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The Last Sunset - The Rise And Fall Of Lahore Darbar - Book By Amarinder singh
Summary of 'The Last Sunset - The Rise And Fall Of Lahore Darbar' By Amarinder Singh
The Last Sunset : The Rise and Fall of the Lahore Durbar recreats the history of the Sikh empire and its unforgettable ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Shukarchakia dynasty. An outstanding military commander, he created the Sikh Khalsa Army, organized and armed in Western style and acknowledged as the best in India in the nineteenth century. Ranjit Singh's death in 1839 and the subsequent decline of he Lahore Durbar, gave the British the opportunity to sake their claim in the region till now fiercely guarded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh's army.
Amarinder Singh chronicles in details the two Anglo-Sikh wars of 1845 and 1848. The battles, high in casualties on both the sides led to the fall of Khalsa and the state was finally annexed with Maharaja Duleep Singh, the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, put under the protection of the Crown and deported to England .
About the Author Of 'The Last Sunset'
Amarinder Singh, Who is from the royal family of Patiala, was educated at the Doon School. After graduating from the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla and the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, he was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Sikh regiment. During the 1965 war with Pakistan, he was ADC to the GOC-in-C, Western Command , in whose theatre of operations the entire war was fought. Later, as member of Parliament Defence Commitee.
Amarinder Singh spent four terms in the Punjab Legislature once as minister and then as Chief Minister of Punjab from 2002 to 2007. He presently represents the state Congress Party.
He has authored two books: Lest We Forget : The History of Indian Army From 1947-65 and A Ridge Too Far: War in the Kargil Heights 1999.
Introduction To 'The Last Sunset' By Amarinder Singh
Seldom in history does a man make so great an impact upon the events of his time that, 168 years after his death, he is still being written , spoken and conjectured about as if those events were recent happenings.
Such a man was Ranjit Singh, the maharaja of Lahore. Though illiterate, he was a highly perceptive man. His great intelligence and will to go on learning till his dying day, made him one of the ablest rulers and military commanders in the history of the Punjab and , indeed, of India.
I have sometimes been asked why I have chosen to write this study about a man and his times of whom so much has already been written by very competent men and women in countless books, by military men in their autobiographies or historians covering the more mundane business of government and the national events of a certain period. While autobiography often makes for an absorbing and enjoyable read, the authors, sometimes, have their noses too close to the windowpane to see things in their true perspective. Some autobiographies are written under the pressure of personal prejudice, and thus fail to give an accurate, broad-based, in-depth account of events surrounding the experiences of the authors. As for written history, this is, all too often, written in a monotonous, dry as dust style with which it has, sadly, now become synonymous, making people shy away from it. I have attempted to write about the military aspects of a fascinating period, factual in every respect, I believe, and without prejudice, to produce a story - a human story - to which, I hope, lay readers too, will be attracted.
History seeks to record events as they actually occurred. However, students will find that military biographers, and even historians, are divided down the middle over the story of the years I have covered about events in the Punjab and the activities of the Lahore Durbar.
Contemporary historians, writing while the game was still in pogress, bat openly for their own sides. Later historians are, perhaps, more objective, writing with a tongue-in-cheek subtlety which tends to favour their own. This behaviour is inevitable when events have changed the history of a country or a large part of it. Whilst the British can find very little wrong with own part in the ten years preceding the annexation of the Punjab, the Sikhs write with a bias of their own. Mythology thus created becomes embedded in men's minds over a span of a century and a half. Whilst the victor, be he a general, a staff officer or even the adjutant, of a regiment writing up the unit's war diary, seeks to glorify success, the vanquished disappear quietly from the scene, to lick their wounds and brood over disaster until the day dawns when they begin to look back with nostalgia and toy with the idea of what might have been ... if only ...!
Ranjit Singh was unquestionably a great man. As he swept through the Punjab, bringing more and more of it under his own control, he showed his understanding of men, building a team of exceptional administrators to become either his ministers or the holders of key positions, such as the governorship of newly-won territories.
An outstanding military commander, who had learnt the art of war on the battlefield from an early age, he created the Sikh Khalsa Army which the British would come to acknowledge as the best in India, an accolade that would become widely accepted after the two Sikhs wars of 1845 and '48. General Sir Charles Gough and Arthur Innes wrote in the introduction to The Sikhs and the Sikh Wars, '[...] in the Sikhs we found the most stubborn foe we ever faced on Indian soil since the French were beaten at Wandewash.' That army made possible the remarkable military successes which characterized the forty-two years of Ranjit Singh's reign.
No man is perfect and, as history frequently reveals, it is often apparent that the greater a man's merits and talents, the greater his failings and weakness. If that were not so he would be less than human. Ranjit Singh was no exception to this rule. He too had certain qualities which were unworthy of his greatness. Though illiterate, he was highly intelligent and extremely able, and at times showed himself to be cunning , treacherous and quite ruthless. Yet, with one or two particular exceptions, he took no life, except in battle, and rehabilitated all those he vanquished. When it came to the acquisition of treasure, such as the great Kohinoor diamond, or the possession of some object that had seized his imagination, such as the beautiful Persian horse Liali, or even lesser desirable objects, he would cheat and even steal, if need be. If he had decided that he wanted something, he took it, regardless of means or cost.
After his death in 1839, a string of mediocre rulers, ambitious courtiers and an army that had grown aggressively volatile, presented the British with an ideal situation, enabling them to ferment intrigue which took root in that hopelessly fragmented establishment , the Lahore Durbar. It could now be only a matter of time before the Kingdom of Lahore met its nemesis.
By 1845, the British, who by then had consolidated their gains in India, saw an opportunity and played their part in the game to perfection. The Lahore Durbar, by then fully infiltrated, also played its part in the impending disaster. Both sides had their reasons but the British completely outplayed the court of Lahore and its regent , Maharani Jinda Kaur.
In the Sikh wars which followed, the British Indian Army, which consisted of a number of British regiments and those of the East India Company, was highly trained and its units experienced in battle. As far as the British elements were concerned, the wars in Europe, America and China were not long over. The Company's sepoys had fought in the various engagements through which the British Empire in India was being established and cosolidated and these were not yet over. General Sir Huge Gough was supported by a string of very experienced divisional commanders, whose subordinates, down to the lowest level, had also learnt their trade on the battlefield or were the product of the cadet colleges in England. Even the governor general , General Sir Henry (later Lord) Hardinge, who had served with distinction under Wellington in the Peninsular wars, offered to serve as Gough's deputy in the field of Ferozshah. As he was well Known to be inclined to interfere in military matters, this offer was, perhaps, something of a mixed blessing.
'The Evolution of the Army up to 1839' shows us how Ranjit Singh created his great Sikh Khalsa Army, using a number of battle-hardened European soldiers of fortune, all former officers in Napoleon's armies. It was their skill and experience and their understanding of the immense importance of discipline which would give the khalsa Army its high quality and reputation.
It is both sad and extraordinary that no Sikh record of the battles of the two Sikh wars exist today, apart from the organizational structure of the Khalsa Army, the names of the three divisional commanders and of their brigade commanders and of the general commanding at each battle. Of tactical deployments and handling, we know very little. Such detailed information about the conduct of the two Sikh wars as did exist was contained in one of the volumes of a daily chronicle written by Sohan Lal Suri, the vakil of the camp of Lahore during the reign of Ranjit Singh and the subsequent administrations. However, in his Umdat-ut-Tawarikh,the vakil records that volume three, the one which, it is believed, would have told us much of what we so badly need to know about the conduct of opertaions and the tactical handling of the army, was borrowed by an English lieutenant, Herbert Edwardes, and never returned. What was there in that volume which the British wanted to keep under wraps and where is it today?
The circumstances surrounding the onset of the first Sikh war of 1845-46 are obscure but the general situation within the kingdom of Lahore and the state of the Lahore Durbar, combined with the mounting discontent within the army, enables us to make an informed suggestion of the purpose behind it.
By 1845, six years had passed since the death of the army's beloved and revered sovereign, Ranjit Singh. During that time, the magnificent army with which he had achieved so much and which, rightly , had developed an immense pride pride in those achievements, had received no collective training and had been in virtually no operations. Small wonder then that it had become restless under a series of hopelessly incompetent administrations. Both the Regent and the Lahore Durbar saw it as a real threat to their own positions and the decision was made to contrive a means by which the army could be committed to battle and, hopefully cut down to size thereby. The commander-in-chief, Tej Singh and the wazir of the durbar, Lal Singh, were instructed to initiate appropriate action and launch a strike against the British Protectorate, the Cis-Sutlej Panjab, though the actual objective of this action remained obscure. As the army was being reactivated and mobilized, it was suggested by both the regent and the durbar that the Cis-Sutlej Punjab might be bypassed and a thrust be made at Delhi, hinting at the vast haul of loot that such an operation, if successful, could offer. Could it be that they had second thoughts and saw this latter proposal as a means of getting the army disposed of once and for all? Be that as it may, it was ignored by an apprehensive Tej Singh and the wazir who continued to plan their move move across the Sutlej and into British protected territory in order to fight a defensive battle of attrition and thereby to get their army cut to size.
It is difficult to see what the aim of this projected movement really was. With Lal Singh leading a covering force, followed by Tej Singh with some 30,000 men, both men deployed their forces in strong defensive positions, as if awaiting the arrival of the British to eject them. Some years earlier, it had been suggested to Ranjit Singh that he should acquire the Cis-Sutlej Punjab but he had rejected the idea saying, 'I could perhaps push them [the British] back to Aligarh but they would soon push me back across the Sutlej and out of my kingdom'.
No general of the Sikh Army had any professional training. Such knowledge and skills as they had, like Ranjit Singh, they had acquired on the battlefield. Many commanders, particularly those of the Jagirdari Fauj, were still in their teens. The army's mindset seems to have been that of the set-piece battle, perhaps due to their lack of command experience at the highest level. The Sikh overdependence on artillery became apparent as the battles unfolded. All battles were planned and fought in defensive positions under the cover of guns. Of the nine battles fought in the two wars, the Sikhs had superiority of guns, both in numbers and calibres. It was at Gujrat that for the first time the Sikhs were out-gunned.
Ranjit Singh's views on the hazards of invading the Cis-Sutlej Punjab must have been well known and we can only conclude that Tej Singh's concept was that of a war of attrition, to be won principally by the use of his superior strength in artillery, which included a considerable number of heavy guns, closely defended by strong groups of well-trained infantry. It is hard to understand how any general who was well acquainted with the strength and resources of the British Indian Army and the cosiderable experience of its commanders could have thought that such a scheme would have succeeded, unless of course, the objective was the destruction of their own army. An equally incomprehensible aspect of the Sikh plan was the failure to have any role within it for their cavalry. This was something that would not change during the course of both wars, despite the very effective use made by the British of theirs.
Having crossed the river Sutlej, Lal Singh deployed his covering force in a wooded area at Mudki where he sat and simply waited for Gough to attack him, which Gough did, pushing the Sikhs back, though at heavy cost to his own troops. Lal Singh then followed the same routine at Ferozshah and yet again at Sobraon, as did Ranjodh Singh Majithia at Aliwal. Meanwhile, Tej Singh was also waiting, with his 30,000 men, eying General Littler who had only 6,000 at Ferozepur. Not only did Tej Singh make no attempt to attack Littler but he allowed him to slip away to join Gough's main body at Ferozshah. Tej Singh then waited for twenty-four hours before moving to join Lal Singh. In the battle that followed, both sides suffered heavy casualties but the first day had undoubtedly gone to the Sikhs. Having deployed his infantry to deliver the coup de grace advancing in extended order, Tej Singh then did something which was quite inexplicable. As his leading troops reached a point some 200 yards from Gough's defensive line, he ordered a halt and a withdrawal just as victory was within his grasp.
The only tactical movement made by the Sikhs in that war was an attempt by a force under Ranjodh Singh Majithia to cut Gough's lines of communication and destroy his supply train. Responsibility for the security of the train lay with a small force under General Sir Harry Smith, whose shrewd generalship lead to a punishing defeat of the Sikhs at Aliwal, where, once again, they had their backs to the river in a defensive position. As at Mudki, a charge by a single regiment of the British cavalry created absolute havoc and loss of a substantial number of guns by the Sikhs.
The Sikhs made their last stand on the British side of the Sutlej at Sobraon, again making the fatal error of having their backs to the river. After a bitter struggle, in which both sides suffered very heavy casualties, the day was won by a British cavalry charge, the Third Light Dragoons, which had already fought magnificently at Mudki. The British now crossed the river and swept on to Lahore, where the war ended with Hardinge,having effectively, become the overlord of the Punjab.
The British had no wish, at that stage, to annex the Punjab, for to do so would have been to take on a massive new administrative and economic commitment, besides the Sikhs Army could be effective in the near future in keeping the Afghans designs in check, now that the game of oneupmanship between the Russians and the British had begun in Central Asia. They, therefore, declared it to be a protectorate and set up a Council of Regency on behalf of the young Maharaja Dalip Singh consisting of four British officials, Colonel Henry Lawrence being appointed the first British Resident in Lahore.
Battered into submission though it had been, the khalsa Army had lost none of its fierce pride and the determination to strike back at the first opportunity burnt in every soldier's heart. The Multan incident in 1848 provided that opportunity. The first British attempt to reinforce Edwardes had failed when the Sikhs in the force that had been sent to bring Mulraj to justice went over to him. Throughout the Punjab, Sikhs sprang to arms to fight for the Khalsa. Gough now sent General Wish with his reinforced 1st Division to Multan. Three major engagements were then fought at Ramnagar, Chillianwala and Gujrat, the revitalized Khalsa being commanded by a new commander-inp-chief, Raja Sher Singh Attari.
Remarkably, Sher Singh followed the very same policy as Tej Singh had two years earlier - the set-piece defensive position, waiting for the enemy to come to him. Again, the cavalry was not used. All three battles were hard fought and the losses on both sides were heavy. At Gujrat, Gough now had a number of heavy guns which were used very effectively to crush the Sikh artillery before his army swept forward and finally put the Sikhs to flight. The pursuit was relentless and some were driven as far as Peshawar. The power of the Khalsa was finally crushed.
There was now no way forward for the British but to accept Governor General Dalhousie's preconceived insistence on the annexation of the Punjab. The sun had set for the last time on the Lahore Kingdom.
The story of the ten years following the death of Ranjit Singh is truly tragic. As the sory unfolds and the underlying treachery on the part of the Lahore Durbar and the Sikh generals emerges, so does the clear evidence of the gallantry and determination of the of the Soldiers of the Khalsa Army. How else could it have been that the British were so nearly defeated at Ferozshah and Chillianwala and again were given such a bloody nose at Ramnagar and Sobraon. Gujrat was, indeed a famous British victory in the end. Treachery and intrigue apart, at no time did the Sikh generals begin to rival the generalship of the British. This extraordinary story calls for the most relentless research until, at last, the whole truth finally emerges,
Our story ends with annexation of the Punjab in 1849 and the final demise of the Shukarchakia dynasty, founded by Ranjit Singh's grandfather, Charat Singh, and brought to further greatness by his father Maha Singh before Ranjit Singh himself created a kingdom which finally embraced not only the Punjab in present-day Pakistan but territories to the north and west which even included Jammu and Kashmir and what is now known as the Northern Areas in Pakistan. To these we add the areas of the present Indian Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, the entire area west of the river Sutlej . That extraordinary build -up covered a period of seventy yeras, finally collaspsing with the exile of Maharaja Duleep Singh.
Was it destiney that brought about that downfall or did the prophecy of sri Guru Gobind Singh come true? Guru Gobind had said at Hazoor Sahib at Nanded, just before his death in 1708, that whoever built a memorial to him would die and his dynasty fade out of history. Ranjit Singh did build such a memorial and at the end of his glorious reign of half a century, the dynasty collapsed through lack of worthy successors. His grandson, Maharaja Kharak Singh's son, Maharaja Naunihal Singh died in an accident without leaving an heir. Maharaja Sher Singh and his son Partap Singh were assassinated, Duleep Singh, the last of his children, was exiled from the Punjab as a ten-year-old boy, never to return and, though married twice with eight children of his own, never saw his grandchildren, as none of the eight, though some were married, had a child. Whatever the reason, it is beyond doubt that the collapse of the dynasty finally paved the way for the complete annexation of India into the British Empire.
It is characteristic of fighting men that despite the intensity of their conflict with a worthy enemy, both sides will develop profound respect for the fighting qualities of their opponents. The Sikh wars were no exceptions to that rule. Thus, within a few years the British would have grounds for deep gratitude to the same Sikhs who they had fought at Ferozshah, Sobraon, Chillianwala, and Gujrat, for their loyal support in the most difficult of times, including during the consolidation of the frontier regions and Afghanistan.
Table of Contents For 'The Last Sunset - The Rise and fall of Lahore Darbar' By Amarinder Singh
|vii List of Annexures|
|3 The Lion of Lahore|
|28 The Evolution of the Army|
|48 The Decline of the Lahore Durbar 1839-45|
|60 The First Sikh War 1845-46|
|159 Multan 1848-49|
|185 The Second Sikh War 1848-49|
|341 Select Bibliography|
LIST OF ANNEXURES
|I||The Treaty with Lahore of 1809||264|
|II||The Proclamation of Protection of Cis-Sutlej States against Lahore (1809)||266|
|III||The Proclamation of Protection to Cis-Sutlej States against One Another (1811)||268|
|IV||The Indus Navigation Treaty of 1832||270|
|V||The Declaration of War of 1845||273|
|VI||General Order by the Right Hon. the Governor General of India||275|
|VII||From His Excellency the Commander-in-chief to the Right Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, GCB, Governor General of India, & C.||279|
|VIII||The First Treaty with Lahore of 1846||282|
|IX||Treaty between the British Government and Maharajah Gholab Singh, concluded at Umritsir on 16 March 1846||298|
|X||The Second Treaty with Lahore of 1846||300|
|XI||The Proclamation. Lahore, 22 July 1848||304|
|XII||The Proclamation by the Resident at Lahore, 18 November 1848||306|
|XIII||The detailed statement of the numerical strength of corps engaged in several actions during the Punjab campaign||307|
|XIV||Regiments involved in the Sikh wars||314|
|XV||Memorandum by Mr Charles Wood and the Council of India, 21 March 1860||320|
Family trees of the principal families of the Lahore Durbar and those associated with it
7. The Jammu Family
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