[Himachal GK] History of Existence and Struggles of Himachal Pradesh

The territory of Himachal Pradesh was historically made of Hindu kingdoms that could trace their antiquity to ancient times, the oldest being Kangra, Kulu, and Chamba. All through history they
battled each other and foreign invaders, and retained their independence for the most part, till the 19th century when they came under the British. The Khulassat-ut-Tawarikh from the 17th century describes some of these hill-states and their defiance of the Mughal empire under Aurangzeb:

  • The King of Kahlur by reason of the strength afforded by this river (Sutlej), the inaccessibility of the hills, and the security of his residence — the city of Bilaspur is his seat of government —swerves from obedience to the imperial officers.
  • Though Gualiar [Guler] is a small country, yet its Raja has oftendefied the imperial officers by reason of the strength of the river (Beas) and inaccessibility of the hills.
  • The Ravi issues from the mountains of Mani Mahesh, a dependency of the country of Chamba, which is a place sacred to Mahadev and has the snow and climate of Kashmir and Kabul, and produces many sweet and delicious fruits. The Kings of this place breathe the spirit of independence on account of the extent of their country, its large population, the inaccessibility of the hills, and the strength of their fastnesses, as this river forms a barrier to the imperial army.

The integrity of Himachal was broken for the first time when some of these states raised the standard of rebellion against the British in 1848. As noted in the Life of John Lawrence: "It will be remembered that, unlike the inhabitants of the plains, who had not only acquiesced in but welcomed our rule, the hill chiefs were naturally more or less discontented with the loss of their ancient privileges; and the flame which had been smouldering now burst out simultaneously in different directions. At the other extremity of the hill country, the Katoch chief raised the standard of revolt, seized his ancestral palace at Teera and some adjoining forts, and fired a royal salute announcing the disappearance of the British Raj. At the same time the Raja of Jaswan, lower down in the hills, and the Raja of Datarpur, and the Bedi of Una, from the plain country, rose up against us. Dividing his force into two parts, Lawrence sent Barnes at the head of one of them against the Katoch chieftain, while he himself, with five hundred of the Sikh corps and four guns, moved down the Jaswan valley against the other insurgents. The success of both expeditions was complete." It had only been two years since the Anglo-Sikh war, yet the British could command the loyalty of Sikh troops and deploy them against their neighbours, the Rajputs of Himachal.

It was a success in military recruitment demonstrated earlier with Gorkhas and military classes in other parts of India. Another Rajput state called Nurpur also rebelled against the British, under the leadership of the famous Ram Singh Pathania. In the end all these states were extinguished and their territories merged into neighbouring Punjab. The Katoch dominions formed the Kangra district, Jaswan and Datarpur merged into Hoshiarpur district, while parts of Nurpur went to Gurdaspur district. These territories were once again united with the rest of HP only in 1966 after the battle for integrated Himachal.

                                                         Fig : Himachal Rajput Kingdoms 
The other Hindu kingdoms in the western Himalayas became 'princely states' under the British. The Rajas no longer looked to their subjects as their positions were guaranteed through British support; but still many of these Rajas are fondly remembered for their development works. Improved communication links with the rest of India and exposure to modern education, however urged the people to demand administrative reforms and economic development at a pace which the small hill states could not afford to provide. Therefore the earliest political movements in Himachal were against princely rule; led by individuals like Yashwant Singh Parmar of Sirmur, Thakur Singh Negi and Pandit Padam Dev of Rampur-Bushahr, Sadanand Chandel of Bilaspur, Thakur Hira Singh of Baghal, and Mukand Lal of Suket, all forming Praja Mandals in these states which because of a shared history and geography, and working to a common cause, naturally became associated with one another leading to the proposal of a united and democratic Himalayan Prant. The princely rulers also favored the cause of a united Himalayan province, partly to preserve the socio-cultural milieu of the hills, and partly to guarantee a constitutional position for themselves in the new state. The name Himachal Pradesh was chosen at the historic Solan conference in 1948, presided over by Raja Durga Singh of Bhagat princely state, and attended by Praja Mandal representatives. By the middle of that year all the Himalayan states in the region had merged together to form Himachal Pradesh.....with the exception of Bilaspur and Nalagarh.

The Battle for Bilaspur :

The government of Independent India followed a policy of either merging the princely states together into a union or into neighboring provinces. But this policy was not followed in the case of Bilaspur. Raja Anand Chand was close to the Congress leadership and an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, as seen in this Tribune article. But the inevitable merger of Bilaspur with Himachal Pradesh was being put off due to the construction of the Bhakra Nangal project on the Sutlej River, which flowed through the state. The Raja used this argument to create a constitutional position for himself in Bilaspur. Meanwhile the Congress government of Punjab, in a letter to Sardar Patel, asked for the merger of Bilaspur into Punjab simply to avoid legal complications on the ownership of the Bhakra Nangal project, but this ludicrous demand was rejected. Anand Chand could not enjoy his independence for long. In 1949 the HP Congress passed a resolution thanking: "Sardar Patel under whose guidance the Ministry of States had been able to remove the Raja of Bilaspur from the administration of the State and demands that....it be integrated without further loss of time with Himachal Pradesh." Much of Bilaspur was flooded by the construction of the Bhakra Dam, and even though the project had not reached completion, the merger of Bilaspur with Himachal Pradesh was finally agreed to by the central government in 1954. The issue of compensation for the Bhakra Dam oustees in Bilaspur remained unsettled and was raised as recently as this year's elections. Anand Chand of Bilaspur later joined the Swatantra Party with his anti-Congress Himachal Pradesh Sanyukta Morcha, making the first recognised opposition to the Congress in Himachal Pradesh.

Another hill state that did not immediately merge into Himachal was Nalagarh. The ruler preferred to merge with the PEPSU union of states in the neighboring plains. The issue was complicated through personal relations; Raja Surendra Singh was married to a princess from Patiala and had signed a treaty with that state. Even though the economy of Nalagarh was entwined with the rest of Himachal, and the people asked for a merger with the hill state, Hindu-dominated Nalagarh went with Sikh-dominated PEPSU. When this union was merged with Punjab in 1954, once again the demand for Nalagarh's merger with Himachal was raised by chief minister Yashwant Singh Parmar. In his book Himachal Pradesh: a case for Statehood Parmar writes: "In course of time, as the Union of PEPSU merged in Punjab, in spite of popular aspirations to the contrary, Nalagarh was integrated in the Punjab State. Now it would be in the fitness of things to merge Nalagarh sub-division in Himachal." But as it happened Himachal itself had to battle against the Congress at the center, and Nalagarh was united with the rest of HP only in 1966 after the battle for integrated Himachal.

The Struggle for a Capital :
Shimla was the summer capital of British India and it housed many central government ministries and offices, so while the surrounding areas forming the princely Shimla Hill States had been merged to form Himachal Pradesh, Shimla itself was kept out. But since it had the necessary infrastructure, which the other Himachal towns did not, Shimla was chosen to serve as a capital of Himachal Pradesh. Meanwhile neighboring Punjab had lost its capital Lahore as a result of the Partition in 1947; the old Punjab towns were considered too congested and the Punjab government was shifted to Shimla as a temporary capital. Shimla thus served as the capital of two states; the Punjab assembly would sit at the old council chambers of British India, while the Himachal assembly held its meetings at the Vice-Regal Lodge (present Rashtrapati Niwas). The Foreign Office building in Simla was renamed Himachal Dham and housed the secretariat of HP. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of independent India, records the early struggles of the Himachal Congress leaders for developing their state, as well as the hostility they faced from the Congress government of Punjab in Shimla. Quoting from Dr. Rajendra Prasad,Correspondence and Select Documents:

                       Fig : Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Correspondence and Select Documents

It was a ridiculous situation where Shimla was the capital of Himachal, but not a part of it and the HP government could not do anything for its development. On the other hand the Congress government in Punjab had no interest in Shimla, located out of the way in the mountains and subject to a severe winter. Everybody knew it would eventually form a part of Himachal. The Punjab government was looking for a new capital and for that purpose the city of Chandigarh was built with central assistance. The process of moving the Punjab assembly and government started in 1953, and HP got exclusive control of its capital. But soon the hill-state suffered a severe blow from the Congress government in Delhi and the merger of Shimla with Himachal was put off by a decade.

The Struggle against the Congress at the Center :

Sardar Patel had supported the cause of Himachal Pradesh and admitted as early as 1948 that "the ultimate objective is to enable this area to attain the position of an autonomous province of India." On the other hand, Nehru and other Congressmen considered HP to be economically unviable and were pushing for its merger into Punjab.....no doubt with an eye out for the completion of the Bhakra-Nangal project. One of the other arguments made was that HP lacked administrative officers of good caliber since the territory was mostly made up of princely states. But the local leaders as well as princes of Himachal opposed such a merger on cultural and geographical grounds. This difference of opinion between the center and state was a minor battle, because the main discourse in India was over the demand for linguistic states and the tensions between Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab.

The States Reorganisation Commission of 1954
therefore looked at these weightier matters, ignored the claims of the people of Himachal, and recommended the merger of the mountainous state with Punjab on the very weak ground of it being the source of the rivers that flowed into Punjab. The chairman of the commission, Shri Fazal Ali, however added a dissenting note favoring central control over Himachal given its strategic location and difficult terrain. Looking at the stout opposition to the commission's recommendations in Himachal, the States Reorganisation Bill in 1956 stated: "The Government of India has also taken note of the sentiment in Himachal Pradesh in favour of its continuation as a separate administrative unit for the time being....While ultimately Himachal Pradesh has to form a part of the Punjab, it may for the present be continued as a centrally administered unit." To rub salt in their wound, the HP legislative assembly was also dissolved and a union territory set up. The Indo-China war, Nehru's death, and the Indo-Pak war of 1965 stalled any further progress and as a result the expected merger of Shimla and other Pahari regions with HP was put off by a decade. Other political parties like the Jana Sangh or the Communists also looked at Himachal Pradesh through the prism of Punjab, and therefore had little following in the hill state. In 1958 several HP leaders sat on a hunger strike for the restoration of the assembly. Even though statehood was not granted, a territorial assembly council was formed with Yashwant Singh Parmar becoming the chief minister in 1963. The HP Vidhan Sabha again raised the demand for statehood in 1967 and a bill was finally passed in January 1971 in parliament granting that demand.

The battle for integrated Himachal :
The people of the hill states in the Kangra region had been part of British Punjab for less than a century, and in all that time retained their separate identity. The British had noted in their early settlement reports of the Kangra district that the revenue and administrative system continued unchanged from the ancient times and was different from that in the plains. The social profile of the region, entirely Hindu and with a dominant Rajput population, was different from the plains and similar to the rest of Himachal. As an illustration, the Arya Samaj movement became popular among Punjabi Hindus, but had no impact on the Pahari Hindus of Kangra. Administratively, politically, and socially the Kangra region remained on the fringes of Punjab, while geographically it was essential to an integrated Himachal. Kangra was also free from the battle over script and language in Punjab. Like the rest of Himachal, the people spoke various forms of the Pahari language, and in the past had used scripts like Takri. Under British rule the princely states of Himachal introduced Hindi and English schools, while the spoken language remained Pahari. The Takri script died a natural death and was replaced by Devanagari, by a process that had begun much earlier. This early 19th century painting of the then ruler of Kangra, Sansar Chand Katoch, uses the Devanagari script, while older paintings use the Takri script.

    Fig : Ruler of Kangra - Sansar Chand Katoch
None of the princely rulers of Himachal wished to patronize or preserve the old scripts, since that would have meant keeping their people even more backward than they already were thanks to geography and a lack of financial resources. The same linguistic story was repeated in the Kangra region with Hindi and English as the languages of the national mainstream and Pahari as the spoken language at home. In all the languages of the Pahari group, only Dogri of the Jammu hills has received recognition as an official language, and even here the old Takri script has been replaced by Devanagari. The politics of the Kangra region began to gravitate towards Himachal Pradesh following the formation of Praja Mandals in the hill-states. A Himachal Pradesh integration committee, as well as a Vishal Himachal Samiti were formed, demanding the integration of all pahari areas into Himachal on the principle of geographical contiguity and a common history, culture, and traditions. Even when Himachal Pradesh was reduced to a union territory, and threatened with merger into neighboring Punjab, there was no reduction in the enthusiasm for an integrated Himalayan state. In 1958 the Congress leaders of Himachal Pradesh joined with the Kangra District Congress Committee and demanded the integration of all hilly areas into HP. The geographical and historic battle for an integrated Himachal Pradesh then found support from the linguistic demand for a Punjabi suba, which gained ground in Punjab from the 1950s. Its Akali Dal leaders had always opposed any projected merger of Hindu-dominated HP into Punjab by the Congress government at the center.

Due to geographical contiguity and lingusitic affinity other hilly regions like Kangra
were merged with HP and a "Vishal Himachal Pradesh" was formed in 1966. The principle followed by the Punjab Boundary Commission, under the chairman Justice JC Shah, was to transfer all non-Punjabi hilly areas with a geographical contiguity to Himachal Pradesh. This worked seamlessly in the case of the mountainous regions of Kulu and Lahul-Spiti, as well as with Shimla, and Kangra district, which were transferred in their entirety. This principle was not followed in the districts of Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur, into which the British had merged rebellious hill states in the 19th century, or in Ambala into which Nalagarh had merged after Independence. Thus while 13 out of 16 blocks in Hoshiarpur had hilly terrain, only three blocks comprising the Una tehsil, were transferred to Himachal. This was the core of the old Jaswan kingdom, lying between the Solasinghi Range and the Siwaliks, and had to be part of Himachal. The other hilly areas were retained with Hoshiarpur, which remains the only Hindu-dominated district of Punjab as well as a recruiting ground for the Dogra Regiment. HP had also claimed the Pathankot tehsil of Gurdaspur on the grounds that the terrain was hilly and the inhabitants were Dogras/Paharis, with affinity to the Kangra region, but this claim was not accepted on linguistic grounds. Only the blocks of Dalhousie and Bakloh went to Himachal. Similarly the hilly Kalka tehsil of Ambala was not transferred in its entirety to Himachal. There was also a latent demand for the merger of the Jammu hils into Himachal, on geographical, linguistic, and historic grounds, but this could not be implemented because of Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Ultimately the battle for an integrated Himachal ended with major gains and minor losses.

Strategic consequences of delaying an integrated Himachal :

On the ocassion of the seventeenth Himachal Day in 1965, the then governor of Himachal Pradesh had said that Himachalis being on the border had great responsibilities, which, he hoped, they would fulfill properly by standing guard on the frontiers threatened by new collusion between China and Pakistan. It was a case of being wise after the events. In 1948 the strategic importance of an integrated Himachal was being denied by the Congress leadership, with notable exceptions like Sardar Patel, Fazal Ali, and Rajendra Prasad. The 1962 debacle was caused as much by a lack of military preparedness as by a lack of communications infrastructure across the Great Himalayas. Under British rule there were only two metalled roads in Himachal, connecting the plains with the hill stations of Shimla and Dalhousie. The rest of Himachal lay undeveloped and backward. Dr. Rajendra Prasad had noted the enthusiasm of chief minister YS Parmar for building roads in the letter quoted above. At a meeting of the National Development Council held at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, in 1953, Parmar had said that Himachal Pradesh was rich in forest and mineral wealth, but adequate means of communications were needed. His government spent 51.4% of the total first Plan outlay on road construction alone. Yashwant Singh Parmar was not looking just at the interests of his own state but at the larger strategic interests of India. He hoped to extend road connectivity up to the border with Tibet, as well as provide alternate routes to Jammu and Kashmir state. As noted by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in his Correspondence and SelectDocuments:

                       Fig : Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in his Correspondence and Select Documents

Such projects were based on the expectations that all neighbouring mountainous areas would soon be integrated into Himachal. But it was not to be! The void in strategic thinking left by the death of Sardar Patel, meant that Himachal was even robbed of its legislative assembly, leaving many road projects unfinished. It is no accident that the Himachal assembly was restored in 1963; only after the Indo-China war.

Further reading :


  1. khadubhai please guide me over a matter ...actually i am applying for ugc net....i have done mcom...i dont know what subject should i choose to be benefited from career perspective. Management or commmerce...and tell me if i quallify net by choosing commerce ...than can i apply for management post....later..or vice versa

  2. and one more can a student with mcom choose management as his subject choice for net.....pls

  3. TrailBlazer_Pahadi29 October 2015 at 02:55

    Good Work. Keep working on it.