How India Lost Gilgit

Whenever and wherever the future of Gilgit-Baltistan (now under the illegal occupation of Pakistan) region is discussed, naturally Jammu & Kashmir state is linked with it. The Gilgit Baltistan (GB) was a part of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state. But, due to political blunders, the region got bracketed as a disputed territory.

On August 1, 1947, the colonial British India Gilgit returned Gilgit (leased to it for sixty years) to Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. It was then merged with Ladakh. It was declared as third Northern Areas Territory Province as mentioned in UNCIP resolution (Gilgit Baltistan and Ladkakh – GBL). Two other provinces were Jammu and Kashmir. Gilgit-Baltistan area was approximately 63,650 sq.miles, Jammu province approx. 12,700 Sq. miles and Kashmir province was smallest 8000 sq.miles.

British had understood the importance of this area in guarding the frontiers and boundaries of India. British were active in the area before the 1830’s. In 1870 they had completely tightened their grip over it. They used the region for intrigues to rule the subcontinent.

Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh appointed Brigadier Ghansar Singh as the first Governor of Gilgit.

Brigadier Singh, in his prison diary of Astore (Gilgit), has held responsible both the then Jammu and Kashmir government and the Central government headed by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru for the fall of Gilgit. He said: “No protective units for this far-flung mountainous area were deployed. In 1947 it had a weak brigade. Only two companies of 6th J&K Infantry were sent. One of the companies was commanded by one Muslim trained commander Capt Hussain. This commander started hobnobbing with Pakistan.”

Before Ghansar Singh’s departure for Gilgit, he was briefed by Pt. Sham Lal, the then Political Secretary. However, he was sent alone to take over the whole of the Gilgit administration. A number of questions are raised. Why was Ghansar Singh sent with no civil officer along with him. Why was budgetary support not provided to him at the time of change of guards ? Why was he not armed with judicial powers?

In 1987 Brigadier Ghansar Singh recalled, “On my arrival in Gilgit, the general impression gathered was that the British officer did not like the change. But the Gilgit public was highly pleased with the transfer of power. They welcomed the change but were surprised to find me all alone before them.”

He said that his suggestions to address the grievances of the scouts officers and civil employees were not considered in time in Srinagar. As a result, there was discontentment amongst the employees.

Brigadier Singh said, “the two British officers of the Gilgit Scouts, Major W.A. Brown and Captain A.S. Mathieson, whose services had been retained by the State, were responsible to involve Muslim officers posted in Gilgit.” The predominantly Muslim civil employees of the Government of Gilgit turned pro-Pakistan and supported the demands of the Scouts for special pay and other concessions for serving the Jammu & Kashmir State.

Brig Singh said that with no authority from the government, he just promised them to recommend their case with sympathetic consideration to the government. He said, that it was a pity, that the civil employees of the Jammu and Kashmir State were not paid any allowance during their stay in Gilgit. He (Ghansar Singh) made repeated requests to Jammu and Kashmir government through Dr Wanger and the Political Agent of Gilgit Khan Mohd Alam. But there was no positive response.

A hero’s nightmare

  • 1st Aug 1947 Last British Political Agent Lt. Col. Roger Bacon, lowered British Union Jack from Gilgit Residency. Governor Brig. Ghansar Singh hoisted tricolour of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • 4th Aug 1947, revolt started at Yasin. Lt. Col Becon imprisoned some of the leading men of Yasin.
  • 22nd Oct 1947 (Tribal invasion in Kashmir) PoK government was formed under President Sardar Ibrahim Khan.
  • 24th Oct 1947 Sheikh Mohd Abdullah took over as head of interim government in Srinagar.
  • 27th Oct 1947 Maharaja's accession to India of Jammu and Kashmir state including Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • 31st Oct, 1947. As soon as Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India, Major W.A. Brown got the Gilgit Scouts to surround the residency and, after a short gun battle, he imprisoned governor Ghansar Singh. Brown then informed Peshawar about the accession of Gilgit to Pakistan.
  • 31st Oct- 1st Nov 1947 (Intervening night), 2 am) about 100 Gilgit scouts led by Major W A Brown, Lieutenant (later Col) Ghulam Haider Khan and Sub. Major Babur Khan surrounded Brig Ghansar Singh's official bungalow. In the morning Pt Mani Ram, Naib Tehsildar and a police Inspector told him that scouts officers had asked him to surrender within 15 minutes. If he did not surrender, all non-Muslims and civil officials would be shot dead as they wanted to establish Pakistan in Gilgit. In case the offer was accepted, they would safely send to Bunji, about 54 kms from Gilgit on Srinagar road. Raja Noor Ali Khan and Sukh Dev Singh also requested Brig Singh to accept the terms and return to Bunji Battalion Headquarters.
  • Ist Nov 1947 at 8.45 Brig Singh was imprisoned by Sub Major Babur Khan, of the Scouts and was shifted from his official bungalow to one of the tiny rooms in Gilgit Scouts lines.
  • 3rd Nov 1947 Flag hoisting was performed at Gilgit in Scouts line by Major Brown where all civil officers, of the state except Brig Singh, were called and saluted the Pak flag. Lt. Col Abdul Majid Khan and Sub Major Babur Khan put before him a typed telegram to sign, in which it was written that charge of Gilgit had been handed over to the Gilgit Government. Interim government in Gilgit was installed under the presidentship of Raja Shah Rias Khan. Col Mirza Hassan Khan appointed as head of Revolutionary Council. Lt ( later Col) Ghullam Haider, who was quarter master of Gilgit Scouts was appointed as commissioner in interim Government.

Brig Singh was kept in one room for three months continuously. There was one WC and no bathroom in it. He could not take bath for three months, as there were no water arrangements. His servants, Sardar Makhan Singh, his son Rohan Singh and one Sansar Singh were lodged with him in the same room. He was not allowed to get out of his room. He did not see the sun. There was one skylight in his room where from he could see whether it was a day or night. During daytime, he was all-alone whereas his orderlies were allowed to sit outside in the sun.

He was deprived of books and newspapers. His orderly had one Ramayan, which he would read all the day. In the morning he would get his meals at 11.00 am and in the evening at 5.00 pm. After dark his orderlies were not permitted to go outside to bring his food. His orderlies were under strict surveillance and not allowed to talk or contact anybody.

At 7 pm the guard commander would lock up the room and none could go out even to answer the call of nature. Days and nights were very cold. There was no arrangement to keep the room warm. With his limited money he had managed to buy five seers of fuel to warm themselves, in the morning and evening. No officer or any man would come to enquire about his difficulties during his detention period. He had to purchase all edibles from his own pocket for himself as well as to feed his servants.

No exercise and good food told upon his health and he grew weak and lean. Many a times when all alone he would think of committing suicide by a razor blade he had kept with him. But he thought it would be a cowardice act on the part of a soldier who could not face the hardship he was put to.

After three months, one day Mir and Hunza's younger brother quietly visited him in the evening as Hunza Scout guard was on duty that day. He saw him locked up in one room. He promised that he would relate this to the Mirs and Raja. After a fortnight he was shifted to another quarter where he could sit in the sun. Major Anwar, the Brigade Major in Gilgit shifted him to other place where he could see the sun rise and sun set after weary three months.

In June 1948 Dr Wanger of the International Red Cross Society, accompanied by Political Agent (PA) and Col Jilani visited him. Brig Singh was sick at that time. Dr Wanger told him that he could write letters to his relatives. After this one PA would once in a month visit his quarter and enquire about his difficulties. He would prepare a list of his needs for ordinary items. He arranged milk for him and money from the balance of his pay to defray his expenses. It was now more than 8 months that he had not gone for a walk. One day he requested to go out of for a walk in the garden only a hundred yards away from the walled compound. He was permitted for walking after about nine months stay inside the four walls.

Brig Singh was released on 1st June 1949 at Suchetgarh (Jammu) After his release Ghansar Singh returned to Kashmir but was treated like an outcast by Sheikh Mohd Abdullah and was deprived of his job. However, Maharaja Hari Singh came to his rescue. He was made the honorary president of the Dharmarth Trust a post he held for 26 years.

In 1967, he contested the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket and won with majority of 57000 votes. But within nine days he resigned to make room for Dr. Karan Singh. In 1972 he was elected a member for the J&K Legislative Council and became the acting chairmen of the Council. However, he did not accept any remuneration.

Brig. Singh, during his long career, was decorated with the OBE and was also conferred the title of the title of Rao Bahadur by the British.

Brig. Ghansar Singh was born on 21st Jan 1892 at village Raipur, Jammu On 22 nd Jan 1991, he passed away. He was 99.

He is survived by three sons and two daughters. Commodore Arjan Singh, Brig, Bhim Singh, and Surinder Singh (Agriculturists).


More by :  R C Ganjoo

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