Thursday, 19 March 2015

Maharaja Gulab Singh and State of Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Shabir Choudhry

Maharaja Gulab Singh and State of Jammu and Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry       19 March 2015
Some people of Jammu and Kashmir State want to observe 16 March as a ‘national day’ of Jammu and Kashmir, because to them it was on this date (16 March 1846) State of Jammu and Kashmir came in to being; and they also regard Gulab Singh as a father of ‘Kashmiri nation’. It appears that they overlook the fact that geography of Jammu and Kashmir State that we claim and which was part of Jammu and Kashmir State on 16 August 1947 is different to what was in 1846.

This is very contentious topic, and may not help us to move forward to achieve our goal of unification and independence. Because of inherent dangers and low level of tolerance of some people, I was advised by some friends to stay out of this debate because it could further divide people; and I may end up making new enemies, as if I was short of them already.

All great men and conquerors are controversial figures – some admire them and some oppose them. What these people do or propose to do is not in everyone’s interest. In other words they challenge the status quo, and it is only natural that those who benefit from the existing system will oppose new ideas and invasion which will change the system or beneficiaries.

Maharajah Gulab Singh may not fall in to the category of great men; however, he made a valuable contribution to the politics of the region, and cut out a powerful role for himself. A lot of negative things are associated with him to belittle him and to present him as an evil man and a cruel ruler. Most of things are untrue and were levelled against him because of his religion and ethnicity. If he was undemocratic, unkind and cruel ruler, then question is which ruler of that time was pro people, democratic and kind?

I acknowledge I was also influenced by this propaganda and like other people in the JKLF my nationalism was also not fully matured when I did my Mphil research – Kashmir and the Partition of India - in late 1980s. Like many other nationalists of the time, perhaps I was also more of a Muslim nationalist than a Kashmiri nationalist; and was rather unfair to him. Prime objective of most students is to get thesis approved, and perhaps I was no different. Later on in life when I read some books by some non Muslims, and then I compared Gulab Singh in light of the new information, he looked a different man.

Anyhow, Gulab Singh came from a very ordinary background; and it is wrong that Gulab Singh’s family ruled Jammu for ‘centuries’. His father Kishore Singh was a poor man, but he belonged to a Dogra Rajput tribe of Jammu. The Raja of Jammu, Jeet Singh, was also a Dogra Rajput and was a distant relative of Gulab Singh’s father. Gulab Singh was born on 18 October 1792; and when Maharaja Ranjit Singh invaded Jammu in 1808, Gulab Singh was only 16 years old teenager; but he was very ambitious and brave. He and his tribe fought in defence of Jammu.

Even though young Gulab Singh lost his first war; but he gained a valuable experience from this war. After the invasion, the Raja of Jammu only had internal autonomy; and Jammu was a principality of the Sikh Empire. At the age of 17 he left Jammu in search of employment and new opportunities. He worked for various Rulers, including a Raja of Bhimber Sultan Khan who was a Chib Rajput. Gulab Singh joined his army as a soldier and received 3 rupees per month. 1
State of Bhimber
District Bhimber now is part of Pakistani Administered Kashmir known as Azad Kashmir; and in many ways is not that significant in politics of Azad Kashmir or in the nationalist struggle. However, Bhimber had an important role because of its geography and rulers.

Briefly, Raja Chib Chand was the first Raja of Chib dynasty; and when Ibrahim Lodhi ruled Delhi Raja Dhram Chand ruled this area. Ibrahim Lodhi had some serious illness; and he heard that Raja Dhram Chand could treat him. Ibrahim Lodhi summoned him to Delhi, and after the treatment Ibrahim Lodhi urged him to convert to Islam and stay in Delhi. He married daughter of one of his Minister to Dhram Chand who became Raja Shadab Khan after becoming a Muslim. 2

He had a Hindu wife Rani Thakiaal waiting for him in Bhimber but he was unable to leave Delhi due to strict supervision. When he eventually escaped Commander Haibat Khan Qandari chased him and in a battler near Bhimber both lost their lives. Royal troops which came from Delhi claimed that he was a Muslim, so Raja Shadab Khan was buried as a Muslim; and is now known as Baba Shadi Shaheed, a famous shrine in Azad Kashmir; and Hindus regarded him as Seedh Shadi. 3

Author of History of Chhabal, Major Thakkar Singh claims that Raja Shadab Khan had two sons from the Muslim wife, and they stayed in Delhi and never came to Bhimber. Furthermore, he claims that he had four wives with six sons. 4 This claim is refuted by Mohammed Fazal Shoq, who asserts that Raja Shadab Khan had only two wives, one Muslim and one Hindu which he married before he converted. From Rani Thakiaal he had Raja Dhram Chand and Bhoop Chand; and from Muslim wife he had Mull Khan and Gul Mohammed Khan.

Controversy ensued as to who should rule, sons of both wives claimed to become Raja; result was division of the State of Bhimber. Western part of the State was given to Bahoop Chand and Eastern part to Raja Mull Khan. 5 Area given to Raja Mull Khan was named as a State of Khari Kahriali. This was also later on occupied by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1810. 6 I will explain later on as to what is the significance of this detail in formation of this area.

After death of his father Raja Suleman Khan in 1772, Raja Sultan Khan became the ruler and expanded his rule to Barnala, Kharian, Gujrat, Noshera, Mirpur and Kotli. After death of Maharaja Ranjit Dev of Jammu, he declared his independence.7 As a result of some differences with his wife who interfered in affairs of the government, Raja Sultan imprisoned his Minister Sojan Singh; who later on escaped to Lahore and encouraged Maharaja Ranjit Singh to attack Bhimber. Raja Sultan Khan defeated the Sikh army, but Ranjit Singh sent a large force and arrested Sultan Khan and imprisoned him in Lahore for seven years

Ranjit Singh released him on promise that he would help to invade Kashmir. This was his third attempt to invade Kashmir and he took all the precautions. He ensured that all the local chieftains from Bhimber to Shopian were on his side that he could have safe and peaceful passage and that his rear was also safe. Referring to Raja Sultan Khan’s alliance with Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a famous Kashmiri historian, Yousaf Saraf comments:

‘It is unfortunate that a chieftain who had, only seven years back, rallied considerable support and given a resolute battle to the Sikhs had made a hero in the area, should have been so demoralised by seven years captivity as to readily agreed as his collaborator. He took oath on Kalmia to support the invasion and faithfully adhered to his commitment.’ 8

I can’t give too many details of this expedition as the article will become too long, but the fact is that without active support and know- how of the area by Raja Sultan Khan, Raja Aghar Khan of Rajouri and other chieftains of the region there was no way the Sikh army could have invaded Kashmir. In other words some constituent parts of the present day State of Jammu and Kashmir actively helped invasion of Kashmir.

Gulab Singh becomes Raja of Jammu
Gulab Singh joined Lahore Darbar as a running footman in court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1810. After a few years his father Kishore Singh, his brothers Dhian Singh and Sucheet Singh also joined the Lahore Darbar. They all played important role in strengthening the Sikh Empire; however Gulab Singh graduated in art of warfare and leadership and became among the most fearsome and bright generals of the Sikh army.

Some people in order to discredit Gulab Singh present him as a low class hypocrite, cheat and sycophant; and claim that he achieved his status in Lahore Darbar due to deceit and flattering. Fact is that Gulab Singh was among the very best Generals of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and one cannot become a brilliant general by flattering.

These critics won’t tell that Gulab Singh distinguished himself in many military expeditions. As a general of the Sikh army, he invaded Multan in 1816. In 1816, he, on his own initiative, invaded an important hill town of Riasi. He also played a leading role in invasion of Dera Ghazi Khan. Also he invaded Rajouri from Aghar Khan and Kishtwar from Raja Tegh Muhamamd Singh in 1821. Apart from that he even fought and defeated his own clansman, Mian Dido Jamwal in Trikota. Mian Dido was a Dogra warrior who led many military expeditions against the Sikh rule in the region.

Maharaja Ranjit, after another conflict with Raja Jeet Singh of Jammu, annexed Jammu. Because of great services rendered to the Sikh empire by family of Gulab Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed Kishore Singh, father of Gulab Singh, as the Raja of Jammu. After death of Raja Kishore Singh in 1822, Gulab Singh became Raja of Jammu; but he was still an ally of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and not recognised as an independent ruler.

After becoming a Raja of Jammu he continued with his conquests and in 1824, he conquered fort of Samartah, which was near Mansar Lake. He continued to serve the Sikh Empire faithfully; and Maharaja Ranjit Singh even entrusted him to administer areas of northern Punjab with salt mines and also towns like Jhelum, Rohtas and Gujrat.

When the Afghan armies attacked Sikh Fort of Jamrud, which is between Peshawar and Lundi Kotal, Maharaja Ranjit Singh again had to rely on services of Dogra brothers and he sent Gulab Singh and his brother Raja Dhian Singh as reinforcement. On hearing that the reinforcement was on the way, Prince Akbar Khan fled back to Kabul. Apart from Akbar Khan there were other tribal leaders like Painda Khan Afridi who rebelled against the Sikh rule, but on orders of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh he brutally crushed the rebellion of Muslim tribesmen and killed tens of thousands of people, plundered the region and enslaved women.

Treaty of Amritsar
Those who dislike Gulab Singh they will never be won over to admire him. I am not claiming that he was a very kind ruler. He was a warrior and adventurer. Like warriors of his time he also committed human rights violations. Tell me a war where human rights are not abused, it even happens in 21st Century. Human rights violation is a serious crime, but it is considered as a collateral damage, a part of the warfare.

Some Kashmiri leaders, either due to innocence or due to influence of Pakistani propaganda claim that Gulab Singh’s family had no right to rule Jammu and Kashmir after lapse of the British Paramountcy. They claim that the Treaty of Amritsar was a kind of lease which expired after 100 years; or after end of the British Raj in India. Full text of the Treaty is produced below and thinking people can decide for themselves that it was not a lease; and it did not limit in anyway the right of Maharaja Hari Singh to rule after the British left India.

Treaty of Amritsar March 16, 1846
The treaty between the British Government on the one part and Maharajah Gulab Singh of Jammu on the other concluded on the part of the British Government by Frederick Currie, Esq. and Brever-Major Henry Montgomery Lawrence, acting under the orders of the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, G.C.B., one of her Britannic Majesty's most Honorable Privy Council, Governor-General of the possessions of the East India Company, to direct and control all the affairs in the East Indies and by Maharajah Gulab Singh in person - 1846.

Article 1/ The British Government transfers and makes over for ever in independent possession to Maharajah Gulab Singh and the heirs male of his body all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba and excluding Lahul, being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State according to the provisions of Article IV of the Treaty of Lahore, dated 9th March, 1846.

Article 2/ The eastern boundary of the tract transferred by the foregoing article to Maharajah Gulab Singh shall be laid down by the Commissioners appointed by the British Government and Maharajah Gulab Singh respectively for that purpose and shall be defined in a separate engagement after survey.

Article 3/ In consideration of the transfer made to him and his heirs by the provisions of the foregoing article Maharajah Gulab Singh will pay to the British Government the sum of seventy-five lakhs of rupees (Nanukshahee), fifty lakhs to be paid on or before the 1st October of the current year, A.D., 1846.

Article 4/ The limits of territories of Maharajah Gulab Singh shall not be at any time changed without concurrence of the British Government.

Article 5/ Maharajah Gulab Singh will refer to the arbitration of the British Government any disputes or question that may arise between himself and the Government of Lahore or any other neighbouring State, and will abide by the decision of the British Government.

Article 6/ Maharajah Gulab Singh engages for himself and heirs to join, with the whole of his Military Forces, the British troops when employed within the hills or in the territories adjoining his possessions.

Article 7/ Maharajah Gulab Singh engages never to take to retain in his service any British subject nor the subject of any European or American State without the consent of the British Government.

Article 8/ Maharajah Gulab Singh engages to respect in regard to the territory transferred to him, the provisions of Articles V, VI and VII of the separate Engagement between the British Government and the Lahore Durbar, dated 11th March, 1846.

Article 9/ The British Government will give its aid to Maharajah Gulab Singh in protecting his territories from external enemies.

Article 10/ Maharajah Gulab Singh acknowledges the supremacy of the British Government and will in token of such supremacy present annually to the British Government one horse, twelve shawl goats of approved breed (six male and six female) and three pairs of Cashmere shawls. This Treaty of ten articles has been this day settled by Frederick Currie, Esq. and Brever-Major Henry Montgomery Lawrence, acting under directions of the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, Governor-General, on the part of the British Government and by Maharajah Gulab Singh in person, and the said Treaty has been this day ratified by the seal of the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, Governor-General. (Done at Amritsar the sixteenth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-six, corresponding with the seventeenth day of Rubee-ul-Awal (1262 Hijree).
(Signed) H. Hardinge (Seal)
 (Signed) F. Currie
(Signed) H.M. Lawrence

Treaty of Amritsar analysed
Article 1/ makes it absolutely clear that it was not a lease and that, ‘The British Government transfers and makes over for ever in independent possession to Maharajah Gulab Singh and the heirs male of his body all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies..’ Also it is clear that the word ‘sold’ which is commonly used to demean the Treaty and humiliate the Maharaja Gulab Singh was not part of the text. It stated that the territories were transferred.

Many people forget that Jammu and all the territories conquered by Raja Gulab Singh before the Anglo Sikh war were technically part of the Sikh empire; and the British could have annexed those areas under the control of Raja Gulab Singh as well.

Many people accuse Raja Gulab Singh for stabbing the Sikh Empire. This is far from truth. He and his family very faithfully served the Sikh Empire. They extended boundaries of the Sikh Empire and defended it with their sweat and blood.

After death of Maharajah Ranjit Singh situation changed dramatically, and the Sikh Empire plunged in chaos and civil war due to internal conflicts. Dogra brothers were still loyal to the Lahore Darbar; but those who were challenging the rule of young Maharajah Dalip Singh were not happy with role and influence of the Dogra brothers which they exhibited in defence of the Lahore Darbar.

As a result of this prolonged civil war in Punjab Gulab Singh’s family suffered immensely. He lost two brothers, Dhian Singh and Sucheet Singh. He also lost his nephew, Hira Singh, and his two sons, Udham Singh and Sohan Singh. Despite this sacrifice if people accuse him for the downfall of the Sikh Empire then it is totally unfair and historically incorrect.

Some writers place responsibility of the defeat of the Sikhs on their civil war that greatly weakened them; and cowardliness of some Sikh commanders like Lal Singh, Tej Singh, and Ranjoor Singh, who abandoned the war and ran away from the battlefield. According to historian Ashq Hussain Bhat, ‘Lal Singh ran away from Mudki battlefield on December 18, Tej Singh from Ferozshahr on December 21, and Ranjoor Singh from Aliwal on December 28.’ 9

Raja Gulab Singh was in Jammu when the war was going on, and the Sikh army was demoralised and on the run. So Rani Jindan requested Gulab Singh for help, but he only reached Lahore on 27 January 1846, where he was received as a de facto Chief Minister. 
The final battle between the Sikh army and the British was fought on 10 February 1846 at Sobran, where the Commander in Chief of the Sikh army Tej Singh fled the battlefield. When a commander loses heart and runs away no army can continue the war. From then onwards it was a question of getting the best deal from the British in negotiations and save the remaining Sikh Kingdom. Raja Gulab Singh as a Chief negotiator of the Lahore Darbar met the British in Kasoor on 15 February 1846.

Because the war was regarded as ‘unprovoked aggression’ against the British, the Lahore Darbar was asked to pay war indemnity of 15 million rupees. The British were privy to the information through Dina Nath, a Finance Minister of the Sikh government, that there was only 5 million rupees in the Lahore Treasury. So to make up for the loss of the war they demanded the Lahore State to cede certain territories and also recognise Gulab Singh as an independent Ruler. These details were formalised in Treaty of Lahore and Treat of Amritsar.

Raja Gulab Singh was a Statesman and a shrewd General. He manoeuvred the prevailing situation to get best for himself and for his family. He cleverly saved his ‘little empire’; he won recognition as an independent Ruler and he got additional territory, as explained above.

Here, it would be appropriate to mention Treaty of Lahore, which was negotiated between the Sikhs and the British and signed on 9 March 1846. Article 4 of the Treaty of Lahore reads:

‘The British Government having demanded from the Lahore State, as indemnification for the expenses of the war, in addition to the cession of territory described in Article 3, payment of one and half crore of Rupees, and the Lahore Government being unable to pay the whole of this sum at this time, or to give security satisfactory to the British Government for its eventual payment, the Maharajah cedes to the Honourable Company, in perpetual sovereignty, as equivalent for one crore of Rupees, all his forts, territories, rights and interests in the hill countries, which are situated between the Rivers Beas and Indus, including the Provinces of Cashmere and Hazarah’.

And Article 12 of the Lahore Treaty reads:
In consideration of the services rendered by Rajah Golab Sing of Jummoo, to the Lahore State, towards procuring the restoration of the relations of amity between the Lahore and British Governments, the Maharajah hereby agrees to recognize the Independent sovereignty of Rajah Golab Sing in such territories and districts in the hills as may be made over to the said Rajah Golab Sing, by separate Agreement between himself and the British Government, with the dependencies thereof, which may have been in the Rajah's possession since the time of the late Maharajah Khurruck Sing, and the British Government, in consideration of the good conduct of Rajah Golab Sing, also agrees to recognize his independence in such territories, and to admit him to the privileges of a separate Treaty with the British Government’.

Many people wrongly think that Mahraja Gulab Singh acquired the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir from the British after paying 75 Lakh Rupees or Nanak Shahi.

It is clear that according to the Treaty of Amritsar vast areas of Hazara were also given to the Maharaja Gulab Singh. Chamba was also included in the Treaty. Hazara is now part of Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtoon Khawa; and Chamba is now part of Indian Himachal Pradesh.

Gulab Singh, as a General of the Sikh Empire fought many wars in the area now known as Khyber Pakhtoon Khawa. He knew very well what kind of rebellious people lived there. He was a prudent and far sighted ruler; he knew it would be extremely difficult to keep control over tribesmen who lived in Hazara from centre of his power base. So in 1847 he made a deal with the Lahore Darbar, and exchanged large areas of Hazara for a smaller State of Khari Khariaali, which was occupied by the Sikhs in 1810.  Details of Khari Khariali state were discussed earlier, when it was explained how and why Bhimber State was partitioned. He knew people of this area were rather peaceful; and also the area was adjacent to other areas under his control in Mirpur and Bhimber.

Chamba was established as a state around 550 AD. It was ruled by various Rulers, but between 1809 and 1846 it was a tributary of Jammu. Although it was included in the Treaty of Amritsar, however, later on it was taken as a British Protected State. Tikka Lakshman Singh was the last Raja of Chamba, and in 1948 he acceded to India.

There is no need to discuss and explain position and status of 
Poonch because it is agreed by all that it is part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. However, I feel there is still a lot of ambiguity about areas of Gilgit Baltistan and Ladakh, so I will briefly explain the satiation of these areas.

Raja Gulab Singh, as noted earlier was a man with vision; and he knew importance of Karakorum trade route, especially for shawl wool, and his General Zorawar Singh, who was appointed Governor Kishtwar, conquered Suru Valley and Kargil in 1835. Zorawar Singh continued with his military expeditions and conquered Astor and Baltistan in 1840.

Mahraja Gulab Singh then turned his attention to conquer Tibet. It was important for him to conquer Tibet in many ways; but after some initial successes his Commander General Zorawar was overpowered in a place where height was more than 12,000 feet and snow had already had started falling making it very difficult for his troops. Lhasa army also cut off his supply route which was hundreds of miles away in Ladakh. The battle began on 10 December 1841 and after two days of fight the Dogra army was defeated. General Zorawar was killed in the battle. 10

When the Dogra army was fighting very difficult battle hundreds of miles away from Jammu, Gulab Singh was fighting on behalf of the Sikh Empire in Peshawar; and it is here he was informed the Dogra defeat. Despite this some people claim he stabbed the Sikh Empire.

The Tibetans encouraged by their earlier victory tried to take over Ladakh, but they were defeated at the battle of Chushal. The subsequent Treaty of Chushul demarcated the boundary between Ladakh and Tibet. Treaties, of Amritsar and Chushal defined the borders of the Kingdom of Jammu in the east, south and west; however, the northern border was still undefined.

The Gilgit region, which includes Nagar, Hunza, Punial, Yasin, Ghizer, Chilas, Darel, Tangir, Harban and even Chitral; and they all had separate rulers, each conspiring against the other. On request of Karim Khan, brother of Raja Shah Skander of Gilgit who was murdered by Gur Rehman, Raja of Yasin and occupied Gilgit, the Sikhs sent a force under the command of Colonel Nathu Shah to capture Gilgit in 1842. Although after the invasion Karim Khan was installed as the Raja, but effective power was in hands of Col Nathu Khan.

When the Maharaja Gulab Khan acquired Kashmir, Nathu Khan expressed his loyalty to the Maharaja Gulab Singh and he was allowed to continue to administer the area. But, Gur Rehman who was early defeated by Nathu Khan conspired with Rulers of Hunza, Punial and Yasin and defeated Nathu Shah and Gulab Singh lost this region. However, he soon sent a force to punish Gur Rehman and captured the lost region. Rebellion of Gur Rehman continued and he recaptured Gilgit again in 1852, however, in 1860, Maharaja Ranbir Singh established his rule over the entire region. 11
Gulab Singh or Gulabo as he was called was born to an ordinary house in Jammu with no future. He was not born with a golden or even a silver spoon in his mouth. As a teenager he had to leave his home with no future in mind. Throughout his life, he struggled and fought against the odds, and overcame most difficult situations.

And when he died on 30 June 1857, he was known as the Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir. He left an empire for his dynasty. Many historians, especially Muslim historians have treated him unfairly. I can agree that he did not adhere to democratic values; and that he was not kind to his subjects; but don’t judge him with the moral values of 21st century.

Those who call him deceitful, greedy and flatterer, need to understand that a deceitful and flatterer are not brave people; whereas Gulab Singh established his bravery and brilliance in art of warfare in many battles. He was a wise leader and a brilliant General. We need to understand that all Generals and warriors have to be ruthless in order to win wars and establish fear that his subjects do not rebel against his rule. I agree he imposed many unjust and harsh taxes; but question is which ruler of that time didn’t impose taxes. What about rulers of today? Are we not facing harsh unfair treatment, and heavy and taxes and bills where we live today?

If it was not for Gulab Singh and the Treaty of Amritsar we could have been part of some districts of India or Pakistan, with no identity as a citizen of Jammu and Kashmir. We owe our Kashmiri identity and our sense of belonging to a nation to prowess of Maharaja Gulab Singh.

Indeed we are forcibly divided, but our struggle is for unification and independence of the State which Gulab Singh established; and those who call him a father of Kashmiri nation have every right to do so. I fail to understand why some people want to compare Maqbool Butt with Maharaja Gulab Singh.

Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir

1.         Jammu Kashmir ke Pahari Riastain, part 1, Mohammed Fazal Shoq, page 353.
2.         History of Kashmir, volume 5-6, Syed Mehmood Azad, page 422
3.         Ibid, page 423
4.         Ibid, page 425
5.         Mohammed Fazal Shoq , page 53
6.         Ibid, page 57
7.         Ibid, page 55
8.         Justice Yousaf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, volume 1, page 75
9.         How Gulab Singh backstabbed Sikh state and purchased Kashmir from the British, by Ashq Hussain Bhat 09 March 2015
10.       Justice Yousaf Saraf, page 110
11.       The Other Kashmir – society, culture and politics in the Karakorum Himalayas K Warikoo, page 102/103

It is difficult to liberate fools who respect their chains, Voltaire

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