Consolidation of Punjab under the Sikhs
Conquest of Punjab :- After the murder of the last Sikh guru, Guru Govind Singh, a section of Sikhs under the leadership of Banda Bahadur revolted against the Mughals during the rule of Bahadur Shah. In 1715, Banda Bahadur was defeated by Farrukhsiyar and put to death in 1716. Thus the Shikh polity, once again, became leaderless and later got divided into two groups—Bandai (liberal) and Tat Khalsa (Orthodox).
This rift among the followers ended in 1721 under the influence of Bhai Mani Singh. Later in 1784 Kapur Singh Faizullapuria organised the Sikhs under Dal Khalsa, with the objective of uniting followers of Sikhism, politically, culturally and economically. The whole body of the Khalsa was formed into two sections— Budha Dal, the army of the veterans, and Taruna Dal, the army of the young.
Conquest of Punjab
The weakness of the Mughals and invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali created a general confusion and anarchy in Punjab. These political conditions helped the organised Dal Khalsa to consolidate further. The Sikhs consolidated in misls which were military brotherhoods with a democratic set-up. Misl is an Arabic word which means equal or alike.
Another meaning of Misl is State. During the period, 1763 to 1773, many misls started to rule the Punjab region under Sikh chieftains, from Saharanpur in the east to Attock in the west, from the mountaineous regions of the north to Multan in the south.
Sukarchakiya Misl and Ranjit Singh
At the time of the birth of Ranjit Singh (November 2, 1780), there were 12 important misls—Ahluwaliya, Bhangi, Dallewalia, Faizullapuria, Kanhaiya, Krorasinghia, Nakkai, Nishaniya, Phulakiya, Ramgarhiya Sukharchakiya, and Shaheed. The central administration of a misl was based on Gurumatta Sangh which was essentially a political, social and economic system.
Ranjit Singh was the son of Mahan Singh, the leader of the Sukarchakiya misl. Mahan Singh died when Ranjit Singh was only 12 years old. But Ranjit Singh showed an early acumen at political affairs. Towards the close of the 18th century, all the important misls (except Sukarchakiya) were in a state of disintegration.
Afghanistan was also engulfed in a civil war due to a power struggle which went on for the next three decades. These events in the neighbouring regions were fully exploited by Ranjit Singh who followed a ruthless policy of ‘blood and iron’ and carved out for himself a kingdom in the central Punjab.
In 1799, Ranjit Singh was appointed as the governor of Lahore by Zaman Shah, the ruler of Afghanistan. In 1805, Ranjit Singh acquired Jammu and Amritsar and thus the political capital (Lahore) and religious capital (Amritsar) of Punjab came under the rule of Ranjit Singh. He also maintained good relations with the Dogras and the Nepalese and enlisted them in his army.
Ranjit Singh and the English
The prospects of a joint Franco-Russian invasion of India through the land-route had alarmed the English. In 1807, Lord Minto sent Charles Metcalfe to Lahore. Ranjit Singh offered to accept Metcalfe’s proposal of an offensive and defensive alliance on the condition that the English would remain neutral in case of a Sikh-Afghan war and would consider Ranjit Singh the sovereign of the entire Punjab including the Malwa (cis-Sutlej) territories. However, the negotiations failed. In the changed political scenario in which the Napoleonic danger receded and the English became more assertive, Ranjit Singh agreed to sign the Treaty of Amritsar (April 25, 1809) with the Company.
Treaty of Amritsar
The Treaty of Amritsar was significant for its immediate as well as potential effects. It checked one of the most cherished ambitions of Ranjit Singh to extend his rule over the entire Sikh nation by accepting the river Sutlej as the boundary line for his dominions and the Company’s. Now he directed his energies towards the west and captured Multan (1818), Kashmir (1819) and Peshawar (1834).
In June 1838, Ranjit Singh was compelled by political compulsions to sign the Tripartite Treaty with the English; however he refused to give passage to the British army through his territories to attack Dost Mohammad, the Afghan Amir.
The relations of Raja Ranjit Singh with the Company, from 1809 to 1839, clearly indicate the former’s weak position. Although he was conscious of his weak position, he took no step to organise a coalition of other Indian princes or maintain a balance of power. Ranjit Singh died in June 1839 and with his death the process of the decline of his empire began.
Punjab After Ranjit Singh
Beginning of Court Factions
Ranjit Singh’s only legitimate son and successor, Kharak Singh, was not efficient, and during the brief period of his reign, court factions became active. Kharak Singh’s sudden death in 1839 and the accidental death of his son, Prince Nav Nihal Singh (when he was returning from his father’s funeral), led to an anarchic situation in Punjab.
Plans and counter plans of various groups to capture the throne of Lahore provided an opportunity for decisive action by the English. The army—the pillar of the Sikh state—was far less strong than it appeared to be. Ranjit Singh’s able generals—Mohkam Chand, Dewan Chand, Hari Singh Nalwa, and Ram Dayal—were already dead. Already discontent was growing among the troops as a result of irregularity of payment.
The appointment of unworthy officers led to indiscipline. The Lahore government, continuing the policy of friendship with the English company, permitted the British troops to pass through its territory—once, when they were fleeing from Afghanistan, and again, when they were marching back to Afghanistan to avenge their defeat. These marches resulted in commotion and economic dislocation in Punjab.
Rani Jindal and Daleep Singh
After the death of Nav Nihal Singh, Sher Singh, another son of Ranjit Singh succeeded, but he was murdered in late 1843. Soon afterwards, Daleep Singh, a minor son of Ranjit Singh, was proclaimed the Maharaja with Rani Jindan as regent and Hira Singh Dogra as wazir. Hira Singh himself fell a victim to a court intrigue and was murdered in 1844.
The new wazir, Jawahar Singh, the brother of Rani Jindan, soon incurred the displeasure of the army and was deposed and put to death in 1845. Lal Singh, a lover of Rani Jindan, won over the army to his side and became the wazir in the same year, and Teja Singh was appointed as the commander of the forces.
First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46)
The outbreak of the first of the Anglo-Sikh wars has been attributed to the action of the Sikh army crossing the River Sutlej on December 11, 1845. This was seen as an aggressive manoeuvre that provided the English with the justification to declare war. The causes were, however, much more complex and may be listed as follows:
- (i) the anarchy in the Lahore kingdom following the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh resulting in a power struggle for domination between the court at Lahore and the ever powerful and increasingly local army;
- (ii) suspicions amongst the Sikh army arising from English military campaigns to achieve the annexation of Gwalior and Sindh in 1841 and the campaign in Afghanistan in 1842; and
- (iii) the increase in the number of English troops being stationed near the border with the Lahore kingdom.
Course of War
The war began in December 1845 with 20,000 to 30,000 troops in the British side, while the Sikhs had about 50,000 men under the overall command of Lal Singh. But the treachery of Lal Singh and Teja Singh caused five successive defeats to the Sikhs at Mudki (December 18, 1845), Ferozeshah (December 21-22, 1845), Buddelwal, Aliwal (January 28, 1846), and at Sobraon (February 10, 1846). Lahore fell to the British forces on February 20, 1846 without a fight.
Treaty of Lahore (March 8, 1846) The end of the first Anglo-Sikh War forced the Sikhs to sign a humiliating treaty on March 8, 1846. The main features of the Treaty of Lahore were as follows:
- ● War indemnity of more than 1 crore of rupees was to be given to the English.
- ● The Jalandhar Doab (between the Beas and the Sutlej) was annexed to the Company’s dominions.
- ● A British resident was to be established at Lahore under Henry Lawrence.
- ● The strength of the Sikh army was reduced.
- ● Daleep Singh was recognised as the ruler under Rani Jindan as regent and Lal Singh as wazir.
- ● Since, the Sikhs were not able to pay the entire war indemnity, Kashmir including Jammu was sold to Gulab Singh and he was required to pay Rupees 75 lakh to the Company as the price. The transfer of Kashmir to Gulab Singh was formalised by a separate treaty on March 16, 1846.
Treaty of Bhairowal
The Sikhs were not satisfied with the Treaty of Lahore over the issue of Kashmir, so they rebelled. In December, 1846, the Treaty of Bhairowal was signed. According to the provisions of this treaty, Rani Jindan was removed as regent and a council of regency for Punjab
was set up. The council consisted of 8 Sikh sardars presided over by the English Resident, Henry Lawrence.
Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49)
The defeat in the first Anglo-Sikh War and the provisions of the treaties of Lahore and Bhairowal were highly humiliating for the Sikhs. Inhuman treatment meted out to Rani Jindan, who was sent to Benares as a pensioner, added to the resentment of the Sikhs.
Mulraj, the governor of Multan, was replaced by a new Sikh governor over the issue of increase in annual revenue. Mulraj revolted and murdered two English officers accompanying the new governor. Sher Singh was sent to suppress the revolt, but he himself joined Mulraj, leading to a mass uprising in Multan. This could be considered as the immediate cause of the war. The then Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, a hardcore expansionist, got the pretext to annex Punjab completely.
Course of War
Lord Dalhousie himself proceeded to Punjab. Three important battles were fought before the final annexation of Punjab. These three battles were:
- (i) Battle of Ramnagar, led by Sir Hugh Gough, the commander-in-chief of the Company.
- (ii) Battle of Chillhanwala, January, 1849.
- (iii) Battle of Gujarat, February 21, 1849; the Sikh army surrendered at Rawalpindi, and their Afghan allies were chased out of India. (Gujarat is a small town on the banks of River Jhelum.)
At the end of the war came:
- surrender of the Sikh army and Sher Singh in 1849;
- annexation of Punjab; and for his services the Earl of Dalhousie was given the thanks of the British Parliament and a promotion in the peerage, as Marquess;
- setting up of a three-member board to govern Punjab, comprising of the Lawrence brothers (Henry and John) and Charles Mansel.
In 1853 the board was nullified and Punjab was placed under a chief commissioner. John Lawrence became the first chief commissioner.
Significance of the Anglo-Sikh Wars
The Anglo-Sikh wars gave the two sides a mutual respect for each other’s fighting prowess. The Sikhs were to fight loyally on the British side in the Revolt of 1857 and in many other campaigns and wars uptil the Indian independence in 1947.