New Delhi: Not many would know but it was a nondescript political outfit in Jammu and Kashmir, the Praja Parishad Party, that prepared the ground for Narendra Modi government’s Kashmir Policy.
The groundwork for amendment of Article 370 and removal of Section 35A, completely changing the political and constitutional landscape of the state (now a union territory) can be traced back to 14 November, 1952.
It was the date when members of the Praja Parishad Party launched their first ‘satyagraha’ in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, even before the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), which later transformed into Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had made the scrapping of Article 370 its key agenda, it was the Praja Parishad Party that fought for 11 long years with this demand.
The Praja Parishad was founded in Jammu on 17 November 1947, with Hari Vazir as its first president and Hansraj Pangotra as the general secretary. But the real force behind formation of this party and its subsequent agitational politics were two members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — Balraj Madhok and Premnath Dogra.
The party launched its first formal ‘satyagraha’ demanding complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India on 14 November 1952. The core demand of the movement was to have no special constitutional provisions and a separate flag for Jammu and Kashmir. Popularly, the slogan in Hindi to reflect these demands which became the battle cry for Praja Parishad’s agitation was: ‘Ek Desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan,do nishan-nahin chaleinge, nahin chaleinge’
The outfit’s first success came on 17 November of that year when Karan Singh, son of Maharaja Hari Singh, took oath as the Sadr-e-Riyasat (President of the state) at the Polo Ground in Srinagar.
A separate flag for the state was to be unfurled at the government secretariat in Jammu but due to the Praja Parishad’s protests, this couldn’t be done.
On 26 November 1952, Prem Nath Dogra, 68, courted the first arrest under this movement in Jammu after addressing a public meeting. This arrest was immediately followed by a lathicharge of the crowd and the arrest of seven more people including Om Prakash Maingi, the president of the party’s Jammu unit. The agitation soon spread to Kathua, Samba, Udhampur and other parts of the state.
A history of protests
On 2 December, 1952, the state police fired on the protesters in Udhampur, leaving around 300 injured, but there were no casualties. More than 50 people were arrested.
Exactly a month after the beginning of the agitation, it recorded its first casualty. Mela Ram, one of the satyagrahis, was shot dead by police as he was trying to hoist India’s national flag at the headquarters of Chamb tehsil. More than 30,000 people participated in his funeral indicating the widespread influence of the movement. Two weeks after this incident, three more satyagrahis succumbed to police firing as they tried to unfurl the tricolour at Sunderbani tehsil in Poonch district.
The Praja Parishad workers decided to take the agitation nationwide. On 18 and 19 December, they reached and distributed pamphlets at the Congress party’s annual convention in Hyderabad in the presence of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah. The leaders of Praja Parishad also got in touch with newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh led by Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
Meanwhile, Karan Singh wrote to Nehru on 4 January 1953: “It has been one and a half months since this movement had started but I feel sad that no positive steps have been taken so far by the government.”
More protests, more deaths
On 11 January 1953, two days before the festival of Lohri, the police fired upon a march in which more than 5,000 people were participating. The demonstrators wanted to submit a memorandum to the then deputy Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Gulam Bakshi Mohhamad, who was visiting Hiranagar. More than 200 rounds were fired — two persons were killed and more than 70 were injured.
On 16 January, 1953, the Praja Parishad formally launched its civil disobedience movement. On 30 January, a crowd of 3,000 protesters gathered at Jodian village. The police fired upon them and six persons were killed, nearly 125 people were injured and many went missing.
On 1 March 1953, three protesters were killed in police firing at Ramvan court complex as they tried to hoist the tricolour there.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha and the Akali Dal launched a nationwide agitation to support the Praja Parishad on 5 March 1953.
Then BJS president Syama Prasad Mookerjee left for Jammu and Kashmir on a train from New Delhi on 8 May 1953 to support the agitation there. He was arrested while trying to enter Jammu and Kashmir on 11 May. He had been detained in Srinagar for more than a month and he died under mysterious circumstances there on 23 June 1953.
Prime Minister Nehru appealed to the Praja Parishad to call off this agitation in wake of this tragedy. The party complied, calling off its civil disobedience movement on 7 July, 1953. But it continued with the movement to have a common Constitution and flag until it got merged with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh on 30 December, 1963.
Later, the BJS, and then from 1980 onwards, the BJP carried forward these demands.
(*The above information has been sourced from ‘Jammu-Kashmir Ki Ankahi Kahani’ by Dr Kuldeep Chandra Agnihotri and ‘Pledge for an Integrated India:Dr Mookerjee in throes of Jammu and Kashmir’ ed. by Devesh Khandelwal).
(The writer is research director with the Delhi-based think-tank, Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on RSS.Views expressed are personal).