On this day in 1929 newspapers carried an article exposing the sectarian and autocratic character of the Dogra rule. The publication of this article emboldened Kashmiri muslims to raise the banner of protest. Remarkably, the article was written by the serving Prime Minister of Kashmir – Sir Albion Banerji.
Sir Albion R. Banerji, Kt., C.S.I. C.I.E., (1871 – 1950) was the first Bengali Brahman to be born in England, hence his unusual first name. He earned his Master's Degree at the Balliol College, Oxford and joined the Indian Civil Service in 1894. At the Delhi Durbar of 1911, Albion Banerji was awarded the Companion of the Indian Empire (CIE).
He served as Magistrate in the Madras Presidency, and as Diwan of Cochin and then of Mysore before joining the Maharaja's administration in Kashmir as the Foreign and Political Minister.
In 1927 Sir Albion Banerji was appointed Prime Minister of Kashmir.
On March 16, 1929, he published a scathing indictment of the administration of the Kashmir State – criticising the Maharaja's lavish lifestyle sustained by a poor population – and then resigned from his post.
Some excerpts from the note:
'Jammu and Kashmir state is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Mohammedan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, and practically governed like dumb driven cattle.
There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances…
The administration has at present no or little sympathy with people's wants and grievances…'
Sir Albion Banerji's resignation effectively ended his hitherto stellar career in the Indian Civil Service. This act should have made him a hero for the common Kashmiri.
Strangely, or maybe I should say expectedly, there is no mention of Sir Albion Banerji in the sponsored hagiographies that masquerade as history in today's Kashmir. His selfless act has been forgotten because no self-serving separatist, mainstream or 'slipstream' politician can legitimately claim his legacy.
Even the numerous 'civil society' groups peculiar to Kashmir, ever keen to jump on to any 'kashmir/kashmiriyat' bandwagon, have not instituted an award (their favoured ploy to stay news-worthy) in his name – the ultimate ignominy for a man who has had such an undeniable impact on the history of Kashmir.
Perhaps there is an undercurrent to Sir Albion Banerji's service in Kashmir that I have failed to observe, but the fact remains that he championed both the cause of the downtrodden muslim population of Kashmir and of the backward classes of India. Much to the discomfort of his peers, he protested the failure of the Dogra and the British rulers respectively to address their problems.
The erstwhile state of Cochin, which also had cause to honour the gentleman, has a street named after him. I had suggested in an earlier post that the new bridge over the river Jehlum at Rajbagh could be named the Albion Bridge to honour Sir Albion Banerji.