The state of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in 1846. It consists of three cultural zones, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. But before the formation of the state these regions represented various types of political identities. It is known that the modern Jammu region was divided into twenty two principalities. The major states of Jammu region were Jammu, Mankot, Jasrota, Lakhanpur, Samba, Bhau, Bhoti, Chanehni, Bandralta, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Punch, Bhimbher and Khari-Khariyali etc. These states of Jammu region were ruled by the Rajputs belonging to both the Hindu and Muslim communities. Raja Ranjit Dev (1733-82) was only the king of Jammu who tried to bring all these states under his control through the conquests. Otherwise, fragmented political authority was the dominant trend of Jammu region upto the early 19th century. Similarly, Kashmir was a separate political entity. Though in 1586 it was annexed to the Mughal empire by the Mughal emperor Jalal-ud-din Akbar (1556-1605), socio-politically it maintained its identity. In 1753 Mughal rule came to an end in Kashmir and it was replaced by the Afghan rule. The Afghans ruled Kashmir for about 66 years (1753-1819). The modern Ladakh region was also divided into several principalities. Lahchen and Namgyal were the major dynasties which ruled major parts of Ladakh.
The processes converting the different political entities of the modern Jammu and Kashmir in one political unit started in early 19th century. It was Maharaja Ranjit Singh(1800-39) of Lahore Darbar who decided to conquer the states of Jammu and Kashmir regions. In 1808 Maharaja Ranjit Singh compelled Jit Dev, the last king of Jammu state, to accept his sovereignity and in 1816 annexed Jammu to the Lahore Darbar. After its annexation to the Lahore Darbar Jammu was assigned in Jagir to Prince Kharak Singh, the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was opposed by the local people of Jammu under the leadership of Mian Dido. Though Mian Dido was a Jamwal Rajput and belonged to a branch of ruling family of Jammu, he fought for the cause of common people of Jammu. He received huge support of the common people of Jammu against Maharaja Ranjit Singh rule. He emerged as a folk hero. The resistance of Mian Dido against the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was so strong that it became very difficult for the latter to successfully run the administration of the state. Finally, Maharaja Ranjit Singh decided to utilise the services of Gulab Singh, a Dogra army officer working under him.
Gulab Singh, born on October 21, 1792, joined the services of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1810. Though Gulab Singh started his career as a trooper under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, his courage, chivalry and sincerity brought him to the post of a commander of an army of the Maharaja. The latter found Gulab Singh as the most competent and suitable army commonder for the suppression of Mian Dido. Consequently Gulab Singh was sent to Jammu by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to overpower Mian Dido. Gulab Singh worked in accordance with the expectation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and in 1820 defeated and killed Mian Dido. The success of Gulab Singh against Mian Dido impressed Maharaja Ranjit Singh so much that the latter assigned him the duty of conquering other states of Jammu hills and annexing them to Lahore Darbar. Gulab Singh conquered Kishtwar and Rajouri and other states of Jammu hills. More importantly, Maharaja Ranjit Singh honoured Gulab Singh with the title of Raja. In June 1822 Gulab crowned himself as the king of Jammu on the bank of Chenab river. Raja Gulab Singh appointed Zorawar Singh Kahaluria as his Wazir. In 1834 Zorawar, ordered by Gulab Singh, attacked Ladakh and defeated its ruler Tsepal Namgyal and after two years Ladakh was annexed to the Jammu Kingdom.
As far as Kashmir was concerned, it was conquered and annexed to Lahore Darbar in 1819. The rule of Lahore darbar in Kashmir continued upto 1846. However, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839 the strength of Lahore Darbar started to be weakened. The weakness of Lahore Darbar in Kashmir after 1839 paved the way for the change in the political life of Kashmir.
In 1845 the British forces attacked Punjab and first Anglo-Punjab war was fought. The British defeated the army of Lahore Darbar and compelled its ruler Dalip Singh to sign a treaty. Raja Gulab Singh plalyed a vital role in signing the treaty between Maharaja Dalip Singh and British on March 9, 1846. It is called treaty of Lahore. According to one of the clauses of the treaty, Maharaja Dalip Singh accepted Gulab Singh as an independent sovereign. Afterwards, British Viceroy Hardinge devised a plan to hand over Kashmir and other hill territories to Gulab Singh on the condition of payment of war idemnity. Consequently, on March 15, 1846 the British governent conferred the title of the Maharaja on Raja Gulab Singh and on March 16, 1846 signed a treaty with Maharaja Gulab Singh. It is called the treaty of Amritsar. According to the treaty, British agreed to hand over Kashmir and other hill territories to Maharaja on the condition of the payment of Rupees seventy five lakhs as war idemnity to the British. Maharaja Gulab Singh accepted the condition and received Kashmir. Though Maharaja Gulab Singh paid Rupees seventy five lakhs to British in lieu of Kashmir, he did not acquire independent position . He remained as a tributary of the British Government. The treaty of Amritsar consists of ten articles. According to the Article 10, “Maharaja acknowledges the supermacy of of the British Government, and will, in token of such supermacy, present annually to the British government one horse, twelve perfect shawls goats of approved breed (six male and six female) and three pairs of Kashmiri shawls”. (S.D.S. Charak (Tr.), Gulabnama, Delhi, 1977, p.422). Thus the through the payment of seventy five rupees Maharaja Gulab Singh did not purchase Kashmir from the British Government. But he paid the amount as war idemnity and occupied Kashmir as a tributary power of the British India.
With occupation of Kashmir on March 16, 1846 Maharaja laid the foundation of Jammu and Kashmir, consisting of three cultural zones, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Thus Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh were politically united by Maharaja GulabSingh and concept of political fragmentation in these region was ended by him. It was Maharaja Gulab Singh’s efforts which resulted in the formation of Jammu and Kashmir state. The formation of Jammu and Kashmir state not only accelerated the process of the socio-economic development in the state under Maharaja Gulab Singh and his successors, but the unity of Jammu and Kashmir state is instrumental for the strength of the people of the three regions, Jamm, Kashmir and Ladakh. All these three regions are inter-dependent on each other for their socio-economic growth. More importantly, they the collective repository of cultural heritage of the state. The state of Jammu and Kashmir fosters the composite culture and encourages the people to grow in differences.