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Raja Gulab Singh's Role in the First Anglo-Sikh War

  • Bawa Satinder Singh

Sikh history has produced few men as controversial as Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu. His conduct, especially in the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845–46, continues to evoke bitter argument. Whereas the debate at the end of the war pertained to the wisdom of creating the independent state of Kashmir, in more recent years it has centred around Gulab Singh's part in the conflict, which resulted in the partial dismemberment of the Sikh state. Two major evaluations have been made. A school of Panjab historians condemns the Jammu Raja's conduct as perfidious and brands him as a traitor. This conclusion is disputed by pro-Dogra historians who, while acknowledging his reluctance to become involved in the war, imply that he played an effective political role on behalf of the Sikhs which prevented the complete annexation of their state in 1846. Such widely differing assessments, often made without sufficient historical data and characterized by political or regional bias, have done little to produce a balanced understanding of this highly controversial affair. This paper tries to reconstruct and re-evaluate the Raja's role in the war.

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1 SirHardinge, Henry, Governor-General (GG), to his wife Emily, Hardinge Papers (HP), vol. 6, 2 March 1846, MSS in the private papers of Lady Helen Hardinge, Penshurst, Kent, England.

2 Such a position is supported by, among others, Mahajan, Jagmohan, Circumstances Leading to the Annexation of the Panjab (Allahabad, 1946);Singh, Ganda (ed.), Private Correspondence Relating to the Anglo-Sikh Wars (Madras, 1955);Singh, Khushwant, The Fall of the Kingdom of the Sikhs (Calcutta, 1962).

3 The strongest proponent of such a belief is Panikkar, K. M., Gulab Singh (London, 1930). Others who express similar views include Bamzai, P. N. K., History of Kashmir (Delhi, 1962);Gwasha, Lal Kaul, Kashmir Through the Ages (Srinagar, 1960);Koul, Salig Ram, The Biography of Maharaja Gulab Singh (Srinagar, 1923);Khan, Mohammad Aslam, The Dogra Occupation of Kashmir (Srinagar, 1946);Khan, Maulvi Hashmat Ali, Tarikh-e-Jammu (Lucknow, 1939) in Urdu.

4 Varying opinions on Gulab Singh have also been put forward by writers on the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. However, their treatment of the man, covered in brief introductory surveys, tends to be superficial. The writers can be divided into two groups. The first is quite partisan and includes Bazaz, Prem Nath, The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir (New Delhi, 1954);Beg, Aziz, Captive Kashmir (Lahore, 1957);Gupta, Sisir, Kashmir, A Study in Indian-Pakistan Relations (New Delhi, 1966);Madhok, Balraj, Kashmir, Centre of New Alignments (New Delhi, 1963). Among the second group, portraying a more dispassionate outlook, are Birdwood, Lord, India and Pakistan (New York, 1954);Brecher, Michael, The Struggle for Kashmir (New York, 1953);Lamb, Alastair, Crisis in Kashmir (London, 1966).

5 For a comprehensive account of his career see Singh, Bawa Satinder, ‘Gulab Singh of Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir, 1792–1846’ (unpub. Ph.D. diss., Wisconsin, 1966).

6 Kohli, Sita Ram, basing his estimates on the darbar's records, states that the numerical strength of the khalsa rose from 46,037 in 1838 to 65,835 in 1843 and again to 89,821 in 1845. These statistics include the infantry, artillery, and the cavalry but not the levies supplied by the fief-holders. See Kohli, , ‘The Organization of the Khalsa Army’ in Singh, Teja and Singh, Ganda (eds.), Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Amritsar, 1939), pp. 6098, with special reference to pp. 70–87.

7 Hardinge, Charles, Viscount Hardinge (Oxford, 1891), p. 77, discloses that the British strength at the Ambala cantonment was increased ‘from 13,600 men and 48 guns in 01, 1844, to 32,500 men and 68 guns in 12, 1845…’

8 Hardinge, to SirPeel, Robert, British Prime Minister, HP, vol. 5, 19 Feb. 1846. According to Gulab Singh's post-war explanation of Lahore's objectives, the khalsa was to ‘sweep away’ the frontier stations of Feruzpur and Ludhiana. If triumphant, the darbar expected the Company's Hindu sepoys and the British-protected Sikh states east of the Sutlej to join hands with the khalsa and believed ‘that they would in a month be in possession of Delhi …’ The Sikhs also looked to ‘Nepal to be ready in case of a first success against [the British]’.

9 Broadfoot, George, GG's political agent at Ludhiana, to Currie, Frederick, political secretary to GG, 20 Nov 1845, in The War In India (London, 1846), p. 21.

10 Chund, Kishen to Broadfoot, , 3 Dec. 1845, quoted in The Times (London), 2 03 1846, p. 2.

11 Though no official figures are available, McGregor, W. L., The History of the Sikhs (London, 1846), vol. 2, p. 64, estimated the invading force to consist of ‘nearly 50,000 infantry, 25,000 cavalry and 200 guns’. It seems that a part of the army remained stationed in such provinces as Kashmir, Peshawar, and Multan.

12 When Singh, Bhai Ram, a pro-British courtier, attempted to dissuade Lal Singh, the latter answered: ‘Bhai Sahib, what can I do? If I remain, the soldiery seize me by the throat.’ Peel, quoting from a Lahore letter dated 24 Nov. 1845, in a speech before the House of Commons on 2 March 1846.See Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vol. 81, p. 393.

13 Lahore Intelligence (LI), Political Correspondence (PC), 6 Dec. 1845, transcribed records in the Panjab State Archives (PSA), Patiala.

14 Idem.

15 Broadfoot, William, The Career of Major George Broadfoot (London, 1888), p. 351.

16 Ibid., p. 370.

17 GG to the Secret Committee (SC) of the East India Company (EIC), 2 Dec. 1845, in The War In India, pp. 910.

18 Hardinge, Charles to his mother Emily, HP, vol. 6, 4 Dec. 1845.

19 LI, PC, 1 Dec. 1845.

20 GG to SC, 4 Dec. 1845, in The War In India, p. 28.

21 Broadfoot, , pp. 372–3. The messenger was said to have carried a written communication from the Raja but claimed that as ‘he was about to be searched at the Phillaur Ferry, he dropped the letter into the river [Sutlej] and swam across to save his life’.

22 LI, PC, 10 Dec. 1845.

23 Cunningham, J. D., A History of the Sikhs (London, 1849), p. 304.

24 A hint of such an implication is found in a letter from Lal Singh to Peter Nicholson, assistant agent at Feruzpur, ‘to consider him and the bibi sahiba (Jindan) as their friends and cut up the burchas [ruffians, i.e. the khalsa] for them’. Quoted from the Nicholson Diary in Singh, Khushwant, A History of the Sikhs (Princeton, 1966), vol. 2, p. 48. An indirect reference to messages from the Rani and other leaders was also made by Hardinge in a letter to Hugh Gough, commander-in-chief of EIC's forces: ‘…such is the treachery, low cunning & perverse policy of the Durbar & even of Raja Golab Sing, that no dependence can be placed on the professions which every party is ready to make for its own interested objects & in the present state of the Sikh Army neither the Ranee nor any chief can offer any guarantee for the performance of their promise’. See Secret Department (SD), Enclosures to Secret Letters from India (ESLI), vol. 103, letter no. 14, 13 Jan. 1846, MSS in the India Office Library (IOL), London.

25 The extensive testimony regarding the incriminating role of Lal Singh and, to a lesser degree, Tej Singh includes Cunningham, pp. 304–9;McGregor, , vol. 2, pp. 80–2;Latif, Muhammad, History of the Panjab (London, 1889), pp. 541–3;Pearson, Hesketh, The Hero of Delhi (London, 1939), pp. 7980;Smyth, G. Carmichael, A History of the Reigning Family of Lahore (Calcutta, 1847), pp. 173–84. In retrospect the Jammu chief, too, reflected upon the khalsa's appearance at Firuzshahr: ‘Teja Singh committed a great blunder; he should never have gone near you [the British], but should have marched at once upon Delhi!’ Quoted in Humbley, W. W., Journal of a Cavalry Officer, including the Sikh Campaign of 1845–46 (London, 1954), p. 104.

26 Among British writers, including eye-witnesses, who commended the khalsa's performance are Cunningham, pp. 301–10;Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army (London, 1927), vol. 12, p. 390;Knollys, H. (ed.), Life of General Sir Hope Grant (London, 1894), vol. I, pp. 58–9;McGregor, , vol. 2, pp. 46–53, 111–28;Trevaskis, H. K., The Land of the Five Rivers (London, 1928), pp. 205–6.

27 The Times, 2 March 1846, p. 4;Pearson, , p. 80, quotes Hardinge's stinging observation: ‘Another such victory and we are undone!’

28 Lake, to Mills, , SD, ESLI, vol. 103, letter no. 3, 15 Jan. 1846.

29 Ibid., Currie to Mills, letter no. 24, 17 Jan. 1846. Lawrence succeeded Broadfoot who was killed at Firuzshahr.

30 Lahore News (LN) of 7 Jan. 1846, reported by the Delhi Gazette (DG) and reprinted in The Times, 2 March 1846, p. 5.

31 According to Honigberger, J. M., Thirty-Five Years in the East (London, 1852), vol. I, p. 122, Gulab Singh permitted himself to be drawn ‘from Jummoo, his den’, by the panches who had dubbed him the ‘bear’.

32 The Illustrated London News, 4 April 1846, p. 220;The Times, 25 March 1846, p. 5, however, reported that the Raja came with 12,000 men.

33 LN, 26 Jan. 1846, DG, The Times, 25 March 1846, p. 5, reported that the Raja ‘has brought immense quantities with him; the number of bullocks with his camp is enormous—some say 300,000. He has left orders with his lieutenants in Jamoo and other places to send more as soon as they could be collected.’

34 LI, PC, 29 Jan. 1846.

35 The Illustrated London News, 4 April 1846, p. 220.

36 Ram, Kirpa, Gulab Nama (n.d.), p. 425, Persian MSS in PSA, wrote that the khalsa used the Urdu slogan ‘Delhi takht per bethegi aap guru ki fauj [Your guru's army will sit on Delhi's throne].’

37 The Illustrated London News, 4 April 1846, p. 220.According to the Tarikh Nama (n.d.), p. 589, Persian MSS in PSA, Gulab Singh told the panches he would move upon receipt of the Rani's written orders.

38 History of the Campaign on the Sutlej and the War in the Punjaub (London, 1846), p. 36.

39 Ibid., p. 37; LN, 29 Jan. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6.

40 LI, PC, 29 Jan. 1846.

41 LN, 30 Jan. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6.

42 LI, PC, 30 Jan. 1846.

43 Ibid., 31 Jan. 1846.

44 One crore equals 10,000,000.

45 LI, PC, 31 Jan. 1846.

46 LN, 31 Jan. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6.

48 GG to SC. Further Papers respecting the Late Hostilities on the North- Western Frontier of India; and the Conclusion of Treaties with the Maharajah Dhuleep Sing, of Lahore, and Maharajah Golab Sing of Jummoo (FPNWF), 19 Feb. 1846 (House of Commons, 1846), p. 67.

49 Panjab Intelligence (PI), 1 Feb. 1846, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, enc. no. 6, IOL.

50 LN, 1 Feb. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6.

51 Ibid., LN, 2 Feb. 1846.

52 LI, PC, 2 Feb. 1846.

54 PI, 4, 6, and 8 Feb. 1846, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, enc. no. 6.

55 Ibid., 7 Feb. 1846.

56 Ibid., 8 Feb. 1846.

57 Ibid., 1, 4, and 5 Feb. 1846.

58 Ibid., 6 Feb. 1846.

59 Ibid., 8 Feb. 1846.

60 GG to SC, FPNWF, 19 Feb., p. 67.

61 Hardinge, to Peel, , HP, vol. 5, 3 Feb. 1846. In a similar vein GG wrote to SC, FPNWF, 3 Feb. 1846, p. 54, that it ‘may be politic and proper in the course of discussions which may arise, to weaken the territorial power of the Government of Lahore,—rendering the Rajpoots of the Hills independent of the Sikhs, and by other means involving a loss of a portion of their territory …’

62 Innes, J. J. M., Sir Henry Lawrence (Oxford, 1898), p. 208.

63 According to Edwardes, William, Reminiscences of a Bengal Civilian (London, 1853), p. 104, a soldiers' deputation complained to the Rani of a shortage of food at the front. When told that Gulab Singh had sent sufficient supplies, the soldiers retorted: ‘No he has not, we know the old fox; he has not sent breakfast for a bird.’

64 PI, 5 Feb. 1846, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, enc. no. 6.

65 LN, 8 Feb. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6.

66 Mackeson, to Currie, , 10 Feb. 1846, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, letter no. 23.

67 Honigberger, , vol. 1, p. 122;LN, 7 Feb. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6; PI, 9 Feb. 1846, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, enc. no. 6.

68 LN, 8 Feb. 1846, DG, The Times, 1 April 1846, p. 6.

69 Several British writers refer to the cowardly conduct of the Sikh generals at Sobraon. Cunningham, , p. 327, wrote: ‘The traitor, Tej Singh, indeed, instead of leading fresh men to sustain the failing strength of troops on his right, fled on the first assault, and, either accidentally, or by design, sank a boat in the middle of the bridge of communication.’ Calling him ‘a base traitor’,Humbley, , p. 179, charged that Tej Singh ‘deserted his post; he fled at the first brush…’ He also notes that Lal Singh ‘lay with his cavalry higher up the river in a careless, unmilitary position, conscious of being closely watched by the English’.Trevaskis, , p. 205, condemned the Sikh and British generals alike and commented that the war ‘may be described as one between lions led by asses…’

70 Cunningham, , p. 328(n),puts the number of dead and wounded between 5,000 and 8,000, but Humbley, , p. 180, believes it was between 12,000 and 15,000.

71 McGregor, , vol. 2, p. 177.

72 PI, 12 Feb. 1846, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, enc. no. 6, also reported Gulab Singh's boast ‘that had he gone, he would have died like the other Sirdars, & not have run away like the Khalsa’.

73 Ibid., 12 and 13 Feb. 1846.

74 GG to SC, FPNWF, 19 Feb. 1846, p. 68.

76 Hardinge, to Emily, Hardinge, HP, vol. 6, 17 Feb. 1846.

77 GG to SC, FPNWF, 19 Feb. 1846, pp. 68–9.

78 Mackeson, wrote to Currie, SD, ESLI, vol. 103, letter no. 29, 19 Feb. 1846, that ‘Rumors were afloat at Loodiana, quite undeserving of credit, such as the Governor-General & his suite with Rajah Goolab Singh and others having been murdered at an interview with the Ranee at Lahore… I am inclined to credit the report of Rajah Goolab Singh's death.’ According to LN, 18 Feb. 1846, DG, The Times, 20 April 1846, p. 6, ‘a rumor got abroad [at Lahore] that Rajah Gholab Singh and others, who had gone to the British camp had been seized and made prisoners by the British, which greatly alarmed the people’.

79 Hardinge, to Peel, , HP, vol. 5, 19 Feb. 1846.

80 GG to SC, 19 Feb. 1846, in The War In India, p. 102.

81 Hardinge, told Peel, , HP, vol. 5, 19 Feb. 1846, that in anticipation of independence Gulab Singh ‘wished us to [let him] adopt the subsidiary system & a Resident. This was refused.’

82 GG to SC, 19 Feb. 1846, in The War In India, p. 104.

83 The Illustrated London News, 4 April 1846, p. 222, reported that these troops numbered ‘from 14,000 to 20,000 horse and foot, with about 35 guns’.

84 Papers of Lt H. L. Pester, p. 14, European MSS in IOL.

85 Papers of R. N. Cust, p. 76, European MSS in IOL. Cust, an assistant to Lawrence, claimed to have witnessed an attempt by unknown snipers to kill Gulab Singh on 24 Feb. Hardinge, C., pp. 138–9, also refers to a conspiracy by Lal Singh to murder the Raja.

86 LN, 21, 22 and 23 Feb. 1846, DG, The Times, 20 April 1846, p. 6.

87 Ram, Kirpa, p. 443.

88 ‘The Treaties of Lahore’ by ‘Our Indian Correspondent’ in The Times, 25 May 1846, p. 8.

89 Cunningham, , pp. 406–11.

90 Marshman, J. C., Memoirs of Sir Henry Havelock (London, 1960), pp, 161–2,

91 Hardinge, to Walter, Hardinge, HP, vol. 7, 11 March 1846.

92 The new state under Gulab Singh was not to include such eastern hill areas as Kulu, Kangra, Nurpur, and Mandi. The British considered the region strategically important and annexed it. Justifying the territorial division GG told SC, 4 March 1846, FPNWF, p. 89: ‘It is highly expedient that the trans-Beas portion of Kooloo and Mundi, with the more fertile district and strong position of Noorpoore, and the celebrated Fort Kangra—the Key of the Himalayas, in native estimation—with its district and dependencies, should be in our possession.’ Further territorial adjustments which did not affect Kashmir were made later.

93 One lakh = 100,000.

94 Cunningham, , pp. 413–15. Article 3 of the agreement states that ‘fifty lacs [were] to be paid, on ratification of this treaty, and twenty-five lacs on or before the 1st of October of the current year, A.D. 1846.’ Despite some doubts the following evidence seems to indicate that, though late, Gulab Singh paid this amount in full. Hardinge informed his predecessor that Gulab Singh ‘has paid his first instalment of 50 lacs…’ See Ellenborough, Papers (EP), vol. 7, 12 May 1846, Public Record Office, London. The GG communicated similar information to SC, 3 Sept. 1846, Papers Relating to the Articles of Agreement for Administration of the State of Lahore (House of Commons, 1847), p. 180.According to Mahajan, , p. 48 (n), ‘the last instalment was paid as late as 14 March 1850. The final receipt for the purchase of Kashmir signed by the Board of Administration—the original draft of which is exhibited in the Punjab Government Record Office Museum [Lahore]—is dated 30 March 1850.’

95 Cunningham, , p. 332 (n).

96 Hardinge, to Sarah, , HP, box no. 1 of unfiled letters, 19 Feb. 1846.

97 Hardinge, to Emily, , HP, vol. 6, 2 March 1846.

98 GG to SC, 4 March 1846, FPNWF, p. 89.

99 Hardinge, to Peel, , HP, vol. 5, 19 March 1846.

100 Hardinge, C., p. 131.

101 Napier, W., The Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles Napier (London, 1857), vol. 3, p. 391.

102 Ibid., pp. 457–8.

103 Ibid., pp. 469–70.

104 The inhabitants of north-western India were not unaware of Napier's militant attitude. A news item entitled ‘India and China—The Overland Mail’ in The Times, 6 March 1846, p. 5, revealed that they had tagged him ‘Sheitan ka bhaee, “the Devil's brother”’.

105 Hardinge, C., p. 131;Charles also wrote about the ‘impolity and the difficulties of annexation’ to Walter, , HP, vol. 7, 4 March 1846: ‘Peshawar 300 miles in advance of the Sutlege with 4 deep rivers intersecting it—and the military occupation of Cashmeer touching Chinese Tartary with our troops extending down to Mooltan would by no means improve our frontier line.’

106 Hardinge, C., pp. 132–3.

107 Ellenborough, to Hardinge, , EP, vol. 7, 22 April 1846.

108 Hardinge, to Ellenborough, , EP, vol. 7, 7 June 1846.

109 Edwardes, B. and Merivale, H., Life of Sir Henry Lawrence (London, 1877), vol. 2, p. 61.

110 Morrison, J. L., Lawrence of Lucknow (London, 1934), p. 158.

111 Hardinge, C., p. 143.

112 Willock, H., Hogg, J., and Astell, W. of the Board of Directors, EIC, to GG, Board's Drafts of Secret Despatches to India, vol. 19, 4 April 1846, MSS in IOL.

113 The Times, 5 May 1846, p. 4.

114 Ibid., 21 May 1846, p. 4.

* Department of History, The Florida State University, Tallahassee.

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