Tuesday, March 16, 2010

1846: Lest we forget

One hundred and sixty four years back -- this very day -- was Monday, March 16, 1846. Two foppish Englishmen and an over-dressed Dogra feudatory sat across a long table in Amritsar. The middle rung Brits -- Frederick Currie, Esq [a rank just below the Knight] and Brever-Major [a temporary commissioned officer] Henry Montgomery Lawrence signed on the dotted line along with Gulab Singh, the Dogra Maharaja, in what came to be called the Treaty of Amritsar. The Right Honorable [British fixation with Honorifics was at its silliest] Governor General Sir Henry Hardinge was present to strike his signet seal to settle the deal.
The treaty has all of ten articles.

Gulab Singh had a very scheming sense of self. He was diplomatic and astute, earning him the moniker Talleyrand of the East. Serving as a top commander in the Sikh Court of Ranjit Singh of Lahore [started off on a salary of Nanak Shahi 275] he went on to become the Raja of Jammu for his services to the Lion of Punjab. After Ranjit Singh’s death he trucked the Lahore treasury – 16 carts full of silver coins -- to Jammu. Gulab stayed completely neutral in the Anglo-Sikh war and before that favored the English in their Afghan wars.

The Brits never forget an act of kindness, especially of the wily kind. Kashmir was in many ways a British gift to Gulab Singh for being such a loyal turncoat. The Brits were so pleased with his services that they decided to give away the hilly country of Kashmir with all its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi to Gulab at a discount. Kashmir landed in the Dogra kitty for their unscrupulousness.

Infact the initial asking price for Kashmir was Nanak-Shahi 10.5 million, which the Sikhs couldn’t dole out. [The Sikhs, ruling Kashmir, offered to cede territory in lieu of the money demanded as war indemnity. The British were quick to lap the offer]. Kashmir went to the deferential Dogras at a mere Nanak-Shahi 7.5 million, half the original offer. The former frontier chief – and Raja of Jammu -- was the new Maharaja of Kashmir. This was unique in that unlike other Indian states, there would be no British Resident to oversee the reign in Kashmir. God knows Gulab turned out to be as petty as he was ruthless. History is testament.

The Dogras went on rule Kashmir harshly for a little over one century, thanks to the Treaty of Amritsar. As per Article ten of the treaty each year they had to most-respectfully present the Britishers with one horse, all teeth intact, a dozen goats of approved breed between the age of 8 and 9 – six male and six female -- and half a dozen Cashmere shawls with intricate design work.
The farce was complete.

That was rather easy for the ruling camarilla. They anyway made little distinction between man and beast.