Tale of two ‘co-capitals’ — Shimla & Dharamsala

Lalit Mohan

WITH the parliamentary elections due in a few months, the row over giving second capital status to Dharamsala is likely to hog limelight.

Congress leaders have already started blaming the present BJP government for failing to implement the decisions of the previous government to give a second capital status to Dharamsala. At the fag end of its stint in power, the previous Congress government had issued a notification giving the second capital status to Dharamsala. This had provided legal sanctity of second capital status to Dharamsala, the district headquarters of Kangra district.

The move of the Congress government was strongly resisted by the residents of Shimla. Some even challenged the decision in the Himachal High Court. The court recently held the petition in abeyance since the issue has been put on the back-burner by the present government.

The ball, on giving second capital status to Dharamsala, is now in the present Jai Ram Thakur government’s court.

How it all started 

The history of seeking second capital status for Dharamsala, the district headquarters of Kangra district, which is the biggest and politically most significant district of the state having 15 Assembly constituencies, is associated with the rise of the BJP in the state.

 In 1990, the BJP government came to power in the state by sweeping the elections in lower Himachal or merged hill areas of Punjab. The basic propaganda of the BJP during the elections was the alleged bias against the merged areas by the Congress government led by Virbhadra Singh.

The hill areas of Punjab were merged in Himachal in 1966. The present districts of Kangra, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti, Hamirpur, Una, Solan and some parts of present Shimla district were earlier part of Punjab. In 1990, the BJP government led by Shanta Kumar accused the then CM Virbhradra Singh of being partial to the lower or merged areas of Himachal. The party reaped political benefit out it and won 46 out of 51 seats it contested and Shanta Kumar became the CM of the state for the second time. However, the BJP government in the state lasted for just two-and-a-half-years as the then Congress government in the Centre dissolved three BJP state governments using Article 356 of the Constitution as an aftermath of Babri temple demolition.

There were mid-term elections that once again brought Virbhadra Singh back to power in the state in 1993. To counter the BJP narrative against him for being biased against lower Himachal, Virbhadra Singh in 1993 started the move of holding a winter sojourn of CM in Kangra and other districts of lower Himachal in the months of December and January.

During this time, Virbhadra Singh used to move to Dharamsala and tour the lower areas of the state for about one-and-a-half-month. This, for the first time, gave a quasi-second capital status to Dharamsala. During his winter sojourn, Virbhadra used to stay in Kashmir House, a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) property, and listen to the grievances of people from the lower areas of Himachal.

This practice of moving to Dharamsala during winter months is still being practiced by consecutive CMs of both BJP and Congress parties and now, it has become more of a ritual, as CMs, at times, come here just for a few days to keep up the tradition alive.

The move to set up the Assembly complex at Dharamsala was also initiated by Congress CM Virbhadra Singh during his stint in power from 2003 to 2007. It was Virbhadra, who organised the first winter session of the Himachal Assembly in Dharamsala in December 2005. The first winter session of the Assembly was held at Prayas Bhawan in Dharamsala from December 26 to 29 in 2005. The foundation stone of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly complex was laid by Virbhadra on February 14, 2006, and it was inaugurated by him in the same year on December 26.

However, despite the fact that Virbhadra brought up an assembly complex in Dharamsala, it failed to win him Kangra district in the Assembly elections in 2007. The BJP once again won 11 of 15 Assembly segments in Kangra in 2007 and Dhumal government came to power by winning 41 seats.

From 2007 to 2012, during the Dhumal-led BJP government, a minister was made to sit in Dharamsala secretariat to redress the grievances of people from the lower areas. The new secretariat was also constructed that was supposed to house the offices of all ministers of the state Cabinet.

The secretariat also has an office of the CM, which is generally occupied only when the winter session is held here.

‘Unnecessary expenditure’

Though the winter session of Himachal Assembly is being held in Dharamsala every year, many leaders have been terming it as an unnecessary expenditure. Interestingly, the BJP leaders who started the rhetoric of lower areas of Dharamsala being ignored, proposed to handover the Assembly complex in Dharamsala to the Central University Himachal Pradesh (CUHP). Some have proposed that a training institute be started in the complex. However, no government has dared to take a decision on closing down the complex fearing that it might once again stir the sentiments in Kangra that can topple the political equations.

Initially, it was proposed that the mini-secretariat building in Dharamsala be taken over by the General Administration Department (GAD) of the Himachal Government that looks after the secretariat buildings in Shimla. However, the building was never handed over to GAD. At present, the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Kangra, was looking after the mini-secretariat building.

Another demand — To have Circuit Bench of HP High Court

Another demand associated with the second capital status to Dharamsala is that of having a Circuit Bench of Himachal High Court here.

The first floor of the building has been handed over to the vigilance and anti-corruption office. Due to lack of funds, the Dharamsala mini-secretariat building was in a bad shape.

Though the previous Congress government took a Cabinet decision and notified Dharamsala as the second capital of the state, the capital status remains only a paper notification and nothing was done on the ground to accord it the status of a second capital.

The present government is dithering on either withdrawing the notification or implementing it.

Lost summer capital status to Shimla in 1905 due to earthquake

Before the British occupied these territories after the Anglo Sikh war, Dharamsala and its surrounding areas were ruled by the Katoch Dynasty of Kangra. The royal family still keeps a residence in Dharamsala, known as ‘Clouds End Villa’. The Katoch dynasty, had been reduced to the status of jagirdars (of Kangra-Lambagraon) under the Treaty of Jawalamukhi, signed in 1810 between Sansar Chand Katoch and Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire. Under the British Raj, Dharamsala was the district headquarters of Kangra district during the undivided province of Punjab, which at that time included the present districts of Kangra, Hamipur, Kullu and Lahaul and Spiti districts.

In 1848, the area now known as Dharamshala was annexed by the British. In 1860, the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry was moved from Kangra to Dharamshala, which was at first made a subsidiary cantonment. The battalion was later renamed the historic 1st Gurkha Rifles. The second Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India, died here (at the 1st Gurkha Rifles Officers’ Mess) in 1863 and is buried in the cemetery of St. John in the wilderness, a small Anglican church distinguished by its stained-glass windows. Dharamsala became a popular hill station for the British working in or near Delhi, offering a cool respite during the hot summer months. In 1905, the Kangra valley suffered a major earthquake. On April 4 that year, the massive earthquake demolished much of the cantonment and the neighbouring city of Kangra as well as the Bhagsunag temple. Altogether, the 1905 Kangra earthquake killed 20,000 people. “1,625 persons perished in Dharamsala alone, including 15 Europeans and 112 of the Gurkha garrison.” The Gurkhas rebuilt the town along with the temple, which today is acknowledged as the 1st Gurkha Rifles’ heritage. The British had planned to make Dharamsala the summer capital of India, but moved to Shimla after the disaster.

Establishment of Tibetan exile community

The Tibetan settlement of Dharamsala began in 1959, when the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet. The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, allowed Dalai Lama and his followers to settle in McLeodganj. The Tibetans established the “government-in-exile” in 1960 and now, Dharamsala is internationally known as the abode of the Dalai Lama.


Not in favour of establishing a second capital

I am not in favour of establishing a second capital in a small state like Himachal. India has a single capital in Delhi despite the fact that it is located in one corner of the country. Still, no demand has ever been raised to have a second capital. If India can do with a single capital, then why should Himachal have two capitals? The government already has a debt of over Rs 50,000 crore. Rather than establishing a second capital, the government should spend money on the state’s development. Dharamsala has been declared a Smart City and work should be done to make it a Smart City. The decision, meanwhile, rests with the present Jai Ram Thakur government. Shanta Kumar, Former CM and BJP MP from Kangra


Party leaders will be taken into confidence

The decision over the second capital status to Dharamsala will be taken after taking the Cabinet colleagues and MLAs into confidence. Dharamsala is already an important hill station of international repute due to the presence of the Dalai Lama. Jai Ram Thakur, Chief Minister


BJP government not serious

The present BJP government is not serious about declaring Dharamsala the second capital. The previous Congress government took a Cabinet decision to declare Dharamsala as the second capital. However, the present government has not done anything in this regard in the last one year. The present BJP government is in fact biased against the entire Kangra district. The previous Congress government had sent a proposal to the Centre to give international airport status to Gaggal airport in Kangra. It was also proposed that the Gaggal airport be handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF). However, the present government has changed the entire process and has proposed an international airport in Mandi. Many development schemes, including drinking water schemes and Mid Himalayan project worth Rs 700 crore, were shifted out from Kangra to Mandi. In the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the Congress will take up these issues and expose the government. Sudhir Sharma, Former Congress minister, AICC secretary


Deserves to be treated as second capital

Kangra is a very important district and deserves to be treated as a second capital keeping in view the aspirations of people. However, merely declaring the city as the second capital in papers is not good. In case the state government wants to declare Dharamsala a second capital, it should first create the infrastructure for it. More offices should be shifted here from Shimla and the building of the secretariat should be built in case the government wants Dharamsala as the second capital. GS Bali, Senior Congress leader


Personally, not in favour

Personally, I am not in favour of making Dharamsala as the second capital of the state. If the government is moved from Shimla to Dharamsala for a few days or a month, it will not, in any way, help the economy of the district, neither the people of the region. Viplove Thakur, Former HPCC president and Rajya Sabha member 


Congress did it for electoral gains

The Congress gave the second capital status to Dharamsala just before the Assembly elections for electoral gains. It was never serious about the development of Dharamsala or Kangra district. Since the winter session was held in Dharamsala, it already has a second capital status. CM Jai Ram Thakur stayed in Kangra for the entire month and announced a slew of developmental projects as well. Kishan Kapoor, Minister for Food and Civil Supplies