After East India Company sold the entire land and people situated between the Ravi and Indus rivers to Jammu’s Raja Gulab Singh for Rs 7500000 in March 1846, a soldier set up a heterogeneous Kashmir state that became J&K. Historian Ashiq Hussain Bhat revisits the issues and circumstances that led to a historically notorious Treaty of Amritsar, and exploitative misrule for 100 years of a state to which NC lawmaker Ajatshatru Singh, the son of ‘heir apparent’ Karan Singh, staked a claim more than 160 years later, last week.
It had come for the first time from somebody who belonged to the last ‘royal’ family of the state. Ajatshatru Singh told the state legislative council that if the incumbent rulers are unable to run the state, they should return it to those it “belonged to”.
Though the brief statement by the NC lawmaker and grand son of Hari Singh, the last Maharaja of J&K, was by and large ignored, the ‘prince’ was correct to the level that the state “belong to” their family. It was their family that had purchased the entire estate (read Kashmir) along with people from East India Company under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846. But the situation in which it happened was interesting.
During 1830s the British Company’s India Government wanted to push its western frontier from river Sutlej beyond Peshawar, set up a puppet regime in Afghanistan and use it against Russians. But across Sutlej was the mighty Sikh empire led by Ranjit Singh with his capital at Lahore. The reason was British fancied India‟s invasion by Russia, though impractical at that time given the Sikh territory, Afghanistan and Western Turkistan as buffers in between.
The plan was to dethrone Amir Dost Khan in Kabul and set up Shah Shuja, the grand son of Ahmad Shah Abdali in his place. British and Shuja approached Ranjit Singh, who was in his twilight years of life. Singh agreed only if his title over erstwhile Afghan provinces like Peshawar, Kashmir, Derajat of Indus was confirmed. In June 1838 a tripartite alliance was created secretly. Dost Khan was captured and brought to Delhi in January 1841. His son Akbar Khan led a ruthless insurgency that led to Shuja’s killing a year later, and release of his father in 1843 after British suffered worst defeat.
By then, Sikh empire was on decline. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and in quick succession his son and grandson were killed in a self-consuming civil war. Defeated in Kabul, British government wanted to devour the Sikh empire. It was at this point that marked the emergence of Gulab Singh as a major player in this part of the world.
Gulab Singh had joined Ranjit Singh’s Army as a Sawar, cavalryman, in 1810. In a few years his father Kishore Singh, and his brothers Dhian and Sucheet Singh became important in Lahore Durbar. In 1820 Ranjti Singh granted Jammu as jagir to this Dogra family subject to the condition that they will liquidate Dogra freedom fighter Mian Dido and punish the king of Kishtwar Raja Mohammad Tegh Singh for sheltering Shah Shuja, the fugitive Afghan king and the owner of Kohinoor diamond.
In 1821 Gulab Singh attacked Kishtwar, took its Raja prisoner and sent him to Lahore where Maharaja Ranjit Singh slew him. Kishtwar eventually served Gulab Singh as a springboard to launch his Ladakh campaign. A year later in 1822 Gulab Singh’s army surprised Dido in Trikota hills in the compound of Vaishno Devi shrine and killed him there. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was so happy with him that he came to Akhnoor in June 1822 to perform raj tilak (marking of forehead as a sign of prince hood) of Gulab Singh. Thus Gulab Singh became Prince of Jammu. His influence in Lahore touched skies.
During Anglo-Afghan War Gulab Singh as vassal of the Sikh State had met the East India Company agent, Colonel Henry Montgomery Lawrence, at Peshawar in 1841. It marked the beginning of his relationship with Lawrence which he used to his advantage later. In the civil war that plunged Sikh empire, Gulab Singh’s dynasty was liquidated in Lahore. His two brothers, Dhian and Sucheet Singh, his nephew, Hira, and his two sons, Udham and Sohan Singh were killed by ending 1844. Then, British had annexed Sind in 1843 and were readying to take over Lahore.