Published On: Mon, Oct 21st, 2019

The Khalsa Army – The Sikhs Contribution to the Allied Wars

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Anglo-Sikh relations prior to the enlistment of Sikh soldiers into the British Indian Army had been volatile, to say the least. The first Anglo-Sikh war (1845-46), happened after the demise of Maharajah Ranjit Singh (leader of the Sikh Kingdom) in 1839. His dreams of building a separate, autonomous state for the Sikhs in Punjab would never come into fruition.

The Sikh (Khalsa) Army

During Ranjit Singh’s reign, the British East Indian Company had acquired some territories in Punjab and maintained friendly relations with the Sikh Empire. This all changed after the sudden and unexpected death of Ranjit Singh, which culminated in the internal power struggles and coups within the Sikh Kingdom. Bitterness and rivalry and a succession of leaders were either murdered or deposed. The Sikh Kingdom went into disarray and suspicions that the British were planning to invade the Punjab grew.

The Sikh (Khalsa) Army, built by Maharaja, Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh kingdom, fell into chaos; the next in succession to the leadership was his son, Dalip Singh, the rightful heir to the Kingdom. But he was only two years-old, a succession of temporary leaders were elected to take over instead. These leaders felt subjugated by the British East Indian Company, which had already amassed a large military force and was very influential economically and politically as well as militarily.

The British were also weary of the Sikh (Khalsa) Army which had an increase of combatants and large arsenals of weaponry in its possession. The British knew that the Sikh Army had been trained by the French and other mercenaries and were accustomed to western military tactics; this made them a formidable opponent.

The Anglo-Sikh Wars

This mistrust would eventually conclude with the British reinforcing their military garrisons with additional troops and building roads and boats near to the river Sutlej, in preparation for a possible conflict. The Sikhs also feared that the British were proposing to attack them and crossed the river Sutlej, which bordered their territory to drive them back.

The Khalsa Army - The Sikhs Contribution to the Allied Wars

The bloody battle at Mudki, Punjab (1845) ensued in relative darkness. The Sikh Leader Lal Singh, fled as his soldiers maintained their resolve on the battlefield. Three days later a second attack by Field Marshal, Sir Hugh Gough (1779-1869), at Ferozeshah, Punjab, left 2,000 Sikhs and 1,560 British soldiers dead. It was to be one of the bloodiest battles that either side had experienced.

Three years later the second Anglo-Sikh war, the Battle of Chillianwallah, (1848-1849) in Punjab, was fought between the Sikhs and the British East Indian Company. The British had already established the British East Indian Trading Company in 1615, by persuading the Mughal Emperor, Nuruddin Salim Jahangir (1605-1627) to allow them to build premises in Surat, Gujarat.

The company became a prominent part of the subcontinent after the Battle of Plassey (1757) when the British East Indian Company’s military forces successfully defeated the Nawab of Bengal, who at the time was the de-facto ruler of Bengal, after the Mughal wars. The Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, was the last independent ruler of Bengal and his defeat by the British East Indian Company’s forces allowed the company to effectively take ownership of his territory and wealth.

The battle was led by General Robert Clive (1725-1774), ‘Clive of India’, a soldier and British Administrator of Bengal.

Birth of the British Raj

Eight Anglo-Sikh wars later led to the annexation of the Punjab in (1849). The annexation of the Punjab by the newly appointed, Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie in 1849 resulted in the British acquiring ownership of the territory. The British were fearful of the Sikh aristocracy influencing a possible uprising against the British Empire that they sent Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s only heir, Dalip and his mother Rani Jindan to England where they would pose less of a threat.

During the British Raj, Sikh soldiers were successfully integrated into the British Indian Army. However, eight-years later, the Mutiny of the Sepoys (1857-1858), resulted in a revolt by Sikh soldiers enlisted within the army who had become disillusioned by British absolutism and feared that conformity to Christianity was the true agenda. Consequently, the belief that this was a planned attrition by the British to make them abandon their religious roots and conform was a widely held view amongst the Sikh soldiers.

This revolt subsequently culminated in a war between the Sikh soldiers, enlisted into the British Indian Army, who waged a war on the British – in the belief that they were tyrannical rulers who were on a mission to forcibly convert Sikhs to Christianity. The revolt by the Sikhs in the British Indian Army showed that the Sikhs were passionate about their religion and were even willing to die for their beliefs.

By the 1900s, colonisation and the British Empire were firmly established in India. The Sikh Army was disbanded, but was later reformed by the British to fight in the First and Second World Wars.

The British had learnt from the Mutiny of the Sepoys that religious customs and practices should be respected and tolerated, and even supplied resources to such groups to allow them to fulfil their religious obligations. The Khalsa Army had been a formidable force against the British during the Anglo-Sikh wars, but had now become a fervent and loyal ally of the commonwealth.

About the Author

- I am an internet marketing expert with an experience of 8 years.My hobbies are SEO,Content services and reading ebooks.I am founder of SRJ News andTech Preview.

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