In today's J&K, we must remember Maharaja Gulab Singh
There is nothing wrong with talk of 'Kashmiriyat', but what about 'Dogriyat'?
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October 18 was Maharaja Gulab Singh Ji’s 224th birth anniversary. Gulab Singh’s story is no less fascinating and inspirational than other well-known warriors of their time, such as Maharana Pratap, Rana Sangha and the great Maratha, Shivaji Rao. He was made the "Raja of Jammu" in 1822.
Gulab Singh and his two brothers, Dhyan Singh and Suchet Singh, joined as sepoys in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, also known as Sher-e-Punjab. Slowly, they proved their mettle and earned his trust. In time, the Dogras became the most trusted generals of the Maharaja and served him until the last days of the Sikh empire.
Fully aware that the Sikh empire was crumbling, and the battle for supremacy had begun amongst the Sikh missiles, Maharaja Ranjit Singh in his wisdom, appointed Gulab Singh the Raja of Jammu. This historic ceremony took place in a small village called Jeo Pota in Akhnoor along the banks of river Chenab.
The plaque that depicts the Raj Tilak ceremony clearly shows Maharaja Ranjit Singh doing the tilak with his thumb moving from top to bottom on Gulab Singh’s forehead. Thereby, symbolising the belief that may the Dogra ruler’s roots go deep down amongst his people, so that he remains firmly grounded.
This marked the beginning of perhaps one of the greatest territorial conquests of princely India in modern times. This day is celebrated every year on June 17 at Jeo Pota, Akhnoor.
Maharaja Gulab Singh then rapidly consolidated his position in the Jammu hills with the help of his army that largely consisted of Dogras from Jammu region and what is now Himachal Pradesh, Sikhs and Pathans.
With the help of these die-hard troops and his most well-known and loyal generals, General Zorawar Singh and General Baj Singh, he began his conquests of Ladakh and Tibet. He was greatly assisted by others like Mehta Basti Ram.
In 1846, Gulab Singh signed the historic Treaty of Amritsar with the British, thereby marking the beginning of the Dogra rule in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is entirely due to his leadership qualities, foresight and military skill that Gulab Singh managed to carve out the largest princely state in India comprising 84,000 square miles.
It was a 100 years later in October, 1947 that his descendant, Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession acceding to the dominion of India.
After him, my father, Dr Karan Singh, played a major role in both state and national politics of the time, keeping alive the Dogra tradition of service to the nation.Dr Karan Singh played a major role in both state and national politics of the time. [File photo]
So, when I was appointed a member of the Legislative Council or Upper House of Jammu and Kashmir two years ago, it was a significant and important landmark in my life.
For me, personally, it implied several things; that there is a sense of continuity and recognition for the contributions made by generations in my family. Some would argue that it also reinforces the fact that despite the changed geo-political scenario of present day Jammu and Kashmir, the people of Jammu are still a significant force to reckon with and cannot be ignored or sidelined any longer.
Having said that, it is important to recognise that today, we face challenges at multiple levels in our state. Each one of them requires attention from our government, and personal initiative from all members of our civil society.
To keep any culture thriving, the people must take pride in it. I find that this is fast eroding. Local folk music, village arts and crafts of all kinds and traditional dresses are becoming a thing of the past.
The Sri Pratap Singh Museum in Srinagar has been in a complete state of disarray for decades, more so after the recent floods. It houses some of the greatest collection of manuscripts, shawls, sculpture and other priceless antiques.
It is tragic to see how the Shergarhi Palace (old secretariat) in Srinagar and the once-majestic Mubarak Mandi complex in Jammu have been allowed to fall to pieces, when anywhere else in the world, these rich heritage sights would have been preserved for posterity and tourism. It is imperative that these symbols of heritage and cultural pride are restored by a joint effort of the J&K government and civil society.
Drugs are an issue that most people are uncomfortable talking about. But, the fact is that drug trafficking and use of narcotics amongst young people is growing in alarming proportions in our state. This must be addressed and dealt with at different levels before it reaches frightful proportions as it has in neighbouring Punjab. We must create awareness amongst children and parents by running strong drug awareness campaigns.
Last, but not least, it is disheartening to see that despite efforts, we are still living in an environment of communal and regional divide, mistrust and conflict. I am of the belief that over-politicisation of our state, vote bank politics and vested interests have ensured that the divide stays, if not widens.
Our government must fulfil its commitment towards equitable regional based development and political empowerment in all three regions of J&K.
Today it has become popular to talk of "Kashmiriyat"! There is nothing wrong with that, but what about "Dogriyat"? As we pay tribute to founder of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Gulab Singh, we may also draw inspiration from how the erstwhile state was once held together.
People from all walks of life, diverse regions and religions, were allowed freedom to practice their faith free of fear. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Gujjar and Bakkarwals have all lived peacefully in Jammu. Refugees since 1947 have sought shelter here. It is this spirit of Jammu that I call "Dogriyat".
Despite divisive and mischievous elements within our society, let us vow to keep "Dogriyat" alive.