Anglo-Sikh War – UPSC

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, there was political instability and rapid changes of government in Punjab. The successors of Ranjit Singh proved to be weak and incapable leaders. Due to their weak administration, the British took advantage and fought two Anglo-Sikh Wars to capture Punjab.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839)

From 1763 to 1773, many misls under the Sikh Chieftains started to rule the Punjab region, from Attock in the west to Saharanpur in the east, from mountainous regions of the north to Multan in the south. The term ‘Misl‘ refers to the sovereign states of the Sikh Confederacy.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born on 2 November 1780. At the time of his birth, there were 12 important misls: Ahulwaliya, Kanhaiya, Nakkai, Ramgarhiya, Bhangi, Faizullapuria, Dallewallia, Nishaniya, Phulakiya, Krorasinghia, Sukarchakiya, and Shaheed. Ranjit Singh was the son of Mahan Singh, the leader of Sukarchakiya misl.

Towards the end of the 18th century, all the important misls (except the Sukarchaikiya misl) were in a state of disintegration. In 1799, Ranjit Singh became the governor of Lahore. In 1801, he united the 12 Sikh misls and subjugated the other local kingdoms to become the Maharaja of Punjab. In 1805, the religious capital (Amritsar) and political capital (Lahore) of Punjab came under the rule of Ranjit Singh. He resisted many Afghan invasions and also occupied the areas like Peshwar, Multan.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh earned the title: Sher-i-Punjab (Lion of Punjab). His Sikh empire included the lands to the north of the river Sutlej and south of the north-western Himalayas. He also maintained good relations with the Nepalese and the Dogras and enlisted them in his army.

Treaty of Amritsar, 1809

In 1807, Governor-General Lord Minto sent Charles Metcalfe to Lahore to have a military alliance to counter Napoleans’s aspirations over India. Maharaja Ranjit Singh offered to accept Metcalfe’s proposal of an offensive and defensive alliance on the condition that the British would remain neutral in case of the Sikh-Afghan War and consider Ranjit Singh as sovereign of the Punjab region, including the Malwa territories. But the negotiations failed.

However, in 1809, when the Napoleonic danger receded, the British became more assertive. In this changed political scenario, Ranjit Singh agreed to sign the Treaty of Amritsar with the British East India Company.

The Treaty of Amritsar, also known as the Cis-Sutlej treaty, was signed on 25 April 1809 between Charles Metcalfe representing the Company and Ranjit Singh representing the Sikh kingdom of Punjab. Under the treaty, Ranjit Singh accepted the river Sutlej as the boundary line between his dominions and the Company. Maharaja promised not to cross the south of river Sutlej, where the British promised not to cross north of Sutlej river. Ranjit Singh directed his energies towards the west and captured Multan in 1818, Kashmir in 1819, and Peshwar in 1834.

Events in Punjab after Maharaja Ranjit Singh

In June 1839, Maharaja Ranjit Singh died and was succeeded by his eldest legitimate son Kharak Singh. But Kharak Singh was not efficient, and the court factions became active during his reign. He was removed from power within few months and replaced by his son Prince Nav Nihal Singh.

Kharak Singh later died in prison under mysterious circumstances in 1840. Prince Nav Nihal Singh also died in suspicious circumstances when he was returning from his father’s funeral. The accidental death of Prince Nav Nihal Singh led to an anarchic situation in Punjab. Sher Singh, another son of Ranjit Singh, succeeded Nav Nihal Singh.

However, Sher Singh was also murdered in September 1843. Soon afterward, Daleep Singh, a minor son of Ranjit Singh, was proclaimed the Maharaja with Rani Jindan as regent and Hira Singh Dogra as wazir (Prime Minister). Hira Singh was murdered in 1844, and Jawahar Singh, the brother oF Rani Jindan, was appointed as wazir. Jawahar Singh soon incurred the displeasure of the army and was deposed & put to death in 1845. Lal Singh won over the army to his side & became the wazir, and Misar Tej Singh was appointed as Commander of the forces in the same year.

The British were closely watching the developments in the Punjab political front. In 1844, Major George Broadfoot was placed in Amritsar as the British East India Company’s agent.

First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-1846)

The first Anglo-Sikh war took place during the period of Governor-General Lord Hardinge. The outbreak of the War attributed to the action of the Sikh army crossing the river Sutlej on 11 December 1845. This aggressive maneuver of the Sikh army provided the British with the justification to declare war.

Causes of first Anglo-Sikh War

  • The anarchy in the Lahore kingdom after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh resulted in a power struggle for domination between the court at Lahore and the powerful & increasingly local army.
  • The increasing number of British troops stationed near the border of the Lahore Kingdom had increased the tensions within Punjab and the Sikh army.
  • After the British annexed Sindh in 1843, the Sikh army became more suspicious about the British military campaigns to occupy Punjab.

Course of War

The mutual demands and accusations between the British East India Company and the Sikh Durbar broke the diplomatic relations. The British forces under Lord Gough, as the Commander in Chief, and Lord Hardinge, as Governor-General, began marching towards Ferozepur, where a division was already stationed.

The Sikh army was now convinced that the British were determined to capture Punjab. In response to the British move, the Sikh army began crossing the river Sutlej on 11 December 1845.

Governor-General Lord Hardinge declared war against the Sikhs on 13 December 1845. The war began with 20,000 to 30,000 troops on the British side, while Sikhs had about 50,000 troops under the overall command of Lal Singh. The Sikh army fought heroically, but some of the leaders already turned into traitors. The Lal Singh and Tej Singh as Commander-in-chief were secretly corresponding with the enemy. The treachery of Lal Singh and Tej Singh caused the five successive defeats to the Sikhs at:

  • Battle of Mudki (18 December 1845).
  • Battle of Ferozeshah (22 December 1845).
  • Battle of Buddewal (28 January 1846).
  • Battle of Aliwal (28 January 1846).
  • Battle at Sobraon (10 February 1846).

All the Battles were confined to river Beas and Sutlej. Lahore fell to the British forces on 20 February 1846.

Treaty of Lahore, 1846

The end of the first Anglo-Sikh war compelled the Sikh to sign the Treaty of Lahore on 8 March 1846. As per the treaty:

  • Maharaja Daleep Singh, the ruler of Punjab, remained ruler with Rani Jindan as regent and Lal Singh as wazir.
  • The Sikhs had to cede the Jalandhar Doab (between the Beas and the Sutlej) to the British East India Company.
  • A British resident, Sir Henry Lawrence, was appointed to the Sikh court at Lahore.
  • The strength was the Sikh army was reduced.
  • The Sikhs had to pay the War indemnity of more than one crore rupees to the British.

However, the Sikhs were not able to pay the entire war indemnity. Part of war indemnity was paid, and to make up the remaining, Kashmir, including Jammu, was sold to Gulab Singh, who was required to pay Rupees 75 lakh to the company as the price. A separated treaty was formalized on 16 March 1846 for the transfer of Kashmir to Gulab Singh.

Treaty of Bhairowal, 1846

As the Sikhs were not satisfied with the Treaty of Lahore over the Kashmir issue, they rebelled against the British. In December 1846, the Treaty of Bhairowal was signed. Under this treaty, Rani Jindan was removed as regent. A council of regency for Punjab was set up, consisting of 8 Sikh sardars, presided by the British Resident, Sir Henry Lawrence.

Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-1849)

The Second Anglo-Sikh War took place during the period of Governor-General Lord Dalhousie. It resulted in the annexation of Punjab by the British and the fall of the Sikh empire.

Causes of Second Anglo-Sikh War

The defeat in the first Anglo-Sikh war and the treaties of Lahore & Bhairowal were humiliating for Sikhs. Rani Jindan was not treated properly by the British. She was removed from Lahore as regent on conspiracy charges against the British resident and was sent to Benaras as a pensioner.

Multan was part of the Sikh kingdom, captured by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1818. A Hindu viceroy, Dewan Mulraj, was the governor of Multan. After the end of the first Anglo-Sikh war, Dewan Mulraj had behaved independently. In 1848, Mulraj resented Lahore’s court demand for the increased tax assessment and revenues.

The Lahore court was under the control of the British Resident since the first Anglo-Sikh war. Sir Frederick Currie was a British resident at that time. He decided to replace Mulraj with the new Sikh governor over the issue of increased annual revenue. A new governor Sardar Kahan Singh along with British officer Patrick Vans Agnew was imposed at Multan. Dewan Mulraj revolted and murdered two British officers accompanying the new governor.

Sher Singh was sent to suppress the revolt, but he himself joined Mulraj, leading to a mass uprising in Multan. The news led to unrest in Punjab, and many Sikh soldiers joined the revolt against the British. This was considered an immediate cause of the second Anglo-Sikh war. Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, who was a hardcore expansionist, got the pretext to capture Punjab completely.

Course of War

Lord Dalhousie himself proceeded to Punjab. Afghan forces under the Dost Mohammad had joined the Sikh’s side. Before the final annexation of Punjab, three important battles were fought, which were:

  • Battle of Ramnagar was fought in November 1848, in which British forces led by Sir Hugh Gough as commander in Chief. The battle at Ramnagar was indecisive.
  • Battle of Chillianwala took place in January 1849, in which the British forces and Sikh army fought head to head dual. The British lost many soldiers, and the Sikhs won at Chillianwala.
  • Battle of Gujarat was fought on 21 February 1849, which was the final battle. Gujarat is a small town on the bank of the river Jhelum. Due to superior military equipment, the British forces won the Battle. The Sikh army surrendered at Rawalpindi, and their Afghan allies chased out of India.

Result of Second Anglo-Sikh war

  • On 29 March 1849, Governor-General Lord Dalhousie annexed Punjab into the British Indian empire.
  • Dalhousie was recognized for his services in the annexation of Punjab and given the thanks of the British Parliament & promotion in the peerage as Marquess.
  • Maharaja Daleep Singh, who was eleven-year-old, was pensioned off to England. Rani Jindan Kaur was taken to Ferozpur.
  • The famous Kohinoor diamond went into the British hands, acquired as part of the Treaty of Lahore after the second Anglo-Sikh war.
  • The British set up a three-member board to govern Punjab. The board consists of John Lawrence, Henry Lawrence, and Charles Mansel. In 1853, the Board was nullified, and Punjab was placed under a Chief Commissioner. John Lawrence became the first chief commissioner of Punjab.

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