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From Maharaja to Lieutenant Governor: How Raj Bhawan evolved in Jammu and Kashmir

From Maharaja to Lieutenant Governor: How Raj Bhawan evolved in Jammu and Kashmir

From Maharaja to Lieutenant Governor: How Raj Bhawan evolved in Jammu and Kashmir


There is an anecdote from June 1975, when emergency was imposed in India. A cartoon went around those days which showed President Fakharuddin Ali Ahmed sitting in a bathtub of a lavish bathroom of Rashtrapati Bhawan when he is presented with papers which upon his assent would become a law imposing emergency rule. The President is either not given opportunity or he doesn’t bother about leaving the bathtub, change clothes, come out, examine the papers and ask his conscience whether he was going to be true to the oath of the Constitution. He doesn’t bother to ask his conscience whether his signatures on these papers were going to be in the interest of the country and its people or merely in the interest of the ruling party and the leader who bestowed upon him this opportunity of enjoying a king size life in the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhawan.

There is no strong evidence of this incident having happened exactly like this. However, there are two undeniable truths: the truth is that when Indira Gandhi found her regime in danger, she took the constitution, its promise to the democracy and all institutions in her absolute control and this how how a first dark chapter was written in the democratic journey of Independent India. And the second truth is this cartoon was drawn by Abu Abraham, and this actually appeared in the Indian Express newspaper under Ramnath Goenka.


The Constitution tells us with clarity that President’s office is highest in the country, the President belongs to everyone and owes no allegiance to any political party. How free our Presidents have remained is a matter of common knowledge.

As President happens to be the nation’s supreme constitutional dignitary, similarly, in the States, the highest constitutional position is enjoyed by the Governors. Residents of sprawling Raj Bhawans with high status and vast protocols, Governors are the custodians of the Constitution. Appointees of the Presidents, they are key link between the Centre and the State. However, how our Governors perform on the oath of Constitution can be best examined when States are run by parties other than the one ruling at the Center. Some recent and enjoyable examples can be obtained from the Raj Bhawans of Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana and Delhi. Confrontation of Raj Bhawans with the elected State governments, of the parties other than that ruling at the Center, is not a recent trend. To say it mildly, this is also a Nehruvian legacy which starts taking roots right after 1956 when the States were reorganised for the first time and the Raj Bhawans began to take shape.

I got to know about this Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed bathtub anecdote very recently, and interestingly by way of a historic parliamentary debate. This was on August 5, 2019, when the relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the Center was being recast after seven decades of debates and uncertainty. Jubilant members of the ruling BJP were in obvious one voice to say that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have delivered on the ideological commitment their founder leaders made in 1950s. The opposition members clearly lacked any appropriate response. Their dilemma was understandable: if they hail the decision, they look minions of BJP and if they oppose, they may have to face political consequences in their constituencies. From marathon debates across two days both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, only one relevant question emerged: ‘due constitutional procedures were not applied while decommissioning Article 370’. To this, senior BJP leader and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had a classic reply: he said, “those who had the Emergency Order signed by the President while in the bathtub have no right to teach us constitutional procedures’.

So, how exactly was the Article 370 de-operationalised? Was this temporary and transitional Article of the Constitution annulled through authority of the Parliament, through a Presidential order or a cabinet decision? What was the first step in this direction? What role did the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir had to play, particularly when the political executive and the legislature didn’t exist in the State on that day. When asked, many constitutional lawyers and even judges appear unclear on the whole process. The bottom-line fact is that it was a political decision but on the sequence of technicalities the first person to initiate the process for abrogation of Article 370 had to be the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir who embodied the powers of the Government and the legislature in absence of both at that time.

Satya Pal Malik has been Governor of four states in India, but he became famous by his fourteen-month stint in Jammu and Kashmir. Till the evening of August 4, 2019, he was telling everyone, including three former Chief Ministers, that he was not aware of anything such as preparations for any constitutional changes with relation to Jammu and Kashmir. He described all the anxiety and panic in run up to August 5, 2019, as product of rumours for which, he said, Kashmir was famous.

In a recent interview to Karan Thapar for ‘The Wire’, Malik says late in the evening of August 4, 2019, somewhere between 10 and 11 pm, he got a call from Home Minister Amit Shah who asked him to sign some papers which he would send to him the next morning through a special plane. This is what laid the technical foundation for the further steps towards a constitutionally tenable process for decommissioning Article 370. So, Satya Pal Malik, as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, was the first person who mattered in that entire process, but by his own admission he was certainly not in the loop of discussions.

It was in similar circumstances on the night of June 25, 1975, when Indira Gandhi’s Private Secretary R.K. Dhawan presented the Emergency edict before President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and had the darkest law signed. It is said that soon after signing the Emergency Decree, the President took a dose of tranquillisers and went to bed for a sound sleep.

I have no intentions to talk about the imposition of Article 370, the so called ‘special status’ and its abrogation. To me, August 5, 2019, was a high point, an important phase in the ever-evolving relationships between the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India, a process in continuous motion since 1947. I also believe that this relationship will still continue to evolve.

In this series of more than 30 episodes, I intend to talk about the entire political journey of Jammu and Kashmir, evolution in the dynamics of Center-State relations and what role the Raj Bhawan played from time to time. As children of a glorious democracy, we take all liberties to examine the lives and works of elected political leaders but not much is available in the public domain on how Raj Bhawans operate. The story of Jammu and Kashmir is interesting but first of all we need to understand the evolution of Raj Bhawan.

Unlike other States where position of Governors emerged in mid 1950s following first re-organisation of States and then remained a steady institution, in Jammu and Kashmir it started with Maharaja in 1947 and ended with Lieutenant Governor in 2019.

Here is how:

When Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Union of India in 1947, the Princely State was run under a proper Constitution with Maharaja Hari Singh being the supreme authority. It was under the same Constitution that Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was appointed as head of the Emergency Administration on October 30, 1947, and then Prime Minister on March 5, 1948. Maharaja Hari Singh was, therefore, the first constitutional head of the government of Jammu and Kashmir which had not become part of free India post the accession. It was Maharaja’s position that later evolved into Governor, and it was the same institution that he presided which later took shape of Raj Bhawan.

Under unique political circumstances, the Maharaja had to exit Jammu and Kashmir and in wake of this departure his 18-year-old son Karan Singh became Regent in June 1949. Technically, this is continuation of the Dogra monarchy where an adult heir take charge in absence of the monarch.

It was in June 1952 that the Dogra monarchy was formally abolished by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. So contrary to the popular belief that Dogras ruled Jammu and Kashmir for 101 years, the Dogra monarchy actually existed for 106 years. So, after Maharaja’s absence and subsequent appointment of Karan Singh as Regent, the abolition of Dogra monarchy was the second major phase in the evolution of Raj Bhawan in Jammu and Kashmir.

Upon abolition of the Dogra hereditary monarchy, the Constituent Assembly provided for an elected Constitutional Head of the State, to be called as Sadar-e-Reyasat. As such, Karan Singh was elected as Sadar-e-Reyasat in November 1952. This was the third major event in the evolution of Raj Bhawan.

The year 1965 is known for the India-Pakistan war, but internally and on the Center-State axis there was a development of far more political significance than August 5, 2019, when on March 30 the nomenclature of the Sadar-e-Reyasat, the Constitutional Head, and the Prime Minister, the Executive Head, were changed to Governor and Chief Minister. Carried out through a Constitutional amendment similar to that used for annulling Article 370, this was fourth major phase in the evolution of Raj Bhawan and harmonising this institution with States in rest of the country.

Sadar-e-Reyasat since 1952, Karan Singh was no reappointed as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. He was the first and last local native Governor. There is a precedent that local residents are not appointed as Governors of the same State, and this has applied across the country.

It was only in 1967 that first Governor from outside the State was appointed to Jammu and Kashmir, as it happened and continues to happen in other States. This person was Bhagwan Sahay, a former ICS officer, who was then serving as Governor of Kerala.

 In subsequent pieces in this series and the video episodes, it will take you to an extensive political journey of Jammu and Kashmir as things unfold right since 1947. Raj Bhawan shall remain our vantage point to look at the political developments and the evolving dynamics of Center-State relations.











About the author

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Zafar Choudhary

A journalist since 1999, Zafar Choudhary is also a policy analyst and author. An alumni of the London School of Economics, his book ‘Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu’ addresses a critical gap in scholarship on Kashmir. Zafar is founder and editor of The Dispatch