HISTORY
This section considers Important events within Anglo-Sikh history such as early European accounts of Sikhs, the role ofSikhs in the armed forces and pre British Raj accounts.


 
 


John Sullivan's letter of July, 1850.

The Koh-I-Noor, To Whom Does It Belong?


It is freely admitted, that if the Governor-General had, as he asserted that he had, maintained the Government of Lahore in a "Council of Regency," he might have justly exacted reparation from the infant Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, for any injuries that the British interests might have sustained under such a Government, but we have seen it admitted by his own agents, that in less than six months after the establishment of that Council, the whole power of the state, even to the most minute details, had passed into the hands of the Resident and his assistants, and the Council was reduced to a state of inanition.

Pretty certain it is, that if the Government had been left in the hands of that Council, there would have been no rebellion; no disbandment of troops; no flooding of the land with judges; no, reform of the revenue by ignorant and inexperienced assistants; no new system of jurisprudence to be carried out by those who had, "most of them, themselves to learn, ere they became teachers" (Blue Book, p.128); no such treatment of Moolraj as compelled that Chief to resign a lucrative and honourable post, and though rich, childless, and infirm, to become the leader in a hopeless rebellion; no punishment of Chutter Singh for defending himself against the menaces of Captain Abbot; no overriding of the native officers by their Europeans colleagues; none of those doings, in short, which forced a conviction upon the minds of the Sikh aristocracy that it was intended to reduce them to the level of the same class in the British territories.

Could the Governor-General with justice exact reparation from Dhuleep Singh for the natural consequences of those proceedings? Was he, who was by treaty Regent of Dhuleep Singh's kingdom, with "unlimited powers," and who professed to "feel the interest of a father in,the education and guardianship of the young prince" (Blue Book p.53), warranted in confiscating the territory and property of his ward and ally because a portion of his army, and it may be portion of his subjects, had been goaded into rebellion against a state; of things which had been produced by the acts of his Guardian's own agents?

I am aware of the opinion of the highest authorities, that the Governor-General had no alternative but to confiscate the Punjab. Mr. Elphinstone, I believe, holds such an opinion. Sir Henry Russel, I know, has expressed it, but perhaps without advertence to the fact that, from December, 1846, the Governor-General had ruled the state of Lahore, with "unlimited powers," with greater powers, therefore,' than he rules in the British dominions, for in them his power is restricted. There was no one thing, therefore, that he can do, now that the Punjab has become a British possession, that he could not have done if he had preserved it to Dhuleep Singh. It is true that those powers were limited by treaty to the term of the Rajah's minority; but if he was at liberty to confiscate the territory, he was surely at liberty to have prolonged those powers indefinitely.

The Allies would have been perfectly warranted in visiting the revolt of the French army in 1815 upon Louis XVIII, because Louis was the responsible sovereign of France. But if Louis had been a minor, and if the Allies had undertaken to govern France for him, and had made themselves guardians of his person and property, would they in such case have been warranted in confiscating his territory to their own use, because the army had revolted against a state of things which they had themselves brought about?

Moreover, the Governor-General, upon Moolraj's outbreak, had declared that "the extent of the reparation to be exacted from the, State of Lahore should depend upon the manner in which that state had fulfilled its engagements to the British Government." And at an advanced state of the revolt, we had proclaimed that "those who had remained faithful in their obedience to the Government of Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, should not suffer with the guilty."
How were these promises kept? The answer is to be found in the terms granted at the conclusion of the revolt by the Governor-General to the Maharajah.

1. "His Highness shall resign for himself and his heirs all rights, title, and claim, to the sovereignty of the Punjab, or to any sovereign power whatever.
2. "All the property of the state, of whatever description, shall be confiscated to the Honourable East India Company, in part payment of the debt due by the state of Lahore to the British Government, and of the expenses of the war.
3. "The gem called the Koh-i-noor, which was taken from Shah Soojah-ol-mulk by Maharajah Runjeet Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England."

The revolt, as we have seen in the document just before quoted, was up to the last moment, proclaimed by the Governor-General to have been a revolt against the Government of Dhuleep Singh; Dhuleep Singh, therefore, was not amongst the guilty. The "Government of Lahore" had, to the best of its ability, fulfilled all its engagements.

It is very true, we find it asserted by the Governor-General, that the leaders of the rebels had been "the Sirdars of the state, the signers of the Treaties, the members of the Council of Regency itself." But we have only to consult the lists of Sirdars who had, and who had not, joined the rebels, for proof that this statement was inaccurate-that a large majority of the so-called Council, viz., Sirdar Tej Singh, Dewan Deena Nath, Fakeer Noorooddeen, Bhaee Nidham Singh, Sirdar Uttur Singh Kalewalla, Sirdar Shumsher Singh Sindhanwalla, had remained true to their allegiance.

But though the state of Lahore had remained faithful to its engagements with the British Government, the Government had violated its own engagements with the Lahore state. Firstly, in having failed to maintain that Government in a Council of Regency; secondly in having refused to make that simple demonstration of British troops which have crushed Moolraj's rebellion in the bud; and thirdly, by the confiscation of the territory and property of its ward, in violation of that pledge of "prepetual peace and friendship between the British Government and- the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, his heirs and successors," which it had given by the treaty of March, 1846.

And what have we gained by the confiscation of the territory of an infant prince, of whom we had made ourselves the guardians? We had full military possession of the territory, as we have now. The civil administration was entirely in our hands as it is now, and Dhuleep Singh was bound to pay us a tribute of 22 lacs of rupees a year.

What have we gained by the confiscation? Is our hold of the Punjab stronger, now that it is become a. British province in name, than it was when it was so in reality, though not in name? Have we increased the attachment of the people by the extinction of the Khalsa dynasty? They valued that dynasty as the fountain of honour, of employment, and of emolument. So long as Dhuleep Singh's government existed, that fountain was in play; by the extinction of that government, we have dried it up. Thousands of the lower classes have lost their bread by it, hundreds of the higher their places, and the prospects of all classes have been blasted; for from henceforth no native of the Punjab can aspire to hold any office of distinction and emolument in his own country.
By an account which has been recently published, it appears that upon the most favourable estimate that can be formed, the excess of revenue in the Punjab over expenditure will not exceed 20 lacs of rupees, which is some lacs less than Dluleep Singh had engaged to pay us as tribute.
Who then, has gained by it? The answer is to be found in the following statement :
"At this time, there are fifty-three district (European) officers, of the grade of Deputy and Assistant Commissionerships (in the Punjab), and when the number is complete it will amount to fifty eight. In November, 1845, the Government established by the genius of Runjeet Singh was in full operation; the whole administration was in the hands of the native chiefs, whom he had trained up. In 1849, not a vestige of this economy was visible, the successor of Runjeet was a pensioner of the British Government, his mother a fugitive in Nepaul; the great men of his court, partly pensioned and partly prisoners; a board of British officers issued their orders to the most remote districts in the kingdom; the whole country had been parcelled out into commissionerships and districts." (Friend of India, 18 April, 1850).

Here, then, we have ample proof of the truth of what I ventured to assert in a former communication, that the extinction of a native state is the creation of a field of employment and emolument for the European, at the expense of the native. The sixty or seventy gentlemen who have stepped in the places of the native chiefs, have unquestionably benefitted by the confiscation of the Punjab. And is there not, I may venture to ask, some danger that, where the tempation to acquire territory is so strong, it may be sometimes yielded to at the expense of justice? How easy for the powerful British Government to force subjects who, like Moolraj and Chuttur Singh, had the deepest interest in maintaining the throne of their Sovereign, into rebellion, and then to punish the sovereign for the offence by seizing upon his territory!

The confiscation of the Punjab is a thing done, and if I could make it transparent as the sun, that the act was a wanton violation of most solemn duties which we had imposed upon ourselves, it would not be undone, still it may be useful for purposes of history and of morality to trace the steps by which the acquisition was made.

It is very easy to talk of the "wanton aggressions of the Sikhs," of their "inveterate hostility," and of the formidable rebellion, which cost us thousands of lives and millions of money to put down. But what made the Sikhs inveterately hostile? They were our staunch friends for nearly 40 years. In our adversity, when they might have struck a deadly blow at us, they helped us; although history now tells us, that it had just before been twice proposed by our diplomatists to dismember their kingdom, by bestowing Peshawur, first on Shah Shoojah, and afterwards on Dost Mohammed Khan; that we had in 1843 proposed "to march upon their capital, and to disperse their army;" that, in 1844 and 1845, when they were in a state of prostration from internal dissensions, we had increased our force on their frontier from 8000 to 38,000 men, and had actually built and transported a bridge of boats for crossing the Sutlege; that "the various garrisons of the north-west provinces were being gradually reinforced, while some of them were being abundantly supplied with munitions of war, as well as of troops." That an open collision with the Sikhs had only been avoided by the forbearance of the commandant of a party of Sikh horse, who had been driven across the river by our agent, when in pursuit of a legitimate object. (Cunningham's History of Sikhs, p. 293.)

Is it to be wondered at, after these demonstrations-none of which were communicated to their Government-and with the precedent of Scinde before their eyes-that they should have considered "that the fixed policy of the English Government was territorial aggrandizement, and that the immediate object of their ambition was the- conquest of Lahore?" and can we, with these facts before us, pretend to call the invasion of our territory by the. Sikhs in 1846, a "wanton aggression-a perfidious outbreak?" (Blue Book, p. 380). If you shake your fist in a man's face, is he a wanton aggressor if be attempts to knock you down?

And what was our conduct after the "conquest of Lahore?" We took into our bosom confidence men who bad betrayed their country; men who, with one exception, were without character in their country-Tej Singh the traitor, and Chuttur Singh, a man without influence, property, or distinction, whom the army and the people considered as an apostate, and a creature of the British Government (Cunningham, p. 233); men who "knew that they could not maintain themselves against the reduced army, when the English left the country," who "clung therefore to their foreign support, and gladly assented to an arrangement which left the English in immediate possession of the Punjab."

Can we wonder that these men were pliant tools in the hands of the Resident, doing only as "they were bid," or that the gradual encroachments which were made under their name upon the little that was left of their national independence, should have disaffected the Sikhs, and have led them into that struggle which ended in their ruin, and in the elevation of British officers to every place of honour and emolument in their country?

I conclude this long story with an answer to the question on the title-page, "To whom does the Koh-i-noor belong?" We have seen that the Governor-General took the territory of Lahore, and all the property of every description that belonged to the state, in "part payment of the debt due by the state of Lahore to the British Government, and of the expenses of the war." The territory was worth from one and a half to two millions a year. The expenses of the war and the debt together did not, it is presumed, much exceed that sum: but supposing it to have exceeded the annual revenue of the territory twice or thrice, the Governor-General had, by seizing upon the territory, and, upon all the property of the state of "every description," obtained ample indemnity for the past, and security for the future.

The "Koh-i-Noor," therefore, in the opinion of the Governor-General, did not form part of the property of the state. He might have made it such if he had pleased but-he failed to do so. He had no more right, therefore, I -humbly venture to say, to compel his ward, the Maharajah of Lahore, to surrender the Koh-i-Noor to the Queen of England.

John Sullivan, July 1850


Source:Rare Documents on Sikhs and their Rule in the Punjab - H.S. Bhatia




 
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