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When Mahatma Gandhi met Maharani of Kashmir

Mahatma Gandhi with Begum Akbar Jehan (Left) and her daughter Khalida Abdullah in Srinagar

Saquib Salim

Going by the claims of a Pakistani scholar Agha Shorish Kashmiri, who was born Abdul Karim, Mahatma Gandhi politely snubbed the Royal family of Jammu and Kashmir for arresting then popular leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah when he visited the valley on the first day of August in 1947, Gandhi went to Kashmir soon after Maharaja Hari Singh had arrested Abdullah for trying to create a rebellion against his rule and a fortnight before India was to gain freedom from the British.

The visit had immense political implications. General Shah Nawaz of the Indian National Army and Agha Shorish Kashmiri of Majli-i-Ahrar accompanied him. Ahrar was a Muslim-dominated party that was campaigning against the partition and the Muslim League. 

Kashmiri, who was born in Lahore and edited the Urdu newspaper Chattan published from there, later recalled Gandhi’s visit in one of his interviews with Shah Hasan Ata. He said in the interview that within a couple of hours of Gandhi arriving in Srinagar, they got a message that Maharani Tara Devi was coming to see Gandhi.

 Maharani Tara Devi and Maharaj Hari Singh

Maharani took off her shoes after getting out of the car and walked barefoot where Gandhi was sitting with his disciples including Kashmiri. She was holding a silver tray with a golden bowl on it covered with a silk cloth. Maharani came, bowed down to Gandhi in reverence, and said that whenever a rishi (sage) came to our riyasat (state) it was a custom that Maharani herself would present milk to him. She requested Gandhi to take the milk. 

Gandhi touched the bowl but did not pick it up and told Maharani, “Beti dekho, jis raja ki Praja dukhi ho, Gandhi us Rani ke hath ka doodh nahi pee sakta tum ye le jaao” (My daughter, if people are suffering under a King then Gandhi cannot take milk from his Queen. Please take it back.)

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Shorish Kashmiri claims that this event played an important role in the negotiations which led to the release of Sheikh Abdullah a few weeks later. The event also highlights the respect Gandhi commanded among the masses as well as the royal people.    

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