ANGLO-SIKH RELATIONS

ANGLOSIKH RELATIONS need to be traced to the transformation of the British East India Company, a commercial organization, into a political power in India . Victory at Plassey (23 June 1757) brought Bengal under the de facto control of the British, and that at Buxar (22 October 1764) made Oudh a British protectorate. By August 1765, the grant of the diwani rights to the Company by the Mughal Emperor Shah `Alam made them the virtual rulers of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Robert Clive (1725-74), the victor of Plassey and governor of Bengal during 1765-67, watched with interest the repeated invasions of India by Ahmad Shah Durrani and rejoiced at his final repulse at the hands of the Sikhs in 1766-67.

Expressing his happiness over Ahmad Shah`s failure to advance towards the Indian heartland, he wrote to Nawab Wazir of Oudh on 19 February 1767, "... extremely glad to know that the Shah`s progress has been impeded by the Sikhs... As long as he does not defeat the Sikhs or come to terms with them, he cannot penetrate into India.And neither of these events seems probable since the Sikhs have adopted such effective tactics, and since they hate the Shah on account of his destruction of the Chak [Guru Chakk, i.e. Amritsar]." At the same time, in another despatch to Shah Wall Khan, Ahmad Shah`s prime minister, Clive offered congratulations on the Shah`s victory over the Sikhs for whom he uses such epithets as "perfidious" and "tyrannous." Since the fall of Sirhind to them in January 1764, the Sikhs had extended their area of operations to GangaYamuna Doab and Ruhilkhand bordering on the territories of the Nawab of Oudh.

Jhanda Singh Bhangi (d. 1775), a powerful Sikh sardar, in a letter dated 19 August 1771 addressed to General Robert Barker (1729-89) sought friendly relations with the British. Warren Hastings (1732-1818), governor of Bengal since 1772 and made governor general in 1773, was however deeply perturbed at the increasing power of the Sikhs. He wanted to know all about them. At his request Major Antoine Louis Henri Polier (1741-95), a Swiss Engineer in the company`s military service but then employed by Emperor Shah `Alam II, submitted to him, in 1776, a detailed account of the Sikhs.This paper was never published, but it was quoted by George Forster (d. 1792), a civil servant of the company who under Warren Hastings` order journeyed through the Punjab, Kashmir and Afghanistan disguised as a Turkish traveller and wrote A Journey from Bengal to England, published in 1798.

Two articles on Sikh history by Polier also appeared in the Asiatic Annual Register for 1800 and 1802. Meanwhile, the Sikhs audaciously continued their raids into the Doab and Ruhilkhand. The latter territory had been conquered by the Nawab of Oudh with British help in 1774, and thus formed part of the British protectorate.In December 1778, the entry of the Sikhs into Ruhilkhand was resisted by British troops who, by their superior discipline and training as well as by their artillery, were able to force the Sikhs to retire. In January 1783, Sardar Beghel Singh (d. 1802), "at the head of a large force, approached Anupshahr on the western bank of the Gariga and was contemplating to cross the river into Ruhilkhand when the force of the Nawab of Oudh appeared on the opposite bank.

Some British battalions also arrived on the scene.The Sikhs retreated, changed direction and plundered, during Feburary 1783, the southern districts of the Doab up to Shikohabad and Farrukhabad, pillaging Agra on their way back. In the following month they raided the northern parts of Delhi itself. Warren Hastings directed Major James Browne, the British Agent at the Mughal court, to organize a confederacy against the Sikhs consisting of the Emperor Shah `Alam, the Marathas, the Ruhilas and the Nawab of Oudh, and also to collect more information about the Sikhs.Browne`s attempt to form a confederacy failed but he did get in touch with several Sikh sardars including Baghel Singh`s vaJcfJ, Lakhpat Rai, and compiled an account under the title History of the Origin and Progress of the Sicks [sic] for the information of the governor general.

It was later published, in 1788, in the Indian Tracts series. In response to Browne`s overtures leading Sikh sardars expressed their willingness to form a friendly alliance with the British, but the latter were too apprehensive of their power. In January 1784, a body of 30.000 Sikh horse and foot crossed the Yamuna.The British government was alarmed and strengthened their garrisons at Bareilly and Fatehgarh. James Browne informed Warren Hastings about the threatening attitude of the Sikhs, but said that Karam Singh, the leader of the expedition, had, out of regard for British friendship, persuaded the other Sikh sardars not to cross the Ganga into the territories of the Nawab of Oudh, an ally of the English.

Warren Hastings prepared, in December 1784, his own plan to checkmate the Sikh influence at Delhi. According to it Jahandar Shah, the rebel son of the Emperor Shah `Alam, was to be instigated to organize opposition to the Sikhs at the imperial court while the Emperor was to receive military help from the British and the Nawab of Oudh.This plan, however, also failed partly because Mahadji Scindia, the Maratha chief, would not allow a passage to British troops to reach Delhi through his trans Yamuna territory. On 30 March 1785, Ambaji Ingle, one ofScindia`s generals, made a provisional treaty of peace and friendship with the Sikhs.

But during April 1785, Sikhs` emissaries waited upon British commanders at Farrukhabad and Lucknow offering to form an alliance with them against the Marathas. Nothing came out of either set of parleys. Warren Hastings left India on 1 February 1785.John Macpherson, the acting governor general, deputed on 19 June 1786 George Forster, who had already travelled through the Sikh territories, to establish contacts with the Sikhs and collect intelligence about their future designs. The new governor general, Lord Cornwallis (September 1786 to October 1793), favoured a policy of caution and persuasion in dealing with the Sikhs and instructed the British Resident at Lucknow to please the Sikh vakil or agent posted there.

At the same time he cautioned the Nawab of Oudh to ensure stricter vigilance at Anupshahr and Daranagar ferries and assured him of British reinforcements as and when needed. In December 1790, a Sikh band of 300 men attacked Longcroft, an Englishman in indigo business, at village Jalauli in `Aligarh district, but retired as their leader was killed by the villagers. Soon after. Bhanga Singh of Thanesar assuming the leadership advanced on Anupshahr where he collected rakhfand captured, on 3 January 1791, the local British commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Stuart, whom he brought to Thanesar and demanded 2,00,000 rupees as ransom for his release.

Many Englishmen offered to collect this amount but Lord Cornwallis did not agree. Ultimately a sum of Rs 60,000 was paid through Begam Samru and the Colonel was set free on 24 October 1791. With their conquest of Delhi on 11 September 1803, the British had established their supremacy in the region. Meanwhile, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had emerged as the ruler of the Sikhs, overpowering the misi chiefs. The Sikh raids into the Doab and the region north of Delhi came to an end. The cis Sutlej Sikh chiefs accepted the suzerainty of the British who now entered into direct relationship with the Sikh monarch, Ranjit Singh. 1. 2. 3. 4.

References :

1. Hasrat, BJ., Anglo-Sikh Relations. Hoshiarpur, 1968
2. Bal. S.S.. British Policy Towards the Panjab 1844-49. Calcutta, 1971
3. Sarkar,Jadunath, Fall of the Mughal Empire. Calcutta, 1932
4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983