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Anglo Sikh Wars

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01290068

Death of the Wuzeer of Lahore
The Illustrated London News - 29/11/1845

It is significant to state that after the death of Maharaja Kharak Singh and Naunihal Singh in November, 1840, and the dispute for the throne between Sher Singh and Chand Kaur having been resolved, the relation of the army to the state, according to Cunningham had become wholly altered by the middle of 1841. "It was no longer the willing instrument of an arbitrary and genial government, but it looked upon itself and was regarded by others, as the representative body of the Sikh people, as the 'Khalsa' itself assembled by tribes for centuries to take its part in public affairs. The efficiency of the army as a disciplined force was not much impaired, for a higher feeling possessed the men, and increased alacrity and resolution supplied the place of exact training. They were sensible of the advantages of systematic union, and they were proud of their armed array as the visible body of Gobind's commonwealth. As a general rule, the troops were obedient to their appointed officers, so far as concerned their ordinary military duties, but the position of a regiment, of a brigade, of a division, or of the whole army, relatively to the executive government of the country, was determined by a committee called 'Regimental Panchayat' composed of men selected from each battalion, or each company, in consideration of their general character as faithful Sikh soldiers, or from their particular influence in their native villages".[1]
An example of how these 'Regimental Panchayats' acted when things went wrong may be quoted with advantage. During the period Hira Singh (son of Dhian Singh Dogra) was the minister at Lahore (September 1843-December 1844) with Missar Jalla as his Chief advisor, great harassment was caused to princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh (sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) besides many other Darbar dignitaries opposed to the Dogra hegemony. This aroused the Khalsa against the Dogras. 'Army Panchayats' held meeting on 21st-23rd March, 1844, when Hira Singh's administration was subjected to a searching examination. They decided, therefore, that unless Hira Singh conceded certain demands he must be forced to resign. Four representatives of these Panchayats appeared before him in the open darbar and claimed they had come on behalf of the Sarbat Khalsa and conveyed to him the 'Hukam'. It said that he must release Jawahar Singh (brother of Maharani Jindan) remove the guard placed on the house of Missar Beli Ram, set free his relations and dependents, raise the seige of Sialkot and Kuryanwala, both garrisons of princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh and give an undertaking that the princes will not be ill-treated in future. They also demanded the surrender of Missar Jalla, Sheikh Imam-ud-Din and Lal Singh. "If he hesitated or refused," the delegates added, "The order was that Hira Singh himself be seized".[2] Hira Singh judging from the language and temper of the message and the firm manner in which it was conveyed in the open Darbar, readily promised compliance. But using his superb cunning and tact, accompanied of course with the gold at his disposal, Hira Singh manoeuvered to get a breather which postponed his doom for a while.
Again, when Maharani Jindan collected a number of articles of gold and silver to give in charity on the first day of the new month (Shangrat) 12 December, 1844, as was the custom, Missar Jalla questioned her right for such charitable actions. He is said to have even used abusive language for her. The Maharani thus extremely troubled at heart, appealed to the Khalsa for protection. Besides this, Hira Singh and Missar Jalla's actions had offended the Sikh psyche beyond toleration in more than one way, such as the brutal massacre of the highly venerated Sikh Saint Bhai Bir Singh and his devoted associates in thousands in May 1844, when the Saint was reciting the holy scripture, which brought matters to a speedy climax. Accordingly, some of the Khalsa regiments moved out of the cantonment to open space near the fort. Once more they demanded the surrender of Jalla. This was refused. Instead, according to Sohan Lal Suri, the court chronicler, "In the early hours of 21 December, 1844, Hira Singh and party loaded with cash and jewellery on elephants stealthily left their residence for Jammu. But hardly had they passed the Taxali Gate, when they were noticed by a company of Sikh soldiers". The news was flashed to the military lines and a body of 6000 troopers led by Sham Singh Attari went in persuit. They overtook the fugitives. Hira Singh and his companions put up a fight but the odds against them were heavy. Among the one thousand slain were Hira Singh, Jalla, Mian Sohan Singh son of Gulab Singh Dogra, Mian Labh Singh and many others.[3]
According to Cunningham, "The regimental panchayats sincerely aimed at maintaining discipline among the soldiers and protecting national interests is further provided by the fact that as soon as the decision to mobilize against the British was made, they voluntarily stopped functioning by an agreement with the executive heads of the State, realising, the necessity of unity of counsel in the affairs of war."


1.Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955. pp. 76-77
2.Sita Ram Kohli, Sunset of the Sikh Empire, Ed. Khushwant Singh, Orient Longmans Ltd., New Delhi, 1967, p. 74.
3.Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, London,1966. p. 35

 

 

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