Maharaja Gulab Singh An Accomplished Administrator and a Warrior

Today is Maharaja Gulab Singh Birth Anniversary

Sat Parkash Suri,
Gurdev Singh
Gulab Singh was born on 21 October 1792 and early in his childhood he was sent to live with his grandfather Zorawar Singh, an old warrior who lived in his jagir at Anderwah near Samba. When Gulab Singh was at the threshold of his youth, the political scenario in Punjab underwent a revolutionary transformation which effected the north-west. The close of the 18th century heralded the emergence of Ranjit Singh as the most powerful leader among the Sikhs. During the early 19th Century, Ranjit Singh systematically cornered the other Sikh misls and made himself the Maharaja of Punjab. ‘Contemplating further territorial expansion, Ranjit Singh directed his attention towards Jammu because of the continued strife and unsettled political situation among the Dogra Chiefs. The Sikh ruler sent a large force under faujdar Hukma Singh Chimini stationed at Sialkot and Misar Dewan Chand to subdue Jammu in 1808.
Gulab Singh, simply a youth of only 16 years jumped in the fray and fought bravely against the Sikh invaders which was fought at the Southern bank of river Tawi. His display of extraordinary military prowess in this pitched battle won him recognition as an accomplished soldier. Jammu was conquered by the Sikh army but this invasion briefly unified the feuding Dogras who jointly fought under the command of Mian Mota (Gulab Singh’s grandfather Zorawar Singh’s elder brother). This was the fifth attack on Jammu by the Sikh forces in which they inflicted heavy casualities and financial losses on the Jammuities. Mian Mota and Alam Singh Akhnooria negotiated on behalf of Raja Jeet Singh with Sikh commanders, accepted Sikh rulers supremacy over Jammu and agreed to pay seventy three thousand rupees as annual tribute. Thus, Jammu’s rule passed on to Sikh domination. Bhawani Dass was appointed its administrator and Jammu was gifted as Jagir to prince Kharak Singh by the Sikh Supremo, Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Jammu battle fought between Sikh army and Dogras fetched Gulab Singh unprecedented recognition and popularity that reached Lahore Durbar and Maharaja Ranjit Singh showed his impatience to recruit this valiant Dogra in his army.
It was through the good offices of Mian Mota that Gulab Singh got employed as a petty trooper in Ranjit Singh’s cavalry at Daska near Sialkot in 1809 where the Sikh ruler had encamped after subdueing the surrounding areas. After the passage of time, Dhian Singh and Suchet Singh (brothers of Gulab Singh) got employed in Lahore Durbar who very soon won the confidence and proroximity of Ranjit Singh.
The Dogra brothers had a common cause to pursue while Dhian Singh and Suchet Singh resided at Lahore, Gulab Singh usually made his stay in Jammu and looked after the Jagirs. Dhian Singh held the post of Deodhiwala and then in 1828, his elevation as Prime Minister brought him in close contact with Ranjit Singh. Gulab Singh taking full advantage of Dhian Singh’s proximity with Sikh ruler who watched his interests in Durbar, further extended his possessions around Jammu and dug his feet very deep in Jammu hill states. By 1834, according to Dr. Hutchison and Vogel, Raja Gulab Singh after Maharaja Ranjit Singh, came to be considered as ‘the greatest chiefs in the Punjab.
Ranjit Singh’s Misgivings about Dogra Brothers
The non-company travellers Hegel and Vigne believed that ‘money , troops, cannons and fortresses acquired by Jammu Raja threatened the future of Sikh empire carved out by Ranjit Singh whose heirs were too weak to challenge the Dogra family’s formidable authority’. Vigne considered Gulab Singh to be practically independent of Lahore and suspected like C.M.Wade and Emily Eden that he eventually had planned to take over Kashmir. That is why, the Jammu Dogra Chief was impatient to subdue Ladakh for the purpose of completing a military circle around Kashmir and to pour his troops into the valley from every side soon immediate after the death of Sikh ruler.
Some Europeans in Sikh Durbar argued that during his twilight years, Ranjit Singh was painfully conscious of the threat posed to his empire because Gulab Singh had grown out of his boots. Cunningham stated that the grasping ambitions of his favourites ( Dogra brothers) caused Ranjit Singh some misgivings amid all their protestations of loyalty and dedications. In Lawerence’s Adventures, it is concluded that Ranjit Singh got agonized over the predicament but acquiesced it philosophically ‘it is my fate- I threw myself on them – it is my destiny’.
Ranjit Singh publically castigated the Jammu Chief but never expressed any serious aspersions about his loyalty and unbridled powers. Nor did he appeal to the British for any help to curtail their authority. Umdat-ut-Tawarikh outrightly rejects Masson’s hypothesis as it reveals that Jammu Dogra brothers were with the Sikh ruler more than once during 1838 and there was no attempt to seize or purge them. Vigne argues that the Sikh ruler might had entertained temporary doubts when he informed the Maharaja about the transgressive activities, the Sikh ruler politely rejected his contention. But his criticism prompted Ranjit Singh to personally verify the webs of dilemmas.
Prior to his arrival at Jammu, Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited Purmandal (Jammu) in order to have a bath on the pious occasion of Ganesh Chet Chaturthi accompanied by his cavalcade comprising the French, the English, Sikh and Rajput nobles besides the posse of army officers. The Sikh ruler donated lakh of rupees for the facelift of the Purmandal and for the construction of a Dharmshala and left for Jammu via Mansar and Surinsar. The Dogra brothers extended Ranjit Singh a rousing reception when he paid a royal visit to Jammu in April 1838. He was welcomed with a salute of fifty one guns from the ramparts of Bahu Fort and multitudes of people had congregated from far and wide to have had a glimpse of Sikh ruler. The Dogra Chief escorted the royal guest on an elephant through Jammu’s streets and showered the welcoming guests with thousands of rupees. During this tour of Jammu, Ranjit Singh in Gulab Singh’s presence intentionally enquired from one of his close confidants: ‘Why was that English Sahib Vigne telling me about the disloyal attitude of my Raja. This inquiry invoked an emotional outbrust from the Dogra Chief and the impassioned reassertion of his loyalty apparently dismissed Ranjit Singh’s doubts if he had any. ‘Gulab Singh ‘knelt at his master’s feet and said that he was once only a soldier and was ready at the Maharaja’s bidding to become a soldier again-that all he possessed was owing to his bounty and kindness who had raised him from scratch and that he would gladly give up all again for his sake if it were necessary. We assure your Excellency if you order, we will fly the Sikh empire’s flag at the walls of China’.
Ranjit Singh could lay hands on Dogra brothers but they were too shrewd to fall into a trap. Ranjit Singh is said to have been so overwhelmed by Gulab Singh’s emotional eloquence that tears welled up in Ranjit Singh’s eyes and he returned Lahore completely convinced of Jammu Chief’s loyalty towards the Lahore Durbar. The Sikh ruler’s affection for Jammu Dogra brothers remarkably underwent no change.
Warrior And Administrator
Gulab Singh trained and equipped with great care a large army mainly consisting of hilly inhabitants and gathered around him a galaxy of talented and brave persons, one of them was Zorawar Singh Kahluria, an intrepid and loyal general. Gulab Singh was no saint and where his interest clashed, he did not hesitate to resort to shrewd stratagem which would in ordinary life be considered deceitful because he was trained in a hard school where intrigue and treachery were all considered an ingredient of politics. Gulab Singh was an opportunist ready to strike out boldly or to withdraw as the situation demanded without making sure of his ground. He was willing to yield with grace when there was not other option open, to negotiate when that suited his interest and even to part with money when that would serve his purpose.
Gulab Singh belonged to that class who never resorted to arms at the first quarrel but as a perfect commander and a good soldier, he knew that war was only the arm of policy and he would not embark on conflict unless he was doubly sure of his success.
Gulab Singh was noble, genius and a philanthropist who rewarded his subordinates liberally with jagirs and grants. He was able to inspire loyalty and basic honesty in men like Dewan Hari Chand, Zorawar Singh, Wazir Ratnu, Mehta Basti Ram and Dewan Jwala Sahai who remained devoted and loyal to him until his death which shows his hold on them. Besides being a great warrior and a sagacious ruler he took keen interest in social and administrative reforms. He passed sanctions against female infanticide and Sati and established an endowmwnt known as Dharmarth Trust with a personal donation Rs. 5 lakhs for the betterment of the Hindu religion. He utilised the funds for the renovation of old temples, construction of new temples and establishment and maintenance of Gaushallas, running of Pathshallas and other charitable activities.
Gulab Singh succeeded in establishing peace and settled government in the region. The hilly province, Jammu comprised of numerous petty principalities, each ruled by a Raja, he united all these under a single government, a brilliant accomplishment of Gulab Singh. He reduced Ladakh and Baltistan and held his sway in political field against the trained diplomats of the East India Company. It shows that as a historic personality who dominated the contemporary stage of events, Gulab Singh had few equals in his time.