Home > The DOGRA Rule
Indus River from the Fort at Skardu


The Dogra rule which lasted for exactly one hundred and one years from November 1846 to October 1947, was one of the most peaceful and progressive periods in the long history of the Kashmir valley and other constituent parts of the Jammu and Kashmir State. The credit for opening much of this far flung mountainous territory of snow covered peaks, deep ravines, extensive valleys and arid Himalayan plateaus to modern civilization and social and political influence, of which the present Kashmir problem is a direct result, goes to its Dogra rulers. The Kashmir valley which is the most celebrated and coveted part of the State is particularly indebted to them. They lavished their attention and resources on it even at the cost of their homeland - Jammu, in order to make it an attractive tourist resort.

The first task of Gulab Singh after having obtained de- jure possession of Kashmir and its surrounding territories was to consolidate them and give them an effective and efficient administration.

From the point of view of consolidation, Gilgit was the only area over which his grip was still not very firm. There took place a serious uprising in Gilgit in 1851 with the help of the Rajas of Yasin, Hunza and Nagar as a result of which the entire Dogra garrison there was cut to pieces. Only a Gurkha woman swam across the Indus to tell the story of this disaster. It was a great blow to the prestige of Gulab Singh who was then in failing health. For the time being he had to accept the Indus as frontier between his kingdom and Gilgit proper. Even though he could not recapture Gilgit in his lifetime, he laid the foundations of a sound and stable administration in the rest of his territories which enabled his son, Ranbir Singh, to reconquer Gilgit and its adjoining areas. He divided the State into two provinces, each under a Governor, and two frontier areas each under a 'Thanedar'.

Jammu Province covered the entire territory from the Ravi to the Jhelum lying south of the Pir Panchal range. It included the whole of Dugar region together with Mirpur area of the western Punjabi speaking belt.

Kashmir province included the whole of Kashmir valley and the western district of Muzaffarabad. The valley was divided into two districts - Anantnag which included the city of Srinagar and the strategic roads linking the valley with Jamrnu and Laddakh and Baramula which covered north-western parts of the valley adjoining Muzaffarabad and Poonch. Srinagar was made the summer capital of the State; which until then was governed from Jammu.

The frontier region of Laddakh was put under the charge of a Thanedar. A number of efficient and capable Thanedars like Magna, Mehta Basti Ram and Mehta Mangal gave modern administration to Laddakh for the first time. They built the fort and bazar of Leh, laid plantations for a perennial supply of fuel, built and repaired bridle roads linking Leh with Srinagar, Lahaul, Yarkand and Gartok, surveyed the traditional Laddakh-Tibet frontier and made a land settlement for the first time. Baltistan with its main town of Askardu was put under the charge of another Thanedar. Later, both Laddakh and Baltistan were joined together and put under the charge of one administrator who had his headquarters at Leh in summer and Askardu in Winter.

Gilgit area when reconquered in 1860 was made a separate administrative unit with its headquarters in the town of Gilgit. This administrative set up continued right until the end of Dogra rule in 1947.

As a compromise settlement with the Raja of Chamba who claimed Bhadarwah as a part of his possessions, he was allowed to transfer his allegiance to the British instead of the Dogra King in return for renunciation of any claim on Bhadarwah. No wonder that the people of Bhadarwah continue to yearn for reunion with Chamba through unification of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu region.

The British, as has been said above, handed over Kashmir to Gulab Singh in 1846 because they had no alternative at that time. But after the annexation of Punjab, a number of British officials began to have second thoughts regarding the Treaty of Amritsar. Pressure began to be put on Gulab Singh to accept a British Resident like other Indian States and give some other concessions to the British. But Gulab Singh took a firm stand on the Treaty of 1846 and refused to yield in the matter. The British though frustrated in their attempt continued to look for an opportunity to bring down Jammu and Kashmir to the level of other Indian States.

Maharaja Gulab Singh died in 1858 and was succeeded by Ranbir Singh whom he had installed on the throne with his own hands in 1856. He had himself functioned as Governor of Kashmir province during the last two years of his life.

   Ranbir Singh   

The most outstanding achievement of Ranbir Singh who is considered to be the greatest of the Dogra rulers, was the reconquest of Gilgit and subjugation of the frontier states of Hunza and Nagar. He organized a big expedition to which almost every Dogra family contributed a soldier in 1860 under the command of Colonel Devi Singh. It inflicted a crushing defeat on the recalitrant Rajas and thus avenged the earlier Dogra defeat. Chitral also accepted his sovereignty in 1876.

After having thus re-established the prestige of the Dogra army, he turned his attention to internal reforms. The Ranbir 'Dand-Vidhi', the code of laws, both civil and criminal, which he got prepared, established his reputation as a law-giver. He reorganized his army on the European model but with Sanskrit terms of Command.

His spirit of independence and the originality and initiative he displayed in the organization of his civil and military administration were not to the liking of the British. They, therefore, made another attempt to force a British Resident on Jammu and Kashmir in 1873. But like Gulab Singh, Ranbir Singh too refused to yield in the matter on the plea that there was no provision in the Treaty of 1846 giving authority to the British Government to appoint a Resident.

The British felt very much chagrined and took resort to other methods for achieving their objective. Taking advantage of mutual bickerings between Pratap Singh, the eldest son of Ranbir Singh, and his two younger brothers, Ram Singh and Amar Singh, they made acceptance of a British Resident a pre-condition for giving recognition to his successor after his death in 1885.

A major event of Maharaja Ranbir Singh's reign which could have changed the whole course of history of Kashmir was the collective approach of Kashmir Muslims to him for being taken back into the Hindu fold. They pleaded that they had been focibly converted to Islam against their will and were longing to re-embrace their ancestral faith.

Ranbir Singh sought the guidance of Swamy Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj, in the matter. Swami Dayand advised him that he could take them back in Hinduism after performing certain rites.

The proposed return of Kashmiri Muslims to their original faith was not to the liking of short sighted Kashmiri Pundits who were having a hey day since the return of Dogra Hindu rule. They tried to dissuade the Maharaja. When they found him adamant they took to a subterfuge. They filled some boats with stones and brought them midstream before Maharaja's palace on the Jhelum. They threatened him that they would commit suicide by drowning along with the sinking boats as a protest against his decision to take back Muslims into Hindu fold and that he would be then guilty of "Brahm Hatya" i.e. murder of Brahmins.

Ranbir Singh was a brave soldier. But he could not muster courage to face the crafty Brahmins, who were out to misinterpret the Vedic "dharma" for their selfish ends. The plan of return of Kashmiri Muslims to Hinduism thus fell through.

Later developments in Kashmir culminating in the en masse forced exodus of Kashmir pundits from the valley appears like the nemesis which has hit them for their un-Brahmin and myopic attitude at that crucial juncture of Kashmir's history.

   Pratap Singh   

Having got a Resident appointed which eventually brought down Jammu and Kashmir to the level of other Indian States like Hyderabad and Gwalior, the British now made a determined bid to have a more direct control over the State The Maharaja was charged with conspiring with Russia against the British and was forced to hand over all his powers to a five members State Council which ran the administration under the guidance of the British Resident for many years. In the meantime, the British interest in the Pamirs and the frontier states of Chitral, Hunza was aroused by the continued advance of Czarist Russia in Central Asia. As a result, the British decided to have a more effective control over the Mehtar of Chitral. The military campaign launched for the purpcse between 1889 and 1895 was eonducted by the State forces but under the command of British officers. After the successful termination of the campaign, Chitral passed under direct control of the British in practice. But in theory it continued to be a feudatory of Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.

This campaign brought the strategic importance of Gilgit region to the notice of the British. The publication of White's book "WHERE THREE EMPIRES MEET" which gave a graphic account of this campaign and the valor of Dogra troops put Gilgit on the map of the world. The result was a concerted effort on the part of the British Government to bring the whole of Gilgit area under its direct control. For the moment a British political agent was stationed at Gilgit to watch British interests though administrative control remained in the hands of the State Government.

Maharaja Pratap Singh got back full powers in 1905 after an attempt to completely oust him had been foiled by the timely revelation of the machinations of the Political Department of the British Government of India in the "AMRIT BAZAR PATRIKA" of Calcutta and raising of the issue in the British House of Commons by some opposition members. He ruled for twenty years more till his death in 1925.

The modernization of Jammu and Kashmir State began during the reign of Pratap Singh. Kashmir was linked to Rawalpindi, Abbotabad and Sialkot by motorable roads, first rate Arts and Science Colleges were opened in Jammu and Srinagar, foreign administration was streamlined with the help of British experts, a hydro- electric plant, among the first few of its kind in India, was set up at Mehura near Baramula and new holiday resorts like Gulmarg and Pahalgam were developed in the Valley.

   Hari Singh   

This process of modernization of the State was accelerated by the succession to the throne of his young, intelligent but impulsive nephew, Maharaja Hari Singh in 1925. He had spent many years of his early life in England which had created in him a strong urge to develop and modernise his State, particularly the Kashmir Valley. This urge was partly the result of a new awareness in his mind about the importance of his State and a distrust of the British whose bullying attitude had Created a strong reaction in his young and self-conscious mind.

His misunderstanding with the British Resident began from the very day of his coronation and continued to grow in the succeeding years due to his spirit of independence. The breaking point, however was brought by his speech at the first Round Table Conference in London in 1930 in the course of which he said: "While Indian Princes valued British connection, they had full sympathy for the aspirations of their motherland for an equal and honorable place in the comity of nations." This outspoken support to the "Seditious" demand for independence by the foremost representative of Princely India, which had been given a disproportionately high representation at the Round Table Conference to counterbalance the popular representatives from British India, came as a bomb shell to the British diehards in England and the Political Department in India. The strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir State and the British plan to have a more direct control over Gilgit made this spirit of independence and defiance in Hari Singh all the more galling to them, so they decided to break him. To that end they had recourse to the convenient method of building up popular "Muslim" pressure on communal basis. This led to the beginning of a socio-religious movement in the State which provided the religio- political background of the events which culminated in the emergence of the Kashmir problem in its present form.

The British aim was achieved. The Gilgit region was ceded to the British by the Maharaja on a sixty year lease in 1935. This brought the whole of Gilgit including the frontier States of Hunza and Nagar directly under the control of the British Political Agent stationed at Gilgit.

These political developments did not deter Hari Singh from pursuing his plans for the modernization of Kashmir valley in which he took a special pride. Apart from the meager resources of the State, he spent hugh sums from his accumulated family treasures as well as his own privy purse to beautify the valley and equip it with modern amenities for Indian and foreign tourists. It would be no exaggeration to say that the modern embellishments which have made Kashmir valley such a rage with foreign tourists are mainly his contribution to this 'Paradise' on earth. Had he bestowed even a fraction of the interest and money he lavished on Kashmir valley on his own homeland of Jammu which also abounds in places of great natural beauty and is the richest part of the State from the point of view of human, forest and mineral resources, the present lop-sided importance of the valley which has diverted the attention of the people, both inside and outside India, as also of international forums like UNO from more important other regions of the state and aspirations and problems of their people.

Hari Singh had to leave the state in 1949 under pressure of the Government of India which was being blackmailed by Sheikh Abdullah. His son, Crown Prince Karan Singh was made constitutional head of the state - "Sadar - i - Riyasat" - under the new constitution of Jammu and Kashmir state. Hari Singh never looked back. He died in Bombay in 1961.

With Hari Singh ended the Dogra ruling dynasty as also the "House that Gulab Singh had built." Jammu and Kashmir States as it existed till 1947 has ceased to exist. It had been partitioned into Pak occupied areas and the areas under Indian control and may be further divided in the days to come.

The treatment that Maharaja Hari Singh, who was a real patriot, got from rulers of free India presents a poignant contrast with the treatment that they gave to Nizam Osman Ali of Hyderabad, a real traitor, who had waged war against India. This double standard and communal approach of Nehru Government played the most important negative role in creating and shaping Kashmir problem.

Judged by the standards accepted all over the world, Dogra rule over Jammu and Kashmir was much more secular than Abdullah rule that followed it.

The factors and forces which ended the Dogra rule over Jammu and Kashmir state and the rise of Kashmir problem are closely interlinked. These were part of the wide movement of national awakening and urge for freedom from foreign rule and the British reaction to it.