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Udaipur experience

By Ahmad Ali Khan


For eight months in 1945-46 I became an active participant in political life without admitting the fact to myself. My career as a professional journalist began at the end of this period in which I gave all my time and energies to active public life. The unplanned exposure to the nitty-gritty of politics taught me a lesson or two about mass psychology, political interactions, the art and dynamics of political mobilisation, strategy and tactics and about advance and retreat. This is something no school of journalism teaches.

In the winter of 1945-46 (I don’t remember the exact dates) I went through an experience which was highly instructive for me personally but which is also of considerable public interest. In the absence of some leaders who were in prison I was elected as one of the delegates to the annual session of the All-India States’ Peoples’ Conference held at Udaipur, Mewar, a state of former Rajputana. The outgoing president of the AISPC was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and its incoming president was Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah.

The AISPC was the apex body for a vast network of pro- Congress organisations — affiliates — working in the various princely states, each with a local name, the commoner name in Hindi being Lok Parishad. Each affiliate had as its goal the achievement of responsible government in the state concerned but the broader all-India objective of all was to lend support to the Congress demand for the independence of India.

Immediately upon arrival at Udaipur, I was told that a meeting of delegates who were Communist sympathisers was to be held in the evening to plan a common line of action at the conference. A communist leader from Indore state, a neighbouring principality to the west of Bhopal, who was also attending as a delegate knew me and invited me to the informal moot. I agreed to attend. The meeting was held behind closed doors. A large number of delegates from many states, including the erstwhile Hyderabad state, were present. Incidentally, there were more from Kashmir, and I was the only one from the Bhopal contingent and the only Muslim to be present.

The meeting place was a dingy but large room in a ramshackle house which was approached through a muddy lane. Everybody sat on the floor and spoke in low tones. The room was dimly lit. Altogether a perfect setting for a conspiracy, especially a communist one. What lent an aura of mystery to the occasion was a locally made crude-looking rifle about six feet long. The presence of dark-complexioned, native and tough-looking armed Bhils in a meeting, whose mostly young participants belonged to the sophisticated middle-class intelligentsia, seemed patently incongruous. It, nevertheless, added colour to the occasion.

The meeting decided to table amendments to the two main resolutions that were to be placed before the annual session. One amendment related to the demand for responsible government in each state to be instituted “under the aegis of the ruler”. The amendment sought full responsible government maintaining that the conference leadership was whittling down the states’ peoples’ right to unqualified representative self-rule.

The other amendment related to the first resolution demanding immediate national independence. The amendment approved by our conclave urged the leaders of the AISPC and of the Indian National Congress to accept the right of self-determination of the Muslim-majority regions in the north-west and north-east of India.

I do not have the text before me but the Communist caucus which drafted the amendment clearly meant Pakistan, even though the word Pakistan was perhaps avoided. Choosing the names of the proposer and seconder of this crucial amendment was a matter that called for a good deal of care. Those conducting the proceedings of the conclave did not ask for suggestions. They simply announced two names which had obviously been decided beforehand by a coterie.

Before they did so I tried to guess who the conclave will select for this difficult role. There were some very senior and more experienced persons present. But to my utter surprise they chose me, the only Muslim in the meeting, as the mover.

(Me, the mad, they picked)

For the second their choice was a tall, hefty Sikh gentleman with broad shoulders and a luxuriant white beard. His name was Dr Phool Singh and he hailed from the Sikh-ruled state of Patiala.Both our amendments were of a controversial nature in a conference dominated by “nationalists” (for which read followers of the Congress), the pro-Pakistan amendment especially so. I and the Sikh gentleman made short speeches in which we pleaded that the Congress take its professed support for self-determination to its logical conclusion by conceding the demand for Pakistan. This was wholly unexpected.

The audience of delegates which had so far presented a picture of perfect tranquillity and harmony suddenly caught a whiff of dissent. The smug complacency of the house seemed to yield place to tension. Pandit Nehru who was presiding over the session called upon Shaikh Abdullah to oppose the amendment. The Shaikh declared that while the Congress and its supporters did accept the right of self-determination of people on a territorial basis, they thought it would amount to a distortion of the principle if the right was invoked on behalf of a religious community.

The Pakistan demand, he asserted, was not being raised on behalf of the people living in an area or areas without discrimination, it was a communal demand motivated by narrow religious considerations, hence reactionary. In the end Mr Nehru himself spoke on the amendment. He pointed out that as a secular party, the Congress was in principle opposed to a division of India on a religious basis.

Nevertheless the Congress might ultimately examine the possibility of conceding the demand in order to bring freedom nearer, but he most emphatically ruled out the idea of anybody walking away with territory in which the others (he meant non-Muslims) were in a majority.

The speech was in Hindustani and his words were: “magar aap saath mein un areas ko bandh kar naheen le ja sakte jahaan aap ki majority naheen hai” (but you cannot take away with you those areas where you do not have a majority). Though a mere novice in politics, I knew then that the Congress would not only insist on partitioning Bengal and Punjab but would fight for retaining every single inch of territory in the process. The partition of the two provinces was sometimes being talked about as a certainty in the event of India’s division, but hearing Mr Nehru on the subject and noting his patently belligerent tone, I felt very apprehensive about the future.

I could never forget his words nor the manner in which he uttered them. And whenever I think of the tragedy of Kashmir there arises before my mind’s eye a vivid picture of Shaikh Abdullah dressed in a dark coloured sherwani and shalwar and wearing a mohair cap pleading at the instance of Mr Nehru against the Pakistan demand. Nor is it possible to fail to recall the crude irony of the fate that befell that devoted secularist and loyal Congress ally who also happened to be a close associate of Mr Nehru. He spent years in prison under New Delhi’s orders.

Reverting to the amendment, the voice vote, as was certain, went overwhelmingly against us. But in a move which many delegates must have regarded as sheer mischief I stood up to challenge a division. This was not really called for since the verdict of the voice vote was absolutely clear. Nevertheless Mr Nehru did not demur and asked the house to divide, the ‘ayes’ on one side and the ‘noes’ on the other. Then he came down from the dais and counted. We got 30-35 votes and the opponents of the amendment got about 600.

Then Mr Nehru looked towards me and with a tolerant smile on his face, which suggested that he was not too cross with me for the nuisance I had caused, asked, “Are you satisfied now?” I told him I was. The matter of the amendment thus came to a close.

Sajjangarh Palace

Sajjangarh Palace 2016

Rachna Singh, Ropes hold together a dilapidated palace, Sep 23 2016 : The Times of India

Govt Pockets Revenue, But Ignores Upkeep

The Sajjangarh Palace in Rajasthan's Udaipur is in a dilapidated condition. Popularly known as Monsoon Palace, the over 132-year-old palace is crumbling due to government apathy .

The condition is such that after the recent rains, the forest department had to tie certain portions of the fort with a rope, just to hold them together. The picturesque palace was built in 1884 with white marble.

It's high turrets have developed cracks at several places. One of the marble pillars in the fort can be seen tied with a rope so that it doesn't take the monument down. Police equipment is scattered all over.In several places the equipment has been drilled into the fort wall.

The palace had a grand central court with a staircase and several rooms. Now the plaster is chipping off at several places. The marble pillars that were once carved with exquisite motifs of leaves and flowers are now faded with the domes, fountains and jharokas.And in several places the lime mortar has chipped off, weakening the structure.And there are no facilities for the tourists.

Even in this condition, the fort earns the government over Rs 3 crore annually with over two lakh domestic and foreign visitors just for that vantage view of the Udaipur city.

“We have written letters to the city administration, the chief wildlife warden and the secretary tourism apprising them of the situation and requesting them to take stock before it's too late,“ said Rahul Bhatnagar, chief conservator of forest (wildlife) Udaipur.

There is an ingenious traditional rainwater harvesting system still existing in the palace in which 3 lakh litres of water was collected this monsoon. This is the only source of water for the people living here, Bhatnagar said.

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