KASHMIRI PANDIT LEADERS
An indomitable crusader
Pandit Shiv Narain Fotedar
By Dr. B.N. Sharga
The Bhagwad Gita depicts the essence of Hindu philosophy which lays emphasis on the theory of Karma. It teaches us how to over come our short comings and failures. As the salt makes the various food preparations more delicious and palatable. So it is with life. The Gita leads a taste to life like does salt to food. The philosophy of Gita plays an effective role in the growth and development of both body and mind. It is an important ingredient in one’s life. The Gita introduces you to your inner personality. The intellect which reasons and discriminates and the mind which is the centre of emotions and impulses. So only when the intellect is in your command you can have the access to the knowledge that you have so painstakingly acquired. It acts like a remote control of your over all personality without which every thing becomes meaningless and out of control. So apart from achieving academic knowledge development of intellect is equally important for success in life. The Gita clearly enumerates that one should not be driven by passion but by vision, not by the desire to arrogate but to abnegate. Go for deeper more meaningful aspirations as the lofty ideals keep the mind away from developing into chaos and poor quality of work and take you on the path of progress to achieve new milestones in life. The person who gave these high ideals a practical shape in his life and adopted the philosophy of Karma in letter and spirit was Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar, who was not only a tireless crusader but also a champion of human values.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar’s ancestors were the Dattatreya Kauls of Rainawari mohalla of the Srinagar district in the Kashmir Valley. The administration of the Kashmir Valley during the Dogra rule (1846-1947) was divided into different parganas each headed by a parganadar. Under each parganadar there used to be subordinate government employees like thanedars, Shikdhars, patwaris, quanongos, fotedars, etc. One of Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar’s ancestor was appointed as a fotedar during the rule of Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857-1885) so his descendants started writing Fotedar as their new surname in place of original Kaul.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was born in 1904 in a middle class Kashmiri Pandit family of Rainawari. The name of his father was Pt. Prakash Joo Fotedar who was a lower rank government employee. The name of his mother was Padmawati who was the daughter of Pt. Hargopal Kaul Khasta, she though did not have any formal education but somehow gained mastery over Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian language at home. Since the girls’ education was almost non existent in the valley then due to orthodoxy, she opened a girls’ school for imparting training and education in Arts and Crafts to young girls of the community in Nawakadal which was subsequently shifted to Bana Mohalla. She also took care of the young K.P. widows and orphans. This dynamic and farsighted woman became popular as Nani in the community for her various philanthropic and charitable acts.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar spend his childhood days in such an enlightened atmosphere at home under the loving care of his mother which naturally ignited a fire in him for social service. His mother saw to it that as per traditions of the family her son should receive the best education.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar had his early schooling in Christian Missionary School from where he passed his middle examination in 1920 with flying colours. He then took admission in Sri Pratap High School from where he passed his matriculation examination in 1922 in first division. He then joined Sri Pratap College and did his F.A. in 1924 and then B.A. in 1926 respectively in first division. Prof. William Marcdermat an Irish scholar was the Principal of the college then who was a very strict disciplanarian. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar used to take an active part in the extracurricular activities of the college especially debates as he was a very good speaker and therefore most favourite student of his teachers. Prof. Chand Narain Bahadur a product of Canning College, Lucknow taught him English at the graduate level in Sri Pratap College, which was then affiliated with the Punjab University of Lahore.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar then went to Lahore from Srinagar in 1926 for higher studies and did his M.A. in history from the Foreman Christian College, Lahore in 1928 in first division obtaining a very good percentage of marks in the examination. He then came back to Srinagar from Lahore and joined his service in 1929 as the Professor of history in the then Prince of Wales College, Jammu. He did this job for about two and a half years.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar had a burning desire in him right from his childhood days towards social service. He came under the magic spell of the two stalwarts of the K.P. community Kashyap Bandhu and Justice Jia Lal Kilam who were spearheading, the movement to bring certain social reforms in the community to make it more progressive in out look and for the eradication of certain evils like dowry and wasteful expenditure on the marriages and other ceremonies. Kashyap Bandhu on every Sunday used to organise the meeting of the community at the historic Hari Parbat and used to emphasize especially to the women folk to switch over to wearing sari and blouse instead of traditional Phiren and Taranga to look more smart, elegant and agile. Being impressed by the work of these two great leaders of the community. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar took the membership of the Sanatan Dharam Yuvak Sabha and was soon elected to its executive body.
Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir Riyasat in 1931 made Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar the provincial head of the census operations in the state. He carried out this job with great ability and skill and received all round praise and appreciation for completing this stupendous work of the census in Jammu and Kashmir state in record time.
The community members then selected him to lead their delegation to meet Indian leaders like Dr. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya, Raja Narendra Nath Raina and Dr. Monje etc. to put up their view point before them during the freedom struggle of the country. He very successfully led this delegation which made his entry into the political arena of the state.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar then fought the Municipal elections in 1933 and became a member of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation which provided him an opportunity to do social work with more vigour and enthusiasm. This made him quite popular among the masses. He did a lot of work to improve the basic civic infrastructure in the Srinagar city. His main focus was on health and sanitation and to provide basic education to all irrespective of their caste or creed and blood or breed.
Due to his dynamism and popularity Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was elected as the President of the Santan Dharam Yuvak Sabha in 1935 when Kashyap Bandhu parted away which is now known as All State Kashmiri Pandits’ Conference after the mass migration of K.Ps. from the valley in 1990.
A very unusual event took place in the long history of the British monarchy on 11th December 1936 when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England to marry a commoner Miss. Wallis Warfield Simpson of America a divorcee much against the established royal traditions saying that “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as a king as I wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love”. He thus became the only British Sovereign ever to voluntarily resign the throne.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was again elected to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation in 1937 and became a Municipal Councellor. He then became first a senior Vice Chairman and finally the Chairman of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation on which post he functioned up to 1955.
Prior to this Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was elected to the Praja Sabha in 1934 during the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh which is now called as the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. He was again elected to the Praja Sabha in 1938 and then in 1947 respectively. He remained continuously its member for 14 years. The Praja Sabha was constituted by Maharaja Hari Singh to give a chance to the people of the Riyasat to participate in its administration just to suppress their anger and agitation against his autocratic and despotic rule. Because Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had raised a banner of revolt against him in 1931, which led to a large scale communal riots in the valley. The main demand was freedom from the Dogra rule. This agitation was named as Quit Kashmir Movement.
Then between 1947 and 1949 the Kashmir Valley witnessed very fast political developments. On 3rd June, 1947 the last Viceroy of the British India Lord Mountbatten finalised the plan to divide the country into two independent dominions and gave an option to the princely states of British India either to remain an independent entity or to merge with either of them. The country was then partitioned on 15th August 1947 purely on communal lines leading to a large scale killings of both Hindus and Muslims in this process. Then tribal attack on the Kashmir Valley took place on 22nd October 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh then signed the Instrument of accession with India on 26th October, 1947 and took refuge in Jammu after handing over the power to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who became the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Riyasat with certain special privileges like its separate Constitution and flag not enjoyed by the other states.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar then after weighing all the pros and coins joined the National Conference party of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and became a member of its governing council in 1952. In the meanwhile the Constituent Assembly of the Jammu & Kashmir state nominated him as the member of Parliament to represent the interests of the Riyasat at Delhi. Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru who was the Prime Minister of the country then saw a spark in this young man to become a great leader in future and so duly encouraged him. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar took a keen interest in the Parliamentary debates and exhibited his potential and skills as a orator and his command over the language be it English or Urdu. His presentation of events always used to be in chaste language punctuated with interesting anecdotes which used to have all the ingredients of a superb mind as he had a razor sharp memory.
While staying at Delhi Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar developed a very good rapport with the national level leaders of all shades of political opinion like Dr. Kailas Nath Katju, Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Morarji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzari Lal Nanda, Madhu Limay, Prakash Veer Shastri, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Mrs. Vijaylakshmi Pandit, Dr. Hriday Nath Kunzru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Baldev Singh, etc.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar served on many Parliamentary Committees. He was a member of the Central Advisory Committee of National Cadet Corps, which was constituted in 1948 under the Chairmanship of Dr. Hriday Nath Kunzru to suggest ways and means for reorganising the infrastructure of N.C.C. in the country to prepare the youth for the defence of the country. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was also a member of another important committee for defence which was constituted under the Chairmanship of the then defence minister Sardar Baldev Singh for reorganising the whole defence system of the country as per needs of a newly born independent nation. He was also a member of the committee on foreign affairs which was formed to chalk out the foreign policy of the new country under the guidance of the then Prime Minister Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru who was also holding the portfolio of the foreign affairs at that time.
In 1954 Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was invited as the chief guest in the annual function of the Amar Singh Degree College, Srinagar. While presiding over the function the then principal of the college Prof. Mahmood in his customary thanks giving address recalled the qualities of Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar’s head and heart. Prof. Mahmood while eulogizing Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar said the students of history used to listen the lectures delivered by Fotedar Sahib in chaste English dotted with chronological calendar of events clothed over with inimitable style of presentation with rapt attention. Even the students of science used to swarm his class to listen to this fiery giant of English language and its diction. Prof. Mahmood actually was a student of Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar during a brief tenure of the latter as a faculty member in the Prince of Wales College, Jammu. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was selected in 1954 as a member of the Parliamentary delegation to Turkey and to some other middle east countries. His main job was to establish friendly relations with all these countries and to propagate the India’s policy of non alignment. He was then in 1955 elected as the President of the All India Union of Post and Telegraph Employees. He was also elected as the President of the Cantonment Workers’ Federation in 1956.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar then in 1957 after the expiry of his term in Parliament went back to Srinagar from Delhi. There he was elected as the member of the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Council. He was then unanimously made its Chairman during the tenure of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad as the Chief Minister of the state.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar had the honour to again become the Chairman of the Legislative Council of Jammu & Kashmir in 1959 as a nominee of the National Conference. He discharged his duties with great poise and dignity by strictly maintaining the decorum of the House and encouraging healthy and constructive debates inside the House on crucial matters involving the welfare of the common man.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar then became a nominated member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. He was a member of the Budget Planning Committee, Board of Industries, Board of Food Control and Public Health, Education and Finance Standing Committees.
He also functioned as the Vice-Chairman of the Post War Reconstruction Committee with the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state B.N. Rao as its Chairman.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was the founder President of the Kashmir Educational Society. He was founder of the Social Reforms Organisation. He was founder President of the Gandhi Memorial College Trust and under its banner he established seven high schools and middle schools in different parts of the valley to spread the message of light and learning among the masses.
He was the Senator of the Kashmir University for a number of years and played an effective role in toning up the academic atmosphere in the university. He used to command a great respect from both its staff as well as its students for his humanitarian approach towards their genuine problems. He always tried his best to improve the academic standards of the university to make it one of the best in the country.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar throughout his life maintained the great traditions of his kinsmen Pt. Hargopal Kaul Khasta and Pt. Salig Ram Kaul Salig the two legendary brothers of Kashmir, who were the first to raise a banner of revolt against the despotic rule of Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857-1885) after coming to Srinagar from Lahore and were sent to jail for sedition. Pt. Hargopal Kaul Khasta the great revolutionary became subsequently popular among the community members as Sher-e-Kashmir.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar was a person with no inhibitions and ego. He used to meet every body in the society whether high or low with the same ease and warm affection. He used to be always ready to be a part of any call given by the community members. He used to take part in all the religious functions with out any complex or reservation. He always used to lead the Janma Asthami procession of Pandits in Srinagar without any fail. He was himself quite hospitable to any invited or uninvited guest to his residence. He used to relish the delicious food and occasionally it is alleged he used to take a few pegs of wine as well to maintain a good health on medical advice.
In his youth and even in his adulthood he was always known as a well dressed person with a sense of elegance and perfection. He was endowed with a charming personality with an infectious smile. He was very fond of wearing a turban with multi coloured stripes. In the later years of his life he started wearing a typical cap type head gear. He was deeply imbibed with a sacrificing spirit. When Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru died on 27th May, 1964 a funeral procession was taken out by the Pandits at Habba Kadal in Srinagar. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar paid his homage by saying that great men never die in a condolence meeting held after that. He lived for upholding certain values which were very dear to him. He never nursed any ill will against any body in life. He was a man with a noble mission and a tireless crusader.
In 1967 Parmeshwari Handoo the daughter of a widow who was working as a sales girl in a departmental store in Srinagar was abducted by allegedly her colleague Ghulam Rasool Khan with the connivance of the General Manager Mir Qasba and then forcibly converted. The Kashmiri Pandits then led by one Pt. K.L. Moza went to office of the Sanatan Dharm Yuvak Sabha at Sheetal Nath and a movement was launched on 25th August 1967 for the restoration of the Kashmiri Pandit girl to her mother and awarding a severe punishment to the culprits.
Pt. Maharaj Kishan Razdan died in police lathi charge on the peaceful demonstraters. Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar extended his full support to this agitation. But unfortunately this movement later on petered out due to dissensions and differences in the rank and file of the Pandits themselves which left them high and dry without achieving anything worth while to their credit, although in the initial phase of this agitation they exhibited a unique solidarity over this crucial issue. This agitation actually flopped due to the subversive role played by a Pandit minister in the state governments for his own selfish ends.
Pt. Shiv Narain Fotedar in the fag end of his life became critically ill. He was then shifted to Jammu for treatment where this great son of the motherland passed away on 6th December, 1976 at the age of about 72 years. The rich legacy of his leadership qualities will always act as a
beacon light for the future generations. Thomas Edison was very correct when he said “Many of life failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”