With the coming of the British directly in touch with the hill rulers, an entirely a new phase started in the governance of the territories, which were under the control of paramount power of the British.
In 1857, when first war of independence broke out in the Central and Northern Indian states, it did not have much affect on the hill territories. The people of hill states, socially, economically and intellectually, were far less advanced than those of the plains and, therefore political rights did not matter much to them.
Economic exploitation was more a phenomenon of the native rulers and Jagirdars than that of the British. There was no religious interference by Christian Missionaries, whatsoever by the time revolt started.
During the revolt, rulers of Punjab states remained loyal to the Britishers. The first news of the revolt reached Shimla on 12th May 1857 from Ambala.
The news of Meerut and Delhi massacres reached Shimla on the night of 12th May. The Commander-in-Chief of Shimla hills at the time of revolt was General Anson and Deputy Commissioner Shimla was Lord William Hay.
At that time, the Gurkhas regiment known as Nasiri Battalion, were in the hill cantonments along with the Commander-in Chief and his staff. The entire staff was ordered to move to Ambala, to which Gurkha battalion refused to comply.
The soldiers of ‘Kasauli Guard‘ numbering about 80 also revolted and marched off with a huge sum of Government money to join their fellow soldiers at ‘Jutogh‘ (Headquarters). ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
After some time, a rumour that the Gurkhas regiment Stationed at ‘Jutogh’ had mutined and were coming to loot shimla, created panic. William Hay, the Deputy Commissioner, sent a message through Mian Rattan Singh for immediate redressal of their grievances. But mission did not succeed.
The ‘Raja of Keonthal‘, Thakurs of ‘Koti‘ and ‘Balsan‘ states came to the rescue of the European inhabitants. While rest europeans sought safety in the hill cantonments of ‘Dagshai’, ‘Subathu’ and ‘Kasauli’. They received much kindness from the hill chiefs. Hill chiefs remained loyal to the British.
For his services during the revolt, ‘Raja Hari Singh of Bilaspur‘ was granted a salute of eleven guns and also a valuable Khillat and other gifts.
Rana Krishan Singh was keeping guard over the road from Shimla to Jalandhar, where the 3rd, 31st and 33rd Bengal regiments had revolted. He was conferred with the title of ‘Raja’. Both the Rana and his brother Jai Singh, who was at Shimla were rewarded with a ‘Khillat‘.( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
‘Rana Govardhan Singh‘ of Dhami, in recognition of his services, got half the tribute excused from the British. ‘Thakur Jograj’ of ‘Balsan‘ was made a Rana and presented a valuable Khillat in a public durbar.
There were some disturbances in Nalagarh state, but soon order was restored by Lord William Hay with the support of Mian Jai Singh of Baghal.
On 10th June, troops at Jalandhar mutinied and started moving towards ‘Pinjaur‘. But they could not reach beyond Nalagarh, where they were captured or killed. In a precautionary measures, the 4th Native Infantry stationed in the forts of ‘Kangra’ and ‘Nurpur’ was disbanded. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
‘Wazir Gashaon’ of Mandi supplied 125 match lockmen to the local authorities of Hoshiarpur.
Pratab Singh (in Kullu) to excite the people to rise in rebellion against the British in June 1857. Pratab Singh pretended to be the rightful Raja of Kullu. He was being assisted by a Negi of Seraj area. But this revolt could not last long.
Within three days, Pratab Singh and his brother-in-law Veer Singh were arrested and deported to Dharamshala in Kangra, where on 3rd August 1857, both were hanged. The other supporters of Pratab Singh were given rigorous imprisonment.
‘Raja Shamsher Singh of Bushahar‘ acted with hostility and discourtesy towards the British. He didn’t help British during this time and also refused ordinary supplies. Lord William Hay, wanted to punish Raja, but this matter was overlooked.
The revolt of 1857 was suppressed, but it brought about far reaching changes in the political and administrative structure of the country. The most important change was the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown, to set up direct rule of Crown over India.
On 1 November 1858, a proclamation was issued by Queen Victoria, popularly known as ‘Magna Carta‘ of Indian Civil Liberties, which assured the princes and common people of just, democratic and unbiased rule in the country, keeping in view the demands of indigenous people and long traditions for parliamentary democracy in Britain. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
For their active cooperation during the revolt, a very favourable attitude was adopted towards hill rulers by the crown. ‘Raja Ram Singh‘, son of Raja Jai Singh of Jaswan, was allowed to return from Almora and was restored in A.D. 1877 the Jagir held by Raja Umed Singh.
‘Mian Dev Chand’, Son of Raja Jagat Chand of Datarpur, was also allowed to return, but his Jagir was not restored. The pension of the Raja of Nurpur was doubled in 1861 and according to the Sanad dated 11th March 1862, Chamba chiefs were granted the right of adoption on the failure of direct heirs.
The generosity of the Crown was expressed through various ways, such as bestowing honours, grants of territorial possession, ‘Khillats‘ and other valuable gifts. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
When the Delhi Durbar was held in 1877, during the viceroyalty of Lord Lytton, some of the hill rulers like Raja Sham Singh of Chamba, Raja Bajai Sen of Mandi and Raja Hira Chand of Bilaspur were invited to grace the occasion and they attended this great event which was unprecedented in the history of colonial India.
The increasing intensity of relations with the crown, hill chiefs acquired a great degree of control on political, administrative, social and economic issues, which used to consume a large amount of time in the preceding years.
The appointment of the British Superintendents minimised the possibility of trouble in the states. For misgovernment or opppressive rule Rudra Sen of Suket was deposed. He succeeded Ugar Sen in 1876 and was deposed in 1879, when his rule had become quite oppressive and had created a great disaffection.
The hill chiefs were also invited to attend the CORONATION DURBAR OF DELHI, in December 1911, when Delhi was made capital in place of Calcutta. The prominent among those who attended the imperial Durbar, were Raja Amar Prakash of ‘Sirmaur’, Raja Amar Chand (Bilaspur), Raja Bijai Sen (‘Keonthal), Raja Bhim Sen (Suket), Raja Bhuri Singh of (Chamba), Rana Bagat Chand of (Jubbal) and Raja Dip Singh of (Baghat).
During the first World War (1914-1918), almost all hill chiefs remained loyal and also rendered valuable services to the British, both with men and materials. Each ruler tried to excel the other in providing as many recruits as possible for the army. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
Thus on the one hand, the princes earned the gratitude of their subjects, who suffered from poverty and unemployment and who now got an opportunity to obtain employment and, on the other, it secured them a raise in their status apart from earning goodwill of the officers of Political Department. However, something which they had not bargained for, occurred after the close of the war and the return of army men to their respective states.
During war period, these army men came in contact with people of other countries, which were free and people there were living free, democratic and dignified life. This very knowledge generated discontentment and became a cause of political awakening amongst the hill men.
They also started talking about ‘liberty’, ‘equality’ and ‘justice’, which are common features of all democratic rule. So the fire of liberation started brewing in the hearts of hill folks slowly but surely, which ultimately resulted in the form of local movements against tyrannical and undemocratic rule.
But history reveals that the hill people took up arms against slavery and feudalism well before the formation of any large scale political organization. There are many instances of the people revolting against the rule of terror and injustice.
In 1859, the people of Rampur Bushahr revolted against the high handedness of the Government officials in the recruitment of labour force.
The people of Suket revolted against the Raja and his minister Narottam in 1862 and 1876. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
In 1876, atrocities committed by Ghulam Qadir Khan, a minister led the people of Nalagarh to revolt.
In 1883 and 1930, people revolted against the oppressive rule by officials of the Bilaspur.
In 1905, the people of Baghal state too revolted against their chief. At Mandi in 1909, ‘Sobha Ram‘ struggled against corruption indulged in by the rulers. A pitched battle took place between the forces of Mandi Raja and the 20,000 strong force of local people, in which state forces were defeated and corrupt officials including Wazir were jailed by the volunteers.
The Raja then sought help from the British Commissioner at Jalandhar. Armed forces from Jalandhar, Kullu and Kangra were rushed to Mandi. Once again, guns boomed in Mandi. In this battle, Sobha Ram was caught and tried for treason and deported to ‘Andamans’. 23 persons were sentenced to 7 to 14 years imprisonment and sent to Lahore Jail.
Before Independence, Himachal Pradesh consists of two types of hill areas. There were areas which were ruled by native princes. Though he people’s struggle in these areas was influenced by the nationalist movement in British India, yet cannot be characterized as freedom movement, since its objective was never the overthrow or total elimination of their princely rulers.
The Praja Mandal Movement was mainly aimed at the ‘democratisation‘ of the administration’. The other hill areas which came to Himachal Pradesh in 1966, had come under direct administrative control of British.
The people in these areas participated in the struggle for freedom against British rule. Thus in the hills, there strength and aspirations of their people and could not carry their people with them to any workable solution in respect of their future political set up of the country. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
Before 1920, INC’s participation was confined to certain elite sections of the society. But with the assumption of Congress leadership by M.K. Gandhi, it became a mass movement.
First, time it was successful in developing political consciousness among people and ferment caused by its activities began to tickle down to hill people and they also began to make efforts to set up people’s organizations.
Whenever it was not possible to do so inside the state’s territory in view of Princes coercion, adjoining British territories were made centre of political activities. In Himachal, for instance, Pt. Padam Dev of Bushahr made Shimla his headquarters to launch struggle against hereditary rulers of the hill states.
In September 1920 resoluton, Congress for the first time asked for full responsible government and also refused to interfere with the internal affairs of the states. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
The INC continued its policy of ‘Non-interference’, but made it clear that it would not sacrifice the interests of the state’s people with the British Government about the independence of the country.
However, after the Congress formed ministries in 1936, its policy of keeping itself aloof from the state’s polity rapidly gave place to a more ‘activist’ policy-a-policy of undisguised hostility to the State Government.
The attitude of the Congress further underwent a change when it, saw undying spirit of state’s people to undergo sufferings to set their grievances redressed.
The resolutions passed by INC at its Haripur (1936) and Tripuri (1938, Jabalpur district) sessions called for “the ever increasing identification of the Congress with the state’s people”. It made the ‘Quit India‘ Movement more popular in the hill states and people of these states joined movements in British India now in greater numbers. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
In 1945, the INC appointed a subcommittee consisting of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Vallabh Bhai Patel and J.B. Kriplani to bring the people of the states within the fold of the Congress organisation.
The greater participation of hill peoples in the Congress programmes ultimately paved the way for the Praja Mandals in the Hill States to join Indian National Congress and later on integration of princely states with Indian Union.
The All India States People’s Conference (AISPC) and the Hill States:
On 16th December 1927, ‘Sir Harcourt Butler’ was appointed chairman of Indian States Committee. Indian States Committee necessitated to coordinate the activities of various Praja Mandals in the native states.
The first meeting of the AISPC took place on 17th December 1927 and was attended by 700 delegates, however no delegate from Hill States attended the session. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)
The aim of AISPC was to influence the states as a whole to initiate the necessary reforms in the administration by the force of the collective opinion of the people of the states. The hostile attitude of the princes and lack of modern means of transport and communication created many difficulties in the functioning of the AISPC and its units.
The Praja Mandals and the organizations of State subjects, were organized on the ‘Gandhian principles‘ and were successful in a great magnitude to develop political consciousness among hill people.
The exposure provided by the various national organizations to the hills people led to the formation of a number of local bodies, which ultimately became ‘breathing images of people’s aspirations and aims.
The Praja Mandal movement in Sirmaur and Bushahr states derived sustenance from the adjoining district of Dehradun, of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh and it served as a launching ground for them, as did Shimla, for Shimla Hill States and Bilaspur, Kangra and Gurdaspur for Chamba, Kangra, Hoshiarpur for Mandi, Bilaspur and Suket. ( Freedom Struggle of Himachal Pradesh Part 2)