PANJAB ON THE EVE OF FIRST SIKH WAR, edited by Hari Ram Gupta, comprises abstracts of letters written daily by British intelligencers mainly from Lahore during the period 30 December 1843 to 31 October 1844. These newsletters constitute an important primary source on the period they pertain to. Maharaja Duleep Singh, then a minor, sat on the throne of the Punjab, with Hira Singh as his Wazir. The reports provide information about the power Hira Singh exercised, the activities of his adviser, Pandit Jalla, external policies of the Lahore kingdom and the state of the Sikh army.

They also refer to some of the important events of the time for instance, the defection and death of Raja Suchet Singh, the death of Atar Singh Sandharivalia, General Gulab Singh and Bhai Bir Singh of Naurarigabad, the revolt of Fateh Khan Tiwana and the insurrections in Hazara and Muzaffarabad. Another event highlighted in these documents is Hira Singh`s conflict with Raja Gulab Singh which led to the despatch of a Sikh army against the latter, then in Jammu, towards the end of 1844. A close study of these newsletters reveals how forces of disruption were gaining the upper hand in the Sikh State.

Troops marching from Lahore under Miari Labh Singh to Patti and Sur Singhvala attacked the holy derd at Naurarigabad. Among those killed were Prince Kashmira Singh, Atar Singh Sandharivalia and Baba Bir Singh, widely revered in Sikh piety. The papers also describe how the army panchayals had begun criticizing Hira Singh for his subservience to Pandit Jalla, how they required him to deposit the revenue of his estates into the Khalsa treasury, how they demanded the surrender of Shaikh Imam ud Din, the tyrannical ndzim of the Jalandhar Doab, and of Lal Singh, charging him with scheming for the destruction of Ranjit Singh`s dynasty.

Hira Singh tried to win their support by promising them enhanced pay and by distribution of cash awards, gold medals and bracelets. He assured them that he would be a loyal servant of the Khalsa and would be guided by their advice, but he could not rid himself of the influence of Pandit Jalla. The letters bring out how Pandit Jalla had alienated the Sikh chiefs by his insolent manner. Successive enhancements of the pay of the soldiery had considerably raised military expenditure and Pandit Jalla sought to replenish the fast dwindling exchequer by escheats, fines and extortions. This made him further unpopular. The reports also provide interesting sidelights on the social and economic conditions in the Punjab. Satiwas practised by certain sections of society. As for prices, wheat flour sold in Lahore in September 1844 at 14 seers a rupee, gram 20 seers, and ghee one and a half seer. B.J.H.