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Internal Politics of the Misals

Ahmad Shah Durrani was the bitterest enemy of the Sikhs and paradoxically their greatest benefactor. His invasions helped destroy the administration of the Mughals in the Punjab. In 1761, he inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Marathas at Panipat and put an end to their designs upon the north-western India. The power vacuum, thus created in the Punjab, was adequately filled by the Sikhs. And in sheer helplessness, after 1768, the Durrani had to relinquish his plan of subduing the Punjab. The Sikhs, then, became the rulers of the major parts of the Punjab and established their unchallenged authority.1 The territory, in the possession of the Sikhs, lay, for the most part, in the country between the Jamuna and the Indus. Within these wide limits the twelve Sardars held their principalities, each independent of the other.

Intermingling of Boundaries

The boundaries of these principalities were so inconsistent and shifting that any attempt to define them with even a show of precision is bound to fail. The territories of the Ramgarhias and the Kanaihyas intermingled both in the upper Bari Doab and the upper Jalandhar Doab. Only the approximate limits of a Sardar’s jurisdiction and his principal seat of authority could be indicated. Therefore, a dispute, over the collection of revenue and division of certain areas, was natural.

The city of Amritsar was open to all. The Sardars of the Misals had their bungahs (residential quarters) and katras (bazars) there. They generally assembled there on festivals and other important occasions and stayed in their bungahs. Such assemblages, sometimes, provided irritants because of the joint boundaries of their residences and the katras. The Sardars managed their portions of the town. All taxes and octroi charges collected in the city of Amritsar were made over to the management of the Golden Temple. The undefined boundaries of their possessions or portions of the town, very often, soured their mutual relations. According to Ahmad Shah Batalia the system worked well in the beginning, but, later, mutual rivalries and disputes cropped up.2

Similarly, Lahore was under the rule of a triumvirate. Two of them were Bhangis and one was a Kanaihya. Each of them administered his area in his own way. Their boundaries were not clearly demarcated. It, sometimes, led to the harassment and oppression of the people and disputes between the rulers.

With the Sardars’ increasing anxiety for power and possession, the cohesion of the brotherhood of the Khalsa and their mutual cooperation became weak and, at times, involved them in internal scrambles. The strong men in the Misals were ambitious to create new chiefships. This created a basis for rivalries between the Sardars.

Thus, various reasons of minor consequence led, sometimes, to the ruffling of good neighbourly relations. These mutual misunderstandings, rivalries and minor clashes have been magnified by some of the present day scholars, basing their observations on the accounts of some of the inadequately informed contemporary or semi-contemporary travelers.

Of course, the Sardars were ambitious and naturally eager to extend their borders and make their states of greater consequence, but talking of utter disunity, internal commotion and strife, deep-rooted spirit of revenge and their ever-readiness to fly on one another’s necks,3 does not appear to be correct judgement of the situation. If the split between them had been very wide and unbridgeable they could never have been able to face the Durranis, the Marathas, the Mughals and the adventurers like Perron and George Thomas who could make no headway into their territories or create a permanent impress on the land of the Sikhs.

Disputes over the Division of Gains

When two or more Sardars united together for a common action against some power there were, at time, differences over the sharing of trophies of their victory. For example, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Jai Singh Kanaihya, who were close friends as members of the Dal Khalsa and who remained on friendly terms while campaigning against their opponents, had some differences during the conquest of Kasur over the division of their gains. It is said that they got huge amount of booty from Kasur. Mali Singh, brother of Jassa Singh, was alleged to have concealed a valuable part of the booty against Jassa Singh’s wishes. When this fact was discovered later the friendship between the Ramgarhia and Kanaihya chiefs came to an end. Similarly, after operation in Chandausi (U.P.), Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Baghel Singh could not agree on the division of the fruits of their combined action and their parting of company resulted in the fizzling out of their plan of an attack on Rohelkhad.

Here is another example. As Brij Raj Deo of Jammu had refused to pay the stipulated tribute to Hakikat Singh Kanaihya, the latter made a pact with Mahan Singh Sukarchakia to attack on Jammu jointly but Mahan Singh did it alone and brought back heavy booty from Jammu in 1784. Jai Singh Kanaihya demanded from Mahan Singh a huge amount from the booty which he had brought from Jammu otherwise he would not be allowed to go out of Amritsar where they were holding a meeting. There was a skirmish and then both sides withdrew.4

Defections and Regroupings

Because of the Sardar’s strong spirit of self-aggrandisement and a sense of possession, the flame of brothel hood of the Khalsa and their mutual cooperation had bedimmed and the desire of every chief to increase his territories, to build strong forts and add to the number of his troops involved them in internal scrambles. The more daring men in the Misals were ambitious to become the chiefs of either the existing Misals or create new ones. Therefore, defections of petty chiefs from one Sardar to another were there, though not very often, probably only when the defector was sure of his military strength to challenge his former Sardar or was given protection by another Sardar. This created a basis for future rivalries between the two Sardars. Such defections were generally disliked.

Sometimes, the Sardars of the Misals arrayed themselves on opposite sides for the cause of the others as we see in the dispute at Jammu in 1770. Ranjit Deo, the ruler of Jammu, was not in favour of his heir-apparent, Brij Raj Deo, who was a man of dissolute character. Ranjit Deo wanted his younger son, Dalel Singh, to succeed him. Brij Raj Deo sought the help of Charhat Singh Sukarchakia and Jai Singh Kanaihya. Ranjit Deo invited Jhanda Singh Bhangi to help him.5 To further their individual interests the Sikh Sardars took opposite sides. Charhat Singb was killed by the bursting of his own gun.6

Jai Singh Kanaihya, finding that Charhat Singh’s son, Mahan Singh, was too young and the allies were no match for the Bhangis, got Jhanda Singh Bhangi murdered by a hired Rangretta Sikh.7 Jhanda Singh’s successor, Ganda Singh, withdrew from Jammu.

In 1774, we find Ganda Singh, Gujjar Singh and Lehna Singh Bhangis, Ranjit Deo of Jammu and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia advancing against the united forces of the Sukarchakias, Kanaihya’s and Ahluwalias, over the Bhangi claim of the possession of Pathankot. The fighting between the contending parties took place at Dinanagar. Ganda Singh Bhangi suddenly died from illness and his successor also died in one of the engagements and the next successor of the Bhangis, being a young boy, was not in a position to continue fighting, so he retired to Amritsar.8

In 1775, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia fought against each other at Zahura on the Beas. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia was wounded and he withdrew from Zahura which was later given to Baghel Singh Karorsinghia.

In 1776, one day Jassa Singh Ahluwalia went out ahunting towards Nangal village. Mali Singh, brother of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, was coming with his contingent from the opposite side. He attacked the Ahluwalia Sardar who got wounded and he fell unconscious. He was taken to Sri Hargobindpur by Mali Singh’s men. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia felt very unhappy over this incident and he expressed his regrets to the Ahluwalia chief. After a couple of days, the Ahluwalia Sardar was sent to Fatehabad, under necessary escort.9 Jai Singh Kanaihya, Gujjar Singh Bhangi and some others incited him to retaliate upon the Ramgarhias. Jassa Singh said, “I will now armour myself to turn out the Ramgarhias from the country.”

As referred to earlier, since the possessions of the Kanaihyas and Ramgarhias were not clearly demarcated in the Upper Bari Doab and the Upper Jalandhar Doab, there was a quarrel between them over the division of revenue of certain areas. Jai Singh Kanaihya and the Ahluwalias attacked Sri Hargobindpur. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia was expelled from that place. Batala was besieged and taken possession of by Jai Singh’s son, Gurbakhsh Singh. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia’s brother, Tara Singh, who was in occupation of Kalanaur, was also turned out of that place. The Ramgarhias went away to Hisar and Hansi and stayed there for the next few years.10

Again in 1782, the Kanaihyas and the Bhangis clashed among themselves. After Ranjit Deo’s death in 1781, his son, Brij Raj Deo, became the next ruler. He got his brother Dalel Singh and one of his sons, Bhagwant Singh, killed in 1782. Dalel Singh’s second son, Jit Singh, was imprisoned. On account of his unworthy deeds, Brij Raj Deo became unpopular among his people. Brij Raj Deo wanted to recover a part of the Jammu state that had been annexed by the Bhangis. He got help from Haqiqat Singh Kanaihya. Bhangis suffered a defeat and Brij Raj Deo promised to give an annual tribute of Rs. 30,000, to Haqiqat Singh Kanaihya.”11 The mutual rivalries and internecine warfare of the Sikhs were weakening them and ultimately leading them towards all- embracing deterioration.

The groupings and regroupings of the Sikh Sardars took place very often. The Kanaihyas and Bhangis joined hands and conquered a part of the Jammu territory. The Jammu ruler, Brij Raj, approached the Sukarchakia chief, Mahan Singh, for help. The Bhangis and the Kanaihyas, under the leadership of Jai Singh and Haqiqat Singh Kanaihyas and Gujjar Singh Bhangi, laid siege to the fortress of Dinapur. They also invited Jassa Singh Ahluwalia to help them against Brij Raj Deo and Mahan Singh, telling him, “We, in baste, have, besieged Dinapur and the Jammu ruler, Brij Raj, has a large army. Sardar Mahan Singh has come to his help. If this place is conquered by your aid, we can maintain our prestige. You have been kind to us before.”12

The Jammu chief and Mahan Singh also made a request to the Ahluwalia Sardar for help. “You are the chief leader of the Panth, and every one expects help from you. We are fighting with Kanaihyas and Bhangis. Let us decide the matter between ourselves and give no help to them.”13

The Ahluwalia Sardar decided to help the Kanaihyas and Bhangis. He sent Bhag Singh straight to Dinapur while he himself advanced via Dera Baba Nanak where he was joined by Gurbakhsh Singh, son of Jai Singh Kanaihya. Despite efforts to avoid fighting the clashes took place between the opposing forces. Ultimately, both the parties made peace. The fort was retained by the Raja of Jammu and the neighbouring territory was given to Haqiqat Singh Kanaihya. The battle of Dinapur was fought in 1782.

Within about six months of the occupation of a portion of Jammu territory Haqiqat Singh made a demand of the promised tribute from Brij Raj Deo who wanted to make the payment at the end of the year. He depended on the support of Mahan Singh but the latter went over to the side of Haqiqat Singh. Mahan Singh attacked the city of Jammu and he is said to have acquired rich booty from there. On his return from Jammu Jai Singh Kanaihya asked him to share the booty with Haqiqat Singh who was not able to reach Jammu in time. Mahan Singh wanted to retain the entire booty and at the same time wanted to please Jai Singh. Mahan Singh asked for forgiveness but he was insulted by Jai Singh and attacked by his contingent.14 Mahan Singh decided to take revenge from Jai Singh.

Mahan Singh won over to his side Sansar Chand Katoch, ruler of Kangra, and also invited Jassa Singh Ramgarhia from his exile on the promise of help for recovering his territories from the Kanaihyas. The allies marched upon Batala, the headquarters of Jai Singh Kanaihya. The opposing armies clashed at Achal near Batala. In the course of fighting Gurbakhsh Singh, son of Jai Singh, was shot dead.15 This tragedy broke the back of Jai Singh. He exposed himself to the enemy’s attack but they withdrew quietly and did not dare to bother further the grief-stricken Kanaihya Sardar.

Jassa Singh Ramgarhia recovered his territories and set up his headquarters at Batala. Jai Singh felt angry over the loss of Batala. He managed to get the support of Mahan Singh, Sansar Chand and Rajas of Chamba and Nurpur and attacked Batala. But Jassa Singh entrenched himself so strongly in Balala that he could not be turned out and the allies had to lift the siege.

Only sometime back, Mahan Singh, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Sansar Chand Katoch had made an alliance and fought against the Kanaihyas. Now, Mahan Singh, Sansar Chand and Jai Singh Kanaihya jointly fought against Jassa Singh Ramgarhia. These groupings and regroupings were made in view of the petty personal interests of the Sardars, who changed sides as often as they changed their shirts. From the political accounts of the various Misals we find the Ahluwalias fighting against Ramgarhias, Ramgarhias against Kanaihyas, Kanaihyas against Sukarchakias, Sukarchakias against Bhangis, Bhangis against Kanaihyas, Sukarchakias against Ramgarhias, Sukarchakias against Dallewalias, Sukarchakias against Nakkais, Karorsinghias against Phulkians, etc. The alliances and counter-alliances of the Sardars of the Misals considerably weakened the Misals and created bad blood for one another.

Matrimonial Alliances

The marriages of the members of the ruling families amongst themselves were mostly political alliances.  These matrimonial ties resulted in new groupings and cementing relations between them. When need arose the Sardars came to the assistance of each other. A few marriages are listed below to give an idea as to how these matrimonial alliances affected the internal politics of the Misals, though at times, when relations got soured, the regard for kinship was set aside.

  1. Charhat Singh Sukarchakia married his sister to Dal Singh of Akalgarh.
  2. Mahan Singh Sukarchakia was married to Raj Kaur, daughter of Gajpat Singh, the ruler of Jind.
  3. Mahan Singh’s sister, Raj Kaur, was married to Sahib Singh, son of Gujjar Singh Bhangi.
  4. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was married to Sada Kaur’s daughter or Jai Singh Kanaihya’s grand- daughter, Mehtab Kaur.
  5. Ranjit Singh got married to Datar Kaur, daughter of Ram Singh or sister of Gian Singh Nakkai.
  6. Ranjit Singh married Ranis, Rattan Kaur and Daya Kaur, widows of Sahib Singh of Gujrat, through the ceremony of chadar pauna.
  7. Raja Amar Singh of Patiala married his daughter.     Sahib Kaur, to Jaimal Singh, son of Haqiqat Singh Kanaihya.
  8. Prince Kharak Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was married to Chand Kaur, daughter of Jaimal Singh Kanaihya.
  9. Fateh Singh, son of Jai Singh Kanaihya, was married to the daughter of Khushal Singh, successor of Nawab Kapur Singh Faizullapuria.
  10. Fateh Singh Kanaihya married his daughter to Gulab Singh Bhangi.
  11. Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala was married to Rattan Kaur, daughter of Ganda Singh Bhangi.
  12. Maasa Singh Bhangi’s daughter was married to Tara Singh Kanaihya (brother of Hakikat Singh Kanaihya).
  13. Jai Singh Kanaihya married his sister to Sardar Bagh Singh Hallowalia.
  14. Lehna Singh Bhangi married Sudh Singh (brother of Budh Singh successor of Khushal Singh) Faizullapuria’s daughter.
  15. Jai Singh Nishanwalia made an alliance with Nabha by marrying his daughter, Daya Kaur, with Raja Jaswant Singh of Nabha.
  16. Karam Singh Nirmala of Shahabad’s son, Kharak Singh, was married to Prem Kaur, daughter of Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala.
  17. Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala married his daughter, Karam Kaur, to Hari Singb, son of Jodh Singh Karorsinghia.
  18. Kanwar Himmat Singh of Patiala house married his daughter, Chand Kaur, with Tara Singh Ghaiba’s son and successor, Dasondha Singh.

These marriages strengthened the positions of the concerned families and united them for the purpose of combined action. In many cases their previous rivalries and hostilities also cease with these matrimonial bonds.

Besides matrimonial alignments exchange of turbans was also in practice to express solidarity with each other. For example, Charhat Singh Sukarchakia exchanged turban with Sobha Singh Kanaihya.16 Mahan Singh exchanged turban with Brij Raj Deo, ruler of Jammu, in 1781, as a token of friendship.17 Maharaja Ranjit Singh exchanged turbans with Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, at Tarn Taran in 1802,18 and with Raja Sahib Singh, at Patiala, in November 1808.19 Bhag Singh Ahluwalia and Raja Sansar Chand Katoch and their sons, Fateh Singh and Anrodh Chand, exchanged turbans in the fort of Kangra.20

Even women sometimes exchanged their clothes as an expression of deep friendship. Sada Kaur Kanaihya exchanged her clothes with Samru Begum when they met at Hardwar.21

Family Disputes

After Sardar Ala Singh’s death Amar Singh was installed to the gaddi, at Patiala. But Amar Singh’s elder brother, Himmat Singh, revolted against the new ruler and captured the fort of Bhawanigarh. Raja Amar Singh agreed to part with half of his territory. Himmat Singh declined the offer. Through the intercession of some responsible persons Himmat Singh submitted after receiving the town of Bhawanigarh and some villages in jagir in 1767.22

In 1807, Rani Aus Kaur, wife of Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala, picked up a dispute with her husband on the issue of the nomination of the Raja’s successor. She wanted that her son, Karam Singh, be named as such. She also demanded a big jagir for her son. Some of the courtiers supported the cause of the Rani. Sahib Singh invited Maharaja Ranjit Singh to administer warning to his opponents and to expel the Rani and her son from Patiala.23 The matter was settled later.

Maharaja Karam Singh of Patiala was confronted by his half-brother, Kanwar Ajit Singh, who adopted the title of ‘Maharaja.’ He wanted the territory to be divided and a great portion of the revenue alienated for his benefit. Ultimately, he was appeased by the grant of a big jagir.24

Jassa Singh Ahluwalia had two daughters and no male issue. After his death both of his sons-in-law claimed inheritance to his territory and property. Some of the leaders of the Sikhs desired his elder son-in-law to succeed him but Jai Singh Kanaihya managed to get Jassa Singh’s nephew, Bhag Singh, installed on the gaddi.25 Bhag Singh had to face a constant challenge from the sons-in-law of his predecessor. Mehar Singh, son-in-law of Jassa Singh, consolidated his power during the period of Bhag Singh and became independent of the Ahluwalia chief. He was deprived of his estate and property by Bhag Singh’s successor, Fateh Singh.26

After Fateh Singh Ahluwalia’s death his elder son, Nihal Singh, succeeded him. Nihal Singh’s younger brother, Amar Singh, hatched a conspiracy to kill his elder brother. Nihal Singh escaped murderous attack on him with a few wounds while his attendant who threw himself before his master was cut to pieces. On Ranjit Singh’s intercession Amar Singh was given an annual maintenance allowance of Rs. 30,000. Amar Singh always remained insincere to his elder brother and Nihal Singh remained in fear of being dispossessed of his principality.

Gurbakhsh Singh, a Bhangi Misaldar, who had no male issue, died in 1763, and dissensions arose between Lehna Singh, his adopted son, and Gujjar Singh, the son of Gurbakhsh Singh’s brother,27 each claiming the territory and other property.28 They were not prepared to listen to any one. There was a fight between the followers of the two which resulted in human loss on both sides. At last the estate was divided by Lehna Singh and Gujjar Singh amongst themselves.29

Gujjar Singh Bhangi divided his territories between his two elder sons, Sukha Singh and Sahib Singh and the youngest son, Fateh Singh, was left out. Sukha Singh and Sahib Singh fought amongst themselves and the younger (Sahib Singh), at the instigation of Mahan Singh Sukarchakia, attacked and killed his elder brother. Gujjar Singh was terribly enraged over his eldest son’s murder and decided to dispossess Sahib Singh of all his possessions.30 But later their relations improved.

After the death of Jodh Singh Ramgarhia, the members of his family began to quarrel for the division of the Misal’s possessions. Diwan Singh (son of Tara Singh) cousin brother of Jodh Singh, Vir Singh (younger brother of Jodh Singh) and a widow of Jodh Singh, were all claimants to the estate. Maharaja Ranjit Singh called the claimants to him at Nadaun. They misbehaved towards one another so rudely that Ranjit Singh was obliged to keep them in detention.31 They were later released. He seized all the possessions of the Ramgarhias and gave them jagirs for their subsistence.

Budh Singh Faizullapuria had seven sons and the Misal’s territory was divided amongst the seven brothers and thus broken into small shreds.32

Jai Singh Kanaihya’s two surviving sons, Nidhan Singh and Bhag Singh, were unfit to rule and manage the state affairs Therefore, before his death, Jai Singh divided his possessions among his wife. Raj Kaur (mother of Nidhan Singh and Bhag Singh) and his eldest son Gurbakhsh Singh’s widow, Rani Sada Kaur,33 who was of a domineering disposition. Finding the Kanaihya Misal reduced to a weak position Ranjit Singh annexed the territories of Nidhan Singh and Bhag Singh and then, that of Sada Kaur in 1821.

As referred to above, Mahan Singh Sukarchakia’s brother-in-law, Sahib Singh of Gujrat, refused to pay any tribute to him. Disregarding the close relationship with Sahib Singh, Mahan Singh besieged the fort of Sodhra in which the former was taking asylum. Mahan Singh’s sister. Raj Kaur, tried to dissuade her brother from fighting against her husband, Sahib Singh, but to no effect. The maxim that ‘kingship knows no kinship’ aptly applied to him. Because of exhaustion and an attack of high fever Mahan Singh retired to Gujranwala where he died a few days later.34

As noticed from the above discussion the family feuds exercised adverse effects upon the development and stability of the Misals or the possessions of the Sikh chiefs.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Opportunities

From the above events and alliances we find that the Sikh Sardars had become considerably selfish. Generally, they did not follow any definite policy towards one another. They took a side because they wanted to oppose the other. Sometimes even in the face of a common enemy they could not sink their differences and forge a united front.

During the last quarter of the eighteenth century we notice that the Punjab was a congeries of small states and there was no individual power in the province which could pose any danger to the adventures of a strong man. As early as 1783, George Forster had predicted that, “we may see some ambitious chief, led on by his genius and success, absorbing the power of his associates, display from the ruins of their commonwealth, the standard of monarchy.”35 This prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Ranjit Singh who was only three years old at that time.

The mutual dissensions of the Misals had weakened them considerably. When earlier, a great aggressor like Ahmad Shah Abdali made efforts, again and again, to crush the power of the Sikhs, he failed to have the desired results. The Sikhs fought against him unitedly and repulsed him from the Punjab as a disappointed man. N. K. Sinha illustrates this point with the help of science:

“If we place an iron bar in a coil and electrize the coil, the iron bar becomes magnetic. But when the electricity is gone, the magnetism also goes with it. The impulse given by Guru Gobind Singh and the presence of the foreign danger had given the Sikhs a much-needed electric current and the political sense of brotherhood had become magnetic. When that was gone, its magnetism disappeared and the Sikhs fell to wranglings among themselves.”36

When the Sardars became rulers of their respective Misals and had held their territories for more than three and a half decades we find them to have become weak and incapable of checking the entry into the Punjab of a far weaker invader as Zaman Shah, the grandson of Ahmad Shah, was. This was all due to their incapacity to forge unity against even a common foe. Rather, they took satisfaction in attending on the invader.

Zaman Shah marched to the Punjab in the winter of 1798, and reached Lahore on 27th November, 1798. In view of a perilous national situation, on the suggestion of Baba Sahib Singh Bedi, the meeting of the Sarbat Khalsa was called at Amritsar where a large number of Sikhs assembled.37 Sahib Singh of Patiala ‘declined the invitation to be present at the conference,’38 probably because of the peculiar geographical and political situation of his state, being surrounded by the Muslim rulers.

According to Ganesh Das, the Shah, through his vakil, approached the Sikh Sardars for cooperation and friendship.39 The first reaction of the Sikhs was a unanimous ‘no’ to the agents of the Shah. Then, Zaman Shah instructed his agent, Wafadar Khan, and others to try to sow discord among the Sikhs. The agents approached the Sardars who went to Lahore where they were received with flattering attention by Zaman Shah.40 According to Baron Hugel, “many of the Sikh Sardars did outwardly submit to the Shah, either for the promotion of their own interests or in order to be ready for any movement of peril.”41 Whether it was a pretended submission we cannot deny the fact that the Sikhs had climbed down from the position which they had taken against Ahmad Shah Abdali.

The attending of the Shah’s Durbar by the Sikh Sardars or their representatives and offering of nazaranas were tantamount to accepting the authority of the foreign invader. We may, at best, take it as a camouflage to hide their hostile intentions against a powerful enemy. It goes without saying that even at this stage the Sikhs, divided as they were, found it difficult to drive out a foreign invader.

But the Sukarchakia chief, Ranjit Singh, visualising the situation in the Punjab and feeling the urge of necessity, set to work to bring the various independent chiefs under one flag and create a strong and consolidated Sikh kingdom in the Punjab. He felt that, because of their mutual rivalries and continued wranglings, the Sikhs would cease to be a dreaded power. The individual Sardars of the Misals must make way before the united power of the Khalsa, and be satisfied to occupy a subordinate position in the new dispensation of things, in the larger interest of the Panth. Though Ranjit Singh’s was an ambitious plan but not altogether beyond the bounds of possibility. The movement had already undergone substantial changes during the course of its past history. Now this change from chiefship, though independent and sovereign, to monarchy, was just the natural and even irresistible evolution. At each turn from one phase to another, in their past history, it was rather a gigantic effort on the part of one or more gifted leaders that had brought about the change. And now, Ranjit Singh was one such gifted leader who could give lead to the community.

Some historians doubt the wisdom of Ranjit Singh and even question the sincerity of his motives. We may examine here whether this policy of the Maharaja was centred round his personal ambition or based on far-sighted vision and constructive statesmanship.

At the time of Ranjit Singh’s accession to power Punjab was divided into a number of principalities and as has been discussed earlier some of the leaders were, unfortunately, not on good terms with one another. The Sikh principalities had already been weakened. The Afghans and the Marathas were threatening to establish their overlordship in the Punjab. The English had also started to take interest in this part of the country as their future sphere of influence. Besides, there were some Muslim and adjoining hill states under the Hindu Rajas, and several small and petty principalities that dotted the map of Punjab.

The principalities of the Punjab presented a picture similar to that of heptarchy in England immediately after Anglo-Saxons had established themselves in the country. At this stage, even among the Sikh Sardars, there was little inclination towards unified action.

The Bhangi Misal was divided into three groups with their separate headquarters at Lahore, Amritsar and Gujrat. As seen earlier, the Kanaihyas were pitted against the Ramgarhias and the latter were unfriendly to the Ahluwalias. There existed differences between the Sukarchakias and the Bhangis and between the latter and the Kanaihyas. Constant grouping and regrouping was going on between the Sardars and almost each one of them participated on this side or that and the balance of power was frequently shifting from one chief or group to another.

The Bhangis held the important cities of Lahore, Amritsar, Gujrat and Sialkot. But the Bhangi leaders were no match for Ranjit Singh. Gulab Singh Bhangi, the most important of them was said to have been too romantic to challenge seriously the rising chief of the Sukarchakia Misal, and the second important leader of that Misal, Sahib Singh, whose career bad hitherto been marked by energy and enterprise, had now become weak and indolent. The Ahluwalias were also not a source of any serious threat to Ranjit Singh. The chief leader of this Misal, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, had died in 1783. After the death of Bhag Singh, his son and successor, Sardar Fateh Singh, was anxious to form an offensive and defensive alliance with Ranjit Singh. The two Sardars exchanged turbans and swore perpetual friendship by the sacred Granth. Although the friendship was signed on the basis of equality, but in practice, the diplomatic genius, Ranjit Singh, made Fateh Singh play only a subservient part and used him rather as a stepping stone for the development of his power.

Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, a brave and courageous man, could be an effective hindrance in the way of Ranjit Singh but fortunately for the latter, the Ramgarhia chief had grown old and too weak to challenge the rising power of the young Sukarchakia chief. With the marriage of Jai Singh Kanaihy’s grand-daughter, Mehtab Kaur, to Ranjit Singh, the relations between the Kanaihyas and the Sukarchakias had already been established.

Singhpurias were in possession of Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Nurpur and north-western parts of Ambala. Nishanwalias were holding Ambala, Shahabad and Amioh. These Misals were not important. Similarly, the Karorsinghias, the Shahids, the Nakkais and the Dallewalias were powers of small consequence and could be easily dealt with by any strong and ambitious power. In the cis- Satluj regions the Phulkian Misal was the strongest power, though the chiefs of the Misal had been considerably weakened by the mutual jealousies and quarrels.

Unification of the Punjab

Thus, the political situation, with the beginning of the nineteenth century, eminently suited for the rise of a resolute and an outstanding personality who might weld these discordant and weak elements steadily into an organised kingdom, and Ranjit Singh availed himself of this opportunity. Ranjit Singh, realising the limitations of the republican institutions of the Sikh commonwealth for the role of organising and administering such a powerful state, decided to resort to the long- established and well-rooted polity of the country, that is, monarchy assisted by a class of noble chiefs. It is historical evidence that anarchy and political upheaval always hold out an opportunity to men of genius. The medieval period of Indian history produced many such men. Some such men had arisen among the Marathas; in Mysore, Hyder Ali had set up his power and amongst the Sikhs, the wanted man appeared in the person of Ranjit Singh.

In the words of Lepel Griffin, “there is perhaps no more notable and picturesque figure among the chiefs who rose to power on the ruins of the Mughal Empire than Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the short-lived Sikh kingdom of Lahore. In the stormy days at the beginning of the century, amid a fierce conflict of races and creeds, he found his opportunity and seizing it with energy, promptitude and genius, he welded the turbulent and warlike sectaries who followed the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh into a homogeneous nation.”42

The triumvirate—Chet Singh, Sahib Singh and Mohar Singh, returned to Lahore in January 1799, twenty six days after Zaman Shah’s exit. Five months after the return of the trio, Ranjit Singh was invited to Lahore by its leading citizens. He occupied Lahore without any resistance on July 7, 1799. The ouster of the Lahore chiefs was mainly due to their inability to deliver goods to the people. Secondly, their territories were not contiguous but interspersed by the possessions of Ranjit Singh and thus they could not mobilise their resources collectively. Thirdly, the Lahore chiefs had tyrannized the people to the extent of compelling them to invite Ranjit Singh to take possession of the city. Fourthly, the coalition of the Kanaihyas, Nakkais and Sukarchakias made the allies more than a match for Lahore Sardars.

In Ranjit Singh’s imperial career the capture of Lahore was of the greatest significance and this possession made him the most powerful chieftain in northern India. Lahore had always been a provincial capital and it gave Ranjit Singh an edge over the other chiefs in the Punjab and enhanced his political prestige considerably.

Amritsar was the Mecca of the Sikhs and their most important city in the world. Anyone who aspired to be their leader and the Maharaja of the Punjab must take Amritsar to justify his title. Ranjit Singh took charge of the city of Amritsar in 1805. The occupation of Amritsar, religious capital of the Sikhs, brought an additional lustre to Ranjit Singh’s name. Ranjit Singh got the zamzama gun (known as top-i-Bhangian) from the Bhangis of Amritsar.43

Dal Singh of Akalgarh, for having joined hands with Sahib Singh of Gujrat against Ranjit Singh, was called by the Maharaja to Lahore, imprisoned and relieved of his possessions.44

Ranjit Singh united the resources of the Kanaihyas and the Ahluwalias with those of his. Their interests at this stage, in some measure, were identical. Fateh Singh Ahluwalia and Sada Kaur Kanaihya were not friendlily disposed towards the Ramgarhias and the Ahluwalia chief also needed the help of Ranjit Singh to keep some of his ambitious vassal chiefs in restraint. After sometime the Ahluwalia and Kanaihya chiefs—Fateh Singh and Sada Kaur, who had been helped and respected by Ranjit Singh, found themselves helpless before the advancing power of the Sukarchakia Sardar. “This coalition based on kinship and political friendship served as the ladder by which Ranjit Singh climbed to political supremacy. The initiative always rested with the Lahore chief.”45

Ranjit Singh took over the towns of Rahon, Nakodar and Naushera, belonging to Tara Singh Ghaiba of the Dallewalia Misal, shortly after his death in 1807, as in the absence of any competent successor his territory could succumb to any outside usurper. He provided for the widow and the family of the Dallewalia chief and incorporated his forces in the Lahore army. The taking over of these places by Ranjit Singh seemed to upset the chiefs of the Malwa and it gave them an impression that the Maharaja meant to reduce the other chiefs to the position of the mere pensioners of Lahore government.

The Faizullapuria possessions were seized by Diwan Mohkam Chand and Jodh Singh Ramgarhia in 1810-11, and placed under Lahore Durbar. In 1811, the territory of the Nakkais, which included Pakpattan, was also annexed by the Maharaja. In 1812, on the death of Jaimal Singh Kanaihya, his territory, which included Taragarh, Mirthal and Fatehpur, was occupied.46 Shortly after the death of the Ramgarhia chief, Jodh Singh, in 1815, his territory was taken over.47 Four villages were given, for subsistence, to Jodh Singh’s widows; Diwan Singh and Vir Singb Ramgarhia were also given some villages as a sort of subsistence allowance.48

Sada Kaur, Ranjit Singh’s mother-in-law, who had been greatly helpful in Ranjit Singh’s coming to power was estranged, in 1821, from him, due to some domestic circumstances. Her territories were annexed. Ranjit Singh and his mother-in-law were both masterful personalities and they could not remain together for long. An independent chief had no room in Ranjit Singh’s scheme as he wanted a strong and consolidated Punjab. They must make way before his power.

Ranjit Singh’s policy of absorption and, ultimately, creating a strong kingdom of the Punjab estranged some of the Sardars into his opponents but he was tactful enough to win some of them to his side until he was in a very strong position. There is no denying the fact that Ranjit Singh was the creator of a dominion but the process through which he achieved his ultimate goal was not a haphazard joining of the territories of others with the kingdom of Lahore, rather a systematic and well-designed plan. He had his eyes fixed on the union and consolidation of the Sikh Misals and the Afghan principalities into a strong and compact kingdom with natural and dependable frontiers on all sides. And by the single-minded devotion to his plans, formed early in his life and carried out with thoughtful patience and persistent energy, he could found as large a kingdom as France. .

Divergent views have been expressed regarding Ranjit Singh’s policy of unification. However, there could be much justification in his favour when we find that he united all the wavering elements together and converted the warring Sikh principalities into a strong state with a strong political entity. Moreover, by digging out a kingdom from the debris of confusion in the Punjab, Ranjit Singh canalised the big annual revenue of the Punjab, that amounted to over three crores of rupees, by using the same for social and economic progress of his kingdom.

We do not have much reason to question the sincerity of his motives. Under his political and military leadership the Sikhs were not only able to stem the rising tide of the dangers facing the Sikhs at that time but were able to dam the flood of invasion rather actually roll it back across the Indus, that had been constantly flowing from Central Asia into India, since the days of Sultan Mahmud. And the Pathans were compelled to exclaim: Khuda ham Khalsa shud (God has also become Khalsa).

The position of Ranjit Singh among the Sikhs may be paralleled by that of Frederick, the Great, of Germany, who rose to power not so much as the king of Prussia as the one man to whom all Germans could look as likely to raise that medlay of principalities and electorates into a nation.49

Once the Maharaja summed up his own achievements in the following words:

“My kingdom is a great kingdom; it was small, it is now large; it was scattered, broken and divided, it is now consolidated; it must increase in prosperity and descend undivided to my posterity. The maxims of Timur have guided me, what he professed and ordered, I have done. By counsel and providence combined with valour, I have conquered, and by generosity, discipline and policy I have regulated and consolidated my government.”50

These lines of the Maharaja himself speak so frankly of the policy that had been passing in his mind about the principalities that dotted the map of the Punjab. He wanted to place under one government and weld together the ‘scattered’ and ‘broken’ kingdom of the Punjab and aspired to ‘consolidate’ the ‘divided.’

The unification of the Sikh principalities was bound to come but it could form a strong republic also that would have been the pride of the East. Though very strong germs of democratic and republican federal government were present in the Sikh traditions and their past history but the consolidation and unification of the Punjab was its dire need and for that a single controlling hand was a necessity. Therefore, the coming of the Sikh monarchy was the suitable solution to the problems of the Punjab created by the warring Misals. Elphinstone, returning from Kabul in 1809, wrote, “Almost the whole of the Punjab belongs to Ranjit Singh who in 1805, was but one of the many chiefs but who when we passed bad acquired the sovereignty of all the Sikhs in the Punjab.”51

Ranjit Singh was the political architect of the new Punjab and he never allowed his campaign a religious colour in spite of the Wahabis leading a crusade against him. Ranjit Singh was a statesman par excellence; undoubtedly, he was the last great constructive genius among the Sikhs. Baron Hugel wrote that “the object of my travels—has been to acquaint myself of the kingdom founded by Ranjit Singh, who like a skilful architect, has formed of so many insignificant unpromising fragments, one majestic fabric, seemed to me the most wonderful object in the whole world.”52

Notes and References

  1. George Forster, A Journey From Bengal to England, I, London, 1798, p. 324.
  2. Ahmad Shah Batalia, Appendix to Sohan Lal Suri’s Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, Daftar I, Lahore, 1885, p. 14.
  3. William Franeklin, Military Memoirs of George Thomas, Calcutta, 1803, p. 102.
  4. Bute Shah, Tawarikh-i-Punjab, IV (1848), MS., Ganda Singh’s Personal Collection, Patiala, p. 496; Ali-ud-Din Muftia, Ibratnama, I (1854),Lahore, 1961, p. 278; Muhammad Latif, History of Punjab, Calcutta, 1891, p. 310.
  5. Ali-ud-Dih Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 246; Lepel Griffin, Punjab Chiefs, 1865, p. 387.
  6. Sohan Lal Suri, Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, II, Lahore, 1885, p. 13; Bute Shah, op. cit., V, p. 6; Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit, p. 29.
  7. Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 247; Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit., p. 16.
  8. Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit., p. 16; Bute Shah, op. cit., pp. 14, 40; Ali-ud-Din, Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 250.
  9. Khushwaqat Rai, Tawarikh-i-Sikhan (1811), MS., Ganda Singh’s Personal Collection, Patiala, p. 73; Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, p. 56.
  10. Khushwaqat Rai, op. cit; p. 67.
  11. Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, pp. 43-44; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 274.
  12. Hari Ram Gupta, History of the Sikhs, Vol. Ill, Lahore 1944, p. 40.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, pp. 49-50; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 278; Muhammad Latif, op. cit., p. 310.
  15. Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, p. 50; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, pp. 278-79; Khushwaqat Rai, op. cit., p. 92.
  16. Kanaihya Lal, Tarikh-i-Punjab (1877), Punjabi, Version, Patiala, 1968. p. 135.
  17. Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, pp. 43-44.
  18. Khushwaqat Rai, op. cit., p. 68; James Skinner, Kitab-i-Haqiqat-i-Rajgan, also called Tazkirah-ul- Umra, Persian MS., (1830), GS., Personal Collection, Patiala, p. 182; Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, p. 265; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, pp. 312-13.
  19. Gian Singh, Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, Patiala reprint, 1970, p. 592.
  20. Ramjas, Tawarikh-i-Riast Kapurthala, Vol. I, Lahore, 1897, pp. 313, 318-19.
  21. Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, p. 50; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 283.
  22. Tazkirah-i-Khandan-i-Rajah-i-Phulkian, MS., GS., personal collection, Patiala, p. 18.
  23. Sohan Lal Suri, op. cit., pp. 65-66.
  24. Muhammad Hasan Khan, Tarikh-i-Patiala, Amritsar, 1878, pp. 273-76; Lepel Griffin, Rajas of the Punjab, Lahore, 1873, pp. 155-57.
  25. Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., p. 313; cf., James Skinner, op. cit., p. 183.
  26. Khushwaqat Rai, op. cit., p. 68; Bute Shah. op. cit., p. 269; Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit., pp. 27-28.
  27. Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit., p. 15; Bute Shah, op. cit., p. 19.
  28. Lepel Griffin, op. cit., p. 391; Lepel Griffin and his blind copyists wrongly write Gujjar Singh to be the son of Gurbakhsh Singh’s daughter.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit., p. 17; Lepel Griffin, op. cit., p. 395.
  31. Ahmad Shah Batalia, op. cit., p. 21; Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, p. 63; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., p. 404; Lepel Griffin, op. cit., p. 174.
  32. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 270.
  33. Khushwaqat Rai, op. cit., p. 92; Bute Shah, op. cit., IV, p. 52; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, op. cit., I, p. 280.
  34. Sohan Lal Suri, op. cit., II, pp. 27-28; Bute Shah, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
  35. George Forster, op. cit; I, p. 295.
  36. N. K. Sinha, Rise of the Sikh Power, Calcutta reprint, 1973, p. 117.
  37. Ganesh Das Badehra, Char Bagh-i-Punjab (1855), Amritsar, 1965, p. 140.
  38. Imperial Records, Political Proceedings, 16th October, 1797, No. 10. It was not due to an indifference to the Sarbat Khalsa but as a measure of diplomacy and statesmanship. Had he crossed river Satluj his territory, surrounded by hostile Muhammadan chieftains would have gone out of his hands.
  39. Ganesh Das, op. cit., p. 140.
  40. Imperial Records, Political Proceedings, 25th January, 1799, No. 27.
  41. Baron Hugel, Travels in Kashmir and the Punjab, London, 1845, p. 275.
  42. Lepel Griffin, Ranjit Singh, Oxford, 1905, p. 9.
  43. Sohan Lal Suri, op. cit., II, pp. 56-57.
  44. Khushwaqat Rai, op. cit., p. 139; Amar Nath, Zafarnama-i-Ranjit Singh (1837), ed. Sita Ram Kohli, Lahore, 1928, p. 13.
  45. N. K. Sinha, Ranjit Singh, Calcutta., ed. 1960, p. 15.
  46. Amar Nath, op. cit., pp. 18-19.
  47. Gian Singh, Raj Khalsa, (Urdu), Amritsar, p. 129.
  48. Ali-ud-Din, Mufti, op. cit, I. p. 310.
  49. Hugh Kennedy Trevaskis, The Land of the Five Rivers. Oxford, 1928. p. 176.
  50. Lawrence, H. W., Adventures of an Officer in the Punjab. Vol. I, London, 1846, pp. 64-65.
  51. Elphinstone, Cabul, Vol. I, p. 111.
  52. Baron Hugel, op. cit., pp. 293-94.