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SIKHS AND THE SIKH WARS : THE RISE, CONQUEST, AND ANNEXATION OF THE PUNJAB STATE

SIKHS AND THE SIKH WARS : THE RISE, CONQUEST, AND ANNEXATION OF THE PUNJAB STATE, by General Sir Charles Gough and Arthur D. Innes, first published in London in 1897, is in the main a history of the Anglo Sikh wars of 1845-46 and 1848-49. Few accounts of these wars written by British historians and men of letters in the nineteenth century are as unbiased as the one by Gough and Innes. Though the sections on the rise of the Sikhs in the Punjab and the establishment of a sovereign State under Ranjit Singh are a mere reproduction of works published earlier, those on the Anglo Sikh wars are based on official records. Besides the blue books and official despatches, the regimental records and Lord Hugh Gough`s diaries have been used.

The actions at Mudki, Ferozeshah (Pherushahr), Alival and Sabhraon have all been described in considerable detail. At Ferozeshah, Viscount Hardinge, who had placed his services as a general officer under the commander-in-chief, overrode his orders for action until Sir John Littler`s force could join the main British army. Tej Singh`s inaction after the battle of Feroze shah on the morning of 22 December "when the fate of India trembled in the balance" and when the Sikh army under his command could have completely annihilated the weary and exhausted British army is ascribed to his ignorance of the actual state of affairs."It would even seem," comment the authors, "that if they [Sikh commanders] had the same capacity for attack as for defence, if Tej Singh had known what to do with his fresh army at Feroze shah, the frontier force with the Governor General and the Commander-in-Chief might have been crushed on December 22nd.

" Ferozeshah also caused a storm in England. Angry voices were raised in British Parliament to condemn Hardinge for the military`s unpreparedness and Gough for his rashness in the battle. Sir Archibald Galloway, the chairman of the Board of Directors, however, silenced the breeze in Parliament. He said, "Complaints are made that Sir Hugh Gough at Ferozeshah took the bull by the horns.

But, gentlemen, in this case the bull was all horns." After their decisive victory in the first Sikh war, there were three policy options open to the British as regards the future of their conquest, the Punjab, viz. immediate annexation, subsidiary system as operative in other princely states, or the establishment of "a strong and friendly government which should be independent of British support, and yet should not be a menace to the British power in India, which should in fact stand to the British in much the same relation as the Lahore State had done when ruled by Ranjit Singh." Lord Hardinge opted for the third course and, after selling Jammu and Kashmir to Gulab Singh and annexing the Jalandhar Doab to British India, established in the remaining Punjab a government nominally independent under its minor Maharaja assisted by a council of some chosen Sikh sardars, but virtually ruled by a British Agent "appointed to exercise effective control over this council, and to act as the mouthpiece of the British Government.

" At the same time the strength of the Khalsa army was reduced to 20,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, while the whole of the artillery which had been used against the British was required to be delivered up to the victors.These arrangements to begin with worked well if not with perfect smoothness, and peace was restored in the land of the Five Rivers. But certain developments such as the forced evacuation of the Regent Queen to Sheikhupura in August 1847, the mishandling of Multan situation in early 1848 and overreaching behaviour of a British agent in Hazara vitiated the atmosphere of mutual trust so vital to such condominium. Moreover, with a change in the top executive there came a change in British policy in favour of annexation.

Henry Lawrence, the Resident at Lahore, and Henry Hardinge, the Governor General, sailed together from India on 18 January 1848.The next day arrived the new Governor General Lord Dalhousie. In Dalhousie`s own words, it was his "strong and deliberate opinion that in the execution of a wise and sound policy, the British Government is bound not to put aside or neglect such rightful opportunities of acquiring territory or revenue as may from time to time present themselves." The trouble in Multan and Hazara could have been contained and removed without going in for a major war, but here Lord Hugh Gough, the British Commander-in-Chief, had his own theory.

He held that the Sikh "movement was one which could not be nipped in the bud by local successes ; and that consequently the army should not move until it could do so in sufficient force to meet the Sikh nation in arms."He purposely waited for a general rising of the Sikhs and also for a state of preparedness of "a force competent to crush the whole Sikh nation in arms." The right time and excuse for action came when on 9 October 1848, Sher Singh " marched from Mullan to raise the Sikh nation in arms." Lord Dalhousie was already alive to the character of the impending war, and he left Calcutta for the front on 10 October.

Already on 5 October, he had rhetorically announced at a public banquet: "Unwarranted by precedents, uninfluenced by example, the Sikh nation has called for war, and, on my words, sirs, they shall have it with a vengeance ..." The grand army under Lord Gough`s personal command which crossed the Sutlej in early November 1948 consisted of one cavalry division, two infantry divisions and an artillery brigade, and it was expected that Multan will soon fall and the infantry division reinforced by the Bombay Column would then join the main force heading to meet Sher Singh.After minor encounters at Ramnagar and Sadullapur, the first main battle fought at Cheliarivala on 13 January 1849 was indecisive. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and both retreated from the field. For a whole month after this there was an uneasy kill.

The British Commander-in-Chief realizing his relative weakness in artillery was waiting for reinforcements from Multan where Mul Raj had surrendered on 22 January. Sher Singh, too, despite his father Ghatar Singh`s force joining him, failed to attack the British, and moved on 14 January to a new position just south of Gujrat. The Multan division which arrived on 1719 January brought with it 98 guns, 18 being of heavy calibre.This gave the British superiority in fire power for the first time.

They immediately moved to a position facing the Sikhs at Gujrat. The conclusive action at Gujrat on 21 February 1849 has justifiably been called "the battle of guns." It started at nine O`clock in the morning and "by half past twelve, the whole Sikh army was in full flight. By one O`clock Gujrat itself, the Sikh camp, their baggage, and most of their guns were in possession of the victors.

" Although the authors are not impressed by the stereotyped view that the transformation of the Sikh army into the executive sovereign of the State of Lahore in 1844 represented "a successful mutiny" and that the militant Sikh nationalism fed on an aversion to foreign interference in the Punjab led the army Panchayats into a war with the British, their account is not free from exaggerations as, for instance, the statement that a Sikh army 20,00030,000 strong with 40 guns fought the British at Mudki.Mudki was a battle of unequal numbers : designating it as a "great battle" is not quite correct. Here a hastily drawn and haphazardly formed division out of the detachment taken from various Sikh regiments at FIrozpur (3,500 cavalry, 2,000 foot and 20 guns) faced 3 divisions of the army of the Sutlej under Sir Walter Gilbert, Brigadier Mac Caskill and Sir Harry Smith with 48 guns and 4 troops of horse artillery. The authors also take a one sided view of the annexation. Following Lord Dalhousie`s line of arguments, they conclude that defeat of the Sikhs was not enough. The interests of the British empire required that they be subjugated and the Sikh dynasty,destroyed.

References :

1. Fauja Singh, Historians and Historiography of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978
2. Khurana, Gianeshwar, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in the Punjab. Delhi, 1985
3. Darshan Singh, Western Perspective on the Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1991
4. Grewal, J.S., From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Amritsar, 1972

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