A comprehensive look at the able administration and reforms implemented during Governor Singh’s tenure in Kashmir under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule
Ranjit Singh, who was born in Sukarchakia Misal on November 13, 1780, was destined to create an empire out of the turmoil and disarray that followed the fall of the Mughal empire, the Afghan raids into Punjab, and the Maratha attempt to control the region. Thus, he had a springboard thanks to the unrest in Punjab.
After two failed attempts, Ranjit Singh took control of Kashmir in 1819. Kashmir adorned Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s turban with another feather. In addition to being a financial benefit, the lush and beautiful valley expanded his state’s boundaries into Tibet and China. He received tribute from Ladakh and benefited from the trading rights that the Mughals and the Afghans, the previous rulers of Kashmir, had enjoyed. From 1819 to 1839, eight governors were appointed under Ranjit Singh.
Ranjit Singh sent a capable, tenacious, and discerning administrator in response to the complete collapse and failure of the administrative apparatus as a result of human error and the fury of nature. Colonel Mehan Singh was his name. The colonel performed his duties well. Through his subordinates, Qazi Mohammad Afzal and Pandit Ganesh Dhar, he documented all state properties, including sites of worship. This job was completed 250 years after the last one. The record was a stupendous manual, designated as Dastur-ul-Amal. It also contained the rate of taxes to be paid by the ryots, businessmen, traders, and others to the Government. The document was an incredible guidebook called Dastur-ul-Amal. It also included the tax rate that dealers, businesspeople, and other individuals were required to pay the government. His focus shifted to the advancement of agriculture.
Food self-sufficiency was the cure-all. To feed the famished population, he brought food and other supplies from the Punjab and the nearby states of Poonch, Rajouri, Bhimbar, and Jammu. Through direct communication, he raised the farmers’ flagging morale. For the newly acquired land, he gave the revenue commissioners instructions to give pattas to the cultivators. Regardless of their caste or creed, black marketeers and grain hoarders faced severe punishment.
One particularly notable instance is Jagar Nath, the mahant or custodian or keeper of the temple, who was hanged on the nearest poplar tree for selling the grain in black. His poultry farming in the rural development program diversified his occupational potential. It also aided in giving the populace money and food. Similar to Ala-ud-din Khilji, he punished stockists, shopkeepers, and weighmen with deterrents for using incorrect weights and measurements. Mehan Singh also worked to advance the shawl-wool sector. Shawl-wool arrived from Tibet and Yarkand through Ladakh. Raja Gulab Singh began directing the shawl-wool to Jammu in 1834, and the East India Company later moved it to Rampore and the Kangra Valley. It makes sense that Kashmir’s shawl industry felt stifled.
Mehan Singh, an intrepid and equitable ruler, forced Gulab Singh to consent to the diversion of shawl-wool from Jammu to Kashmir. The Colonel’s repeal of numerous discriminatory tariffs, such as the Zar-i-Nikah tax, among others, encouraged the shawl weavers to go back to their homeland. Another motivator for them was the availability of inexpensive food items. The weavers benefited greatly from the private enterprise’s dissolution. The weavers received much-needed respite when the government took control of the shawl sector.
On Ranjit Singh’s advice, Mehan Singh founded the Dharmarath Department, initially receiving one lakh rupees from the Maharaja. Additionally, the Maharaja mandated that an additional tax be added to the government’s revenue and placed into the Dharmarath fund. Regular gifts, both in cash and kind, were made to mosques, gurdwaras, and temples from this fund. Colonel Mehan Singh was still awaiting the resolution of a bigger issue. It was the threat posed by thugs, or galwans, who had turned into a significant law and order issue. There was no safety for the travellers. Their main weapon was a large, hefty club with long rings on it. Their leader was Khaira Galwan. These bandits abducted beautiful girls and brides from the marriage processions and committed dacoities. Just like Colonel Sleeman of British India, Colonel Mehan Singh captured them in his dragonet. They received punishment fit for models. The Galwans had completely vanished.
Mehan Singh, in contrast to his Sikh forebears, was a builder as well. He restored the Shergarh fort, which Amir Khan Jawansher, the governor of Afghanistan, had constructed. He designed Basant Bagh as well. The current tall and magnificent Chinar trees in Basant Bagh reflect the lofty nature of their planter. However, fate had its ruthless game. His focus shifted from public utility projects to defensive measures due to the catastrophic flood and the tribal uprisings. When the uprisings in Punch, Hazara, and Muzaffarabad confronted him, he withstood the test of war. Without a question the most capable of all the governors of Ranjit Singh was Colonel Mehan Singh, the final one.
The writer is a Ph.D. scholar at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed are his own.