Srinagar: Fifty-five years after his death, the legacy of the last King of Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh, who signed the deed that resulted in his princely state joining the Union of India, is still proving to be contentious. The Jammu and Kashmir legislative council is locked in a major debate over a resolution that wants to adopt his birthday, September 23, as a state holiday.
The problem, critics say, is that the state has been officially observing July 13 as Martyrs' Day in memory of 21 Kashmiris killed by the King's forces in 1931 during a protest. In Kashmir, the day signifies the transition of power from an autocracy to a democracy and as victory of the people's movement led by Sheikh Abdullah, the founder of the National Conference.
Today in the opposition, members of National Conference staged a walk out when the resolution was moved.
"On one hand we celebrate 13th July as the state Martyrs' Day and on the other hand we mark the birth anniversary of the ruler of that time as state holiday? This is contradictory, we oppose it," said Akbar Lone, a leader of the National Conference.
But those supporting the resolution disagree strongly, saying that the Maharaja, whose decision to accede with India shaped the future of the state, remains a hero for many.
"Even today he is remembered as a symbol of unity. His name is linked to secular identity and youth identity. Even today, lakhs of people hold him in high regard," said Vikramaditya Singh, a leader of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh.