Himachal Pradesh is set to complete 50 years as a full-fledged state on January 25, and the golden jubilee will be celebrated with the release of a postage stamp, coffee table book, documentary, exhibitions and events showcasing the state’s journey. GAGAN takes a trip down the history lane to find out how the state of Himachal Pradesh came to be.
According to the state government, early humans are known to have lived in some valleys in the footfills of what is now Himachal Pradesh as early as two million years ago. People from the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished between 2250 and 1750 BC, also inhabited the foothills.
But the original inhabitants of the hills of Himachal were Kols or Mundas, believed to have been pushed from the Indo-Gangetic plains towards the north by the Indus Valley Civilization. Mongoloid people called Bhotas and Kiratas formed a second wave of migration, followed by a third wave of people who came to the subcontinent from Central Asia.
The government says that Mahabharata mentions several small republics or Janpadas which existed in present-day Himachal, including the state of Kulindas in Shimla and Sirmaur hills, Kuluta in the Kullu valley, Trigarta in the foothills, and Audumbras in the lower hills between Pathankot and Jwalamukhi. Later, the Gupta Empire subdued these republics and Ashoka introduced Buddhism here, building many stupas.
After the Gupta Empire, local chiefs called Thakurs and Ranas ruled the area but acknowledged the supremacy of Harsha in the early seventh century.
Period of Rajputs, Mughals, Gorkhas and Sikhs
After Harsha’s death, a number of Rajput states emerged in Rajasthan and the Indus plains, fighting among themselves. Some of the defeated Rajput leaders moved to the Himachal hills with their followers and set up at least 13 small states here, including Kangra, Mandi, Bilaspur, Bushahr and Sirmaur.
Several of these states in the lower hills were later conquered by Mughal rulers, including the important state of Kangra where the Katoch dynasty kings were reduced to vassals.
In the late 18th century, the dynasty regained power under Sansar Chand, who expanded into neighbouring hill areas such as Chamba, Mandi and Bilaspur. In the early 19th century, the Gorkhas of Nepal annexed Sirmaur and Shimla hill states, and then defeated Sansar Chand at Kangra with the help of other smaller states in the area. A few years later, the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh captured the Kangra Fort, expanding their rule to the neighbouring hill areas. But both the Gorkhas and Sikhs were ousted by the British in the Anglo-Gorkha war and the First Anglo-Sikh War.
British rule and post-independence period
“The British territories in the hill came under British Crown after Queen Victoria’s proclamation of 1858. The states of Chamba, Mandi and Bilaspur made good progress in many fields during the British rule,” the state government website says.
Rulers of the hill states were generally loyal to the British during the First World War, but the Indian freedom struggle found its way here. The Mandi conspiracy and the Pajhota agitation in Sirmaur are considered part of the struggle for Independence. In areas directly under the British rule, the Praja Mandal launched freedom agitations and the Congress party was particularly active in Kangra. Some freedom movement leaders from the state include Dr YS Parmar, Padam Dev, Shivanand Ramaul and Purnanand. Following Independence, Himachal Pradesh first came into being as a centrally administered territory in April 1948 with the integration of 30 erstwhile princely states. In 1951, it became a ‘Part C’ state and was brought under a Lieutenant Governor with a 36-member Legislative Assembly. Bilaspur, another Part C state was merged with Himachal in 1954.
“In 1956, despite majority recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission for its merger with Punjab, Himachal Pradesh retained its separate identity, thanks to the famous dissenting note of the Commission’s Chairman Justice Fazal Ali which found favour with the Centre,” says the website of HP Vidhan Sabha.
But Himachal was then made a Union territory in 1956, and ten years later, Kangra and most other hill areas of Punjab were merged with this UT. In December 1970, the state of Himachal Pradesh Act was passed by the Parliament. Finally, on January 25, 1971, Himachal Pradesh was declared a full-fledged state, becoming the 18th state of the Union of India.