceroy used a double-edged sword. He decided to effect a change in the administration by appointing Maharaja Pratap Singh as President of the Council and reducing the position of Raja Amar Singh to that of the Vice-President.

So far as Pratap Singh was concerned the change did not go a long way to restore him the powers of administration, but, on the contrary, made him only a figure-head. The rift between the two brothers widened.

Maharaja Pratap Singh had no powers to amend the constitution. He had to accept the measures of reforms approved by the council and could make no change in them without the approval of the government of India.

Supremacy of the Resident

The administrative change introduced by the government of India in 1891 confirmed the supremacy of the British resident in Kashmir. “Differences of opinion between Maharaja and the Council were to be referred to the British Resident, who was given full powers of guiding the administration of the state in all matters.

Obviously under such conditions, the Maharaja’s position became all the more ridiculous. The Maharaja wanted abolition of the Council and to appoint a Prime Minister of his conference. At one stage, the government of India expressed its willingness to concede to this demand provided Pratap Singh was prepared to accept the nominees of the government of India as his councilors and be guided by the advice of Raja Amar Singh and the Resident.

The events that followed established beyond doubt, that Raja Amar Singh made sustained efforts to become the Maharaja, a fact which was very well known to the Government of India.

Bitterest Enemy

Pratap Singh, on his part, considered his brother, Raja Amar Singh as his bitterest enemy. The tug between the two brothers was exploited by the British to their own advantage to strengthen their own control even over the bed-chamber of the Maharaja. Perhaps no other Indian state where a British Resident was stationed, provides such a shameful and unlawful example of a British Resident’s action who wanted to satisfy himself whether the Maharani of Kashmir was actually pregnant or whether Maharaja Pratap Singh had the potency to produce a child?

This heart-rendering story of humiliation is recorded by Maharaja Pratap Singh in his own hand in a letter to Lord Landsdowne the then Viceroy.

“…..He (Raja Amar Singh) is my bitterest enemy who has not spared me the disgrace whenever he could. In the time of Col Colvin, the Resident, when late Tikka Sahib (heir-apparent) was to be born, he told Col Colvin that the news of Maharani’s conception was not correct and that I could not produce a child and similar other thankless things and the result was that Col Colvin wanted to send Mrs Colvin to visit personally and find out for himself of the news was a correct one. On my telling him that if after agreeing to allow Mrs Colvin to satisfy herself of the truth of Maharani’s conception Raja Amar Singh tells that the lady presented by me to Mrs Colvin was not Maharani but some other woman, how shall I be able to satisfy that. So it was after all decided that Raja Baldev Singh’s Rani might be sent for she fully recognized the Mahaani and asked to report on the Dharma and oath the truth of the news correctly. This was done….”

It may be stated here that though married five times Maharaja Pratap Singh had no issue. So in March 1904 when the news spread that Maharani Charakji was expectant, it caused a great shock to Raja Amar Singh and also to the British Resident.

Some of the secret papers of the Government of India reveal that the British government had decided that the rulership of Jammu and Kashmir was reserved for Raja Amar Singh and his son Mian Hari Singh.

Birth of Kashmir Singh

Though the winter was approaching, Maharaja Pratap Singh decided to stay on in Srinagar with the Maharani to keep her away from the evil influence of sorcerers. The Maharani gave birth to a male child in November 1904. The heir apparent was named Kashmir Singh.

The Maharaja’s joys were, however, short lived. Kashmir Singh died in July 1905. His Samadhi in Rambagh (Srinagar) on the left bank of Dudh Ganga, near the Samadhi of Maharaja Gulab Singh, is the mute reminder of this unhappy episode.

Jagatdev Singh

Maharaja Pratap Singh on his part, did not like the succession to pass to Raja Amar Singh or his son Mian Hari Singh. He, however, decided to adopt Mian Jagatdev Singh son of Raja Baldev Singh of Poonch.

In 1906, he formally adopted Mian Jagatdev Singh and Lord Minto, the Viceroy who visited Kashmir in Oct-Nov 1906 approved the adoption for “private and religious purposes only”.

Pratap Singh was officially informed by the government of India in January 1907 that the claim of such cession was reserved for Raja Amar Singh and his son Mian Hari Singh.

Enhanced Powers

In the meantime, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy had visited Jammu in 1905 and at a Durbar announced the restitution of administrative powers to Maharaja Pratap Singh under certain conditions.

In his speech, Lord Curzon addressing the Maharaja said: “Hence forward the state Council, which for the last sixteen years, has administered the affairs of the state will cease to exist and its powers will be transferred, under proper guarantee, to you self. You will be assisted in the discharge of these duties by your brother Raja Amar Singh who has already occupied so prominent position in the administration and who will be your Chief Minister and right hand man. I am convinced that he will devote his great natural abilities to your faithful service, and it will be your inclination as well as your duty to repose in him a full measure of your trust” concluding the Viceroy added:

“In all important matters, you will be able to rely upon the counsel and support of the British Resident, who, owing to the peculiar conditions of Kashmir, has so important a part in the recent development of the country and whose experience and authority will always be at your command and will assist you to maintain the credit of the state”.

The article has been taken from the archives of veteran journalist Late Shri B.P. Sharma.

The article is a copyright material