B. D. Sharma
Pakistan’s recent statements of her intentions to declare our State’s territory of Gilgit-Baltisan as her fifth province were soundly rebuffed by India. Hundreds of our brave men have laid down their lives to integrate these far-flung areas with our state and we have emotional attachment with this part of our state.Whenever we think of these far-flung areas, we are reminded of the interesting story at the back of formation of our state. Our state is a unique amalgamation of diversified and varied entities differing in climatic conditions to religious beliefs to cultural traits to cuisines. Weaving these areas in a single political entity was obviously an act of matchless diplomacy and statesmanship. Though some of these disparate and distinct regions had seen some semblance of unity for brief periods in the past also but the present shape of our State took its form in the middle of nineteenth century after the decline of Lahore Durbar. Its formation and evolution consists of engrossing series of episodes.
In 1840s almost the whole of our state fell under the suzerainty of Sikh kingdom of Lahore. The Kashmir valley was directly administered from Lahore through a governor. Jammu province was under the governance of the famous Dogra family of Gulab Singh except the Illaqa of Bhadewah. Major chunks of Ladakh region had also been conquered by the brave Dogra General Zorawar Singh.
The decline of Lahore kingdom started taking place after the death of the great Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh and the English made the most out of the emerging situation. Resultantly the first Anglo-Sikh war broke out where the Sikhs faced reverses and as per the treaty the Sikhs had to pay an indemnity to the English which the Durbar could not pay due to its precarious financial position. So the Durbar pledged the part of its territories including the area of Jammu,Kashmir and Ladakh to the English.
However Gulab Singh, the shrewd Raja of Jammu rose to the occasion and negotiated with the English the retrieval of not only his own territory but also the addition of beautiful valley of Kashmir. A treaty was accordingly concluded on 26th of Mach, 1846 at Amritsar between him and the English. According to this treaty all the mountainous country and its dependencies westward of river Ravi and eastward of river Sindh were transferred and made over to him for ever in independent possession. In consideration of the transfer he paid Rs. seventy five lakhs. In the process he was recognised the Maharaja for the said territories.Hence the formation of our state is an accident of history. Though this act of Gulab Singh is mired in some controversy yet in the words of K.M. Panikkar it is beyond any doubt that it is a master stoke of Maharaja Gulab Singh’s diplomacy.
In this way our state came into formation and it consisted of the hilly areas which were earlier, in the possession of Dogra family. It also included Chamba, Sujanpur and part of Pathankot, Kashmir valley, Hazara and Gilgit. A major chunk of plain areas falling in present Kathua, Samba and Jammu districts, however, did not fall under the ambit of the Amritsar treaty.
Incidentally a number of problems erupted soon after signing of the treaty which necessitated the redefining of the boundaries of the state. In 1847 the tribes of Hazara north of Muzaffarabad rose in rebellion. Though the same was supressed swiftly still the Maharaja thought it advisable to get rid of the ferocious and troublesome tribes. With the friendly Lawrence as Resident at Lahore it was accomplished easily and this ‘kohistan’ was exchanged with the plain and productive areas of Sucehetgarh (present R.S.Pura) and part of Minawar(K.M.Panikkar).
Another dispute erupted regarding the incorporation of Chamba including Bhaderwah in the state because the Raja of Chamba raised objections citing the exemption granted to his principality by the primordial Lahore Treaty. The matter was settled through arbitration by Henry Lawrence. Bhaderwah because of its geographical location was awarded to our State and in lieu of other areas of Chamba principality, our State got the area of the Jagirs of Lakhanpur and Chan Gran located near Kathua
So far as Sujanpur and part of Pathankot were concerned the Maharaja handed over these areas to the English in lieu of settlement and annual payment of perpetual pension to the disinherited rulers of Rajouri, Jasrota, Ramnagar, Basholi and Kishtwar. Our state retained a small chunk consisting of few villages namely Keerhian andGandial etc. across theriver Ravi.
Some areas ofLadakh, Baltistan and Gilgit remained under turmoil for many years even after their merger in the new State. The Dogras had to spend much in terms of men and material resources to keep their control over this vast tract of land for many years. They were able to establish complete control over Ladakh Skardu and Gilgit by 1850s and had also acquired varied degree of control over other frontier areas like Chilas, Ponial, Yasin, Darel, Hunza and Nagar by 1870 ( Panikkar, KM).
When the conditions stabilized in different parts of the state Maharaja Gulab singh breathed his last and it remained for his son, Maharaja Ranbir Singh to evolve an administrative setup in order to run the affairs of the state smoothly. According to Fredreric Drew, who remained in the employment of Maharaja as geologist and later Governor of Ladakh, Jammu province consisted of seven Zilas (districts) namely Jammu, Jasrota, Ramnagar, Udhampur, Reasi, Minawar and Nowshera. The designation of the officer incharge of the Zila was ‘Sahib-e-Zila’ , corresponding to present day Dy Commissioner. He had an assistant under him known as ‘Naib-e-Zila’. Each Zila had three to four Tehsils each headed by a Tehsildar.
Similarly Kashmir Suba’ was divided into six districts, Kamraj, Pattan, Srinagar, Shapian, Anantnag and Muzzafarabad. The ‘Sahib-e-Zilas’ of Kashmir Suba were under the Governor of Kashmir. The northern vast cold desert was divided into three Governorships namely Gilgit, Baltistan and Ladakh. Interestingly Zanskar area was not part of Ladakh and had been attached to Udhampur district. The three Governors exercised lot of powers . The Raja of Poonch, as a vassal, enjoyed autonomy but remained largely dependent and obedient to the Maharaja.
During the reign of Maharaja Partap Singh reorganisation of the administrative units took place and Jammu province was then divided into five districts namely Jammu, Udhampur, Jasrota(Kathua), Reasi and Mirpur. Similarly Kashmir province was divided into three districts viz. Kashmir South (Anantnag), Kashmir North (Baramulla) and Muzaffarabad. There were two frontier districts of Ladakh and Gilgit. All these districts were known as Wazarats and were headed by Wazir-e-Wazarats. There were internal jagirs namely Poonch, Bhaderwah and Chenani whose control was, later taken over by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1930s. The frontier Illaqas namely Punial, Ishkoman, Yasin, Kuh-Ghizer, Hunza, Nagar, Chilas continued to enjoy autonomy. In 1935 Gilgit was leased out to the English by Maharaja Hari Singh for establishing a garrison to obviate the Russian threat.
This was the position of our State in 1947 when cataclysmic changes took place. Pakistan sent its forces and tribals to annex the State forcibly. Maharaja opted for accession with India and the invaders were thrown out from large areas of Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh but vast areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur remained in illegal possession of Pakistan. Aksai Chin area of Ladakh was illegally occupied by China 1950s and Shaksgam area of the State was illegally handed over by Pakistan to China.
The administrative organization of units has also undergone a conspicuous shift. We have divided the part of state with us into two divisions Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu Division has ten districts and Kashmir Division has twelve districts. The Pakistan-occupied area has been divided into two politico-administrative entities namely Pakistan-Occupied J&K or the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ and Gilgit-Baltistan. The former has been divided into ten districts namely Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimber, Muzaffarabad, Jhelum Valley, Neelam, Poonch-Rawalakot, Haveli-Kahuta, Bagh and Sadhnuti and its capital city is Muzaffarabad. Chhamb niabat of old Bhimber tehsil was handed over to Pakistan in exchange of some strategic territories of Ladakh after 1971 war.
The other unit is Gilgit-Baltistan. It was previously known as “Northern Areas” . It remained under the administrative control of Pakistan through its Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and only in 2009 it was given some amount of autonomy. This area has also been divided into ten districts, prominent of which are Shigar, Skardu, Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar and Astore. Its capital city is Gilgit.
In this way about half of the State raised by Maharaja Gulab Singh is presently in our possession. The other half with two regions of Mirpur-Muzaffarabad and Gilgit-Balitstan being in illegal possession of Pakistan and Aksai Chin & Shaksgam regions in illegal possession of China.
(The author is former IAS officer)