Friday, March 31, 2023

How Gurdaspur Was Saved From Pakistan

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Under the Indian Independence Act, this strategic district, which included Hindu majority Pathankot, was provisionally included in Pakistan. Though it was later awarded to India, it has never been away from the neighbour’s gaze.

By Justice (retd) Kamaljit Singh Garewal

In the north-western corner of Punjab, where the plains meet the mountains and the Himalayan ranges begin to rise and unfold forever, lies Pathankot. Here the rivers Ravi and Beas flow to water the Punjab plains, forming international boundaries until they meet the mighty Indus and flow to the Arabian Sea. The rivers emerge from the mountains very close to each other and at times they flow a mere 25 km apart.

The Ravi flows to Shahpur Kandi, on to Madhopur and then maintains a south-westerly  direction into Pakistan, forming India’s western boundary. The Beas, having entered Kangra valley many miles upstream, is dammed at Pong and then cuts through the lower Shivaliks to enter Punjab near Dina Nagar. It flows south for several hundred kilometres before its confluence with the Sutlej at Harike. From here, the Sutlej flows to Hussainiwala and into Pakistan, giving us our western boundary.

Between these two mighty rivers lie the districts of Gurdaspur and Amritsar, steeped in history and standing guard for India. This is the Bari Doab, the term coined by Akbar from the first syllables in Persian of Beas and Ravi. Similarly, Bist Doab is between Beas and Sutlej, Rechna Doab between Ravi and Chenab and Jech Doab between Jhelum and Chenab.

Gurdaspur is located in the heart of the Bari Doab, between these two life-sustaining rivers. And this district is also where East Punjab, Jammu and West Punjab meet. It is the gateway to Jammu and beyond to the Kashmir valley. And it also serves as the entry point to Kangra valley and Dharamshala. Two of our important dams are situated here, Ranjit Sagar Dam on the Ravi and Pong on the Beas.

This area had close association with Guru Nanak. The Guru married Mata Sulakhani, daughter of Mool Chand Khatri of Pakhoke, and his village and final resting place were at Kartarpur Sahib just across the Ravi.

Gurdaspur is a historic town, it was founded in the 17th century by Guriya Ji, a Brahmin from Ayodhya. Kalanaur is also in the vicinity of Gurdaspur. It was here that Akbar was crowned in 1556. Guru Hargobind, after his release from Gwalior Fort, founded the town of Sri Hargo­bindpur in 1620. Dina Nagar is named after Adina Beg, who ruled from here as a governor of the Mughals in 1758.

Pathankot is named after the Pathania kings of Nurpur who had made Pathankot their capital. Gurdaspur district is still the headquarters of the Ahmadiyas at Qadian, while Batala is a centre of Christians in Punjab. Such is the history and heritage of Gurdaspur.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh often spent summer months when not campaigning, in Dina Nagar, famous for mango orchards and gardens and watered by canals and waterways. The hill station of Dalhousie was named after the governor-general who grabbed the Koh-i -Noor from the child king of Punjab, Dalip Singh, under his self imposed doctrine of lapse. One could say that Gurdaspur or better still, Pathankot, is most strategically located of all the border towns in India. For this reason it is never away from Pakistan’s gaze.

Interestingly, water supply for Lahore was through the Shah Nahar constructed by Jehangir. Later, water for the Golden Temple was also through a small canal which carried Ravi water to Amritsar. Gurdaspur district was established on May 1, 1852. During the Rebellion of 1857, rebels from Sialkot advanced towards Gurdaspur, but they were intercepted by the British and defeated in the battle of Trimmo and the prisoners were hanged in Bole Wala Bagh in Gurdaspur.

And to think that in 1947 India very nearly lost Pathankot and the whole of Gurdaspur to West Punjab. Gurdaspur district was the northern-most district of the Punjab Province. The district itself was administratively subdivided into four tehsils: Shakargarh and Pathankot in the north, and Gurdaspur and Batala to the south. Only Shakargarh tehsil was separated from the rest of the district by the Ravi river.

The entire district of Gudaspur had a bare majority of Muslims. Under the Indian Independence Act, all of Gurdaspur district was marked as Pakistan. The House of Commons ignored Lord Wavell’s recommendation made in February 1946 that “In the Punjab the only Muslim-majority district that would not go to Pakistan is Gurdaspur (51% Muslim). Gurdaspur must go with Amritsar for geographical reasons and Amritsar being sacred city of Sikhs must stay out of Pakistan…”

Cyril Radcliffe saved Gurdaspur from going to Pakistan because the headworks of the canals that irrigated Amritsar district lay in Gurdaspur district and it was important to keep them under one administration.

But Pakistan had already been put into effect, for purposes of ad interim administration, including all of Gurdaspur district under Mushtaq Ahmed Cheema, the deputy commissioner, from August 14 to 17. After a delay of two days, it was announced that the major portion of the district had been awarded to India instead of Pakistan. Cheema returned to Pakistan.

The actual story behind this British move is not so straightforward. The House of Commons passed the Indian Independence Act on July 18, 1947. It was a very intricate piece of legislation. Forming two Dominions, whose territories were to continue to remain under the sovereignty of His Majesty, was a very complex task. The two Dominions were to take birth on August 15, 1947. The Act contained provisions for legislation for the new Dominions, the consequences of setting them up, continuity of civil servants, division of the Indian Armed Forces, auditing of Indian accounts, provision for continuity of existing laws and so on. The House of Commons drafted a detailed legislation to grant independence to India but laid the seeds of serious conflict between the two Dominions over Kashmir and clearly favoured West Punjab. Under Section 4, read with the Second Schedule, Gurdaspur district was provisionally included in the new province of West Punjab, against history and the ground situation. This cunning piece of legislation was undone by the Radcliffe Commission.

To pay back Pakistan, the government of East Punjab stopped water supply to Lahore, after the standstill agreement came to an end on March 31, 1948.

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan pleaded with India and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru castigated the provincial government because Lahore could not be kept thirsty. Water supply was restored after a month.    

    —The writer is former judge, Punjab & Haryana High Court, Chandigarh and former judge, United Nations Appeals Tribunal, New York

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