The folklores and the tales of the wisdom and farsightedness of Maharaja Hari Singh still reverberate the land he ruled. It doesn’t matter that what he was to see, “his own kind turning away from him in his last years of life”, but the people whom he lived for and dedicated his life still identify with him and he shall always be revered for his service to the motherland. His reign heralded a sea of reforms and people-friendly policies which endear him to all his subjects, irrespective of class, religion and gender. Indeed he proved to be a leader when he headed the round table conference in 1930 in England where he was the unanimous choice of all the then princely states to deliver an address and he chose his words as, “I am an Indian first, and then a Maharaja”, by all standards such a statement can never be forgotten and it is inspirational for the generations to come. What often is less spoken and written about him is his military contributions to the state.
Since his childhood he has been raised as a warrior, born to Raja Amar Singh Jamwal, he completed his initials studies in Mayo College, he went to the British-run Imperial Cadet Corps, Dehradun for military training, later he was appointed in royal military services by the then ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh. His military acumen and leadership were acknowledged when in 1915 he was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the State Forces. He took a keen interest in running the state of affairs of the Maharaja’s army and brought many reforms in the military system wherein honoring the veterans who had laid down their lives in wars for the Dogra pride was one such programme. He even granted them land as military awards for bravery, Alias!! They were taken back by the governments to come in the name of land reforms, which political class or the government could think of such an act. During the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh, the military set up in J&K comprised of an Army HQ at Srinagar/Jammu and four brigades. Brigadier Rajinder Singh, Chief of Staff of the J&K State Forces, headed the Army HQ. The four brigades were the Jammu Brigade, the Kashmir Brigade, the Mirpur Brigade, and the Poonch Brigade. These four brigades had eight infantry battalions. The State Forces had a small complement of artillery also, this small force was charged with the responsibility of looking after 500-kilometer long mountainous border from Gilgit to Suchetgarh. Given the resources and the requirement he had organized his troops in a fashion to thwart any external aggression, often the lack of military resources is also a factor considered for the fall of PoJK but lesser do the people realize the conspiracies hatched by one political class against the maharaja and the mutiny which occurred on communal lines during 1947 conflict, had put the people of the state in danger to a large extent.
It was the second Great War where the Dogras fought valiantly under the seal and flag of Maharaja Hari Singh ji and brought laurels to the state. During the war, eight units of the State Army were placed, one after the other, at the disposal of the Government of India for active service outside the State. Three of these units, the two Mountain Batteries and the Artillery Training Centre, were permanently transferred to the Indian Army by the Maharaja. The Maharaja Hari Singh Ji also supplied over half a lakh of recruits. The State Forces units particularly distinguished themselves at the battles of Keren (Eritrea) and Damascus (Syria) and also in the campaign that resulted in the defeat of Japanese attempt to invade India. One unit had the distinction of capturing Kennedy Peak and Fort White. Awards for conspicuous gallantry in the field, as detailed below, were conferred upon state subjects serving in the State Forces under the dynamic leadership of Maharaja Hari Singh Ji, with Maharaja at the helm of affairs of the state forces Dogra troops brought laurels to the nation by earning various gallantry awards a few amongst them are Victoria Cross-I, Indian Order of Merit -2, Distinguished Flying Cross -1, Military Cross – 2, Indian Distinguished Service Medal -15, Member of the British Empire – 7, Military Medal – 41, Order of British India – 5, Order of British Empire Military – 1 and B.E.M. – 1. Several others were mentioned in dispatches and others again were awarded certificates of gallantry in the 1939-40. It was the chivalry of the great military leader that he did not accept grant-in-aid from the Central Government and bore the full cost of their war efforts. His Highness presented eighteen completely equipped motor ambulances, and also placed a portion of the Kashmir House, Delhi, at the disposal of the Government of India free of rent for the accommodation of Government offices. He also placed his Lockheed plane at the disposal of the Government of India for use in connection with war. Later, His Highness sent an aid of 50,000 to his Excellency the Viceroy for purchase of 10 lighter aircraft for the defence of India. Maharaja Hari Singh Ji set the example of leading from the front by visiting Middle East in October 1941 and inspected his own as well as other Indian troops there. He broadcasted a message from there calling upon the people in units to put forth further efforts in the War and inspiring them with hope in the ultimate triumph of justice. In April 1944 Maharaja Hari Singh Ji visited England as one of India’s two representatives on the War Cabinet.
Often he is remembered as a great administrator and a social reformer, which he was, but the military acumen of Maharaja Hari Singh Ji is often less spoken and highlighted indeed he lived his life the most gracious way as a military leader and ensured that the valor and blood of the countrymen are commended and acknowledged not only at home but also overseas.