We may now briefly examine the question whether crossing of the Sutlej by the Sikhs did constitute an actual invasion of the British Territory in India. The scope of this narration does not permit a detailed examination and we may therefore only quote the opinions of a few British Officers then closely connected with Punjab affairs Major G. Carmichael Smyth of the North Western Agency wrote
Regarding the Punjab war, I am neither of the opinion that the Sikhs made an unprovoked attack, nor that we have acted towards them with great forbearance. If the Sikhs were to be considered entirely an independent state in no way answerable to us, we should not have provoked them-for to assert that the bridge of boats brought from Bombay, was not a causa belli, but merely a defensive measure, is absurd; besides the Sikhs had a translation of Sir Charles Napier’s speech (as it appeared in the Delhi Gazette) stating that we were going to war with them; and as all European powers would have done under such circumstances, the Sikhs thought it as well to be first in the field. Moreover they were not encamped in our territory, but their own.
and I only ask, had we not departed from the rules of friendship first ? The year before the war broke out we kept the island between Ferozepur and the Punjab, though it belonged to the Sikhs, owing to the deep water being between us and the island.
But if on the other hand the treaty of 1809 is said to have been binding between the two governments, then the simple question is, who first departed from the rules of friendship ? I am decidedly of the opinion that we did.1 Even more emphatic on the subject is Sir George Campbell, who was then posted at Kaithel (a Sikh states cheated by the British). He wrote
It is recorded in the annals of history, or what is called history, which will go down to posterity, that the Sikh army invaded British Territory in pursuance of a determination to attack us. And most people will be very much surprised to hear that they did nothing of the kind. They made no attack on our outlying cantonments nor set foot in our territory. What they did do was to cross the river and to entrench themselves in their own territory. Memoirs of my Indian Career, p. 78.
Even Cust, Personal Assistant to Major Broadfoot, the British Agent at Ludhiana at the time of break of hostilities, refers to the advance of the British force as the first British invasion of the independent kingdom of the Punjab. Linguistic and Oriental Essays, v, 46-47.
THE REGIMENTAL PANCHAYATS
It is significant to state that after the death of Maharaja Kharak Singh and Naunihal Singh in November, 1840, and the dispute for the throne between Sher Singh and Chand Kaur having been resolved, the relation of the army to the state, according to Cunningham had become wholly altered by the middle of 1841. It was no longer the willing instrument of an arbitrary and genial government, but it looked upon itself and was regarded by others, as the representative body of the Sikh people, as the ‘Khalsa’ itself assembled by tribes for centuries to take its part in public affairs. The efficiency of the army as a disciplined force was not much impaired, for a higher feeling possessed the men, and increased alacrity and resolution supplied the place of exact training. They were sensible of the advantages of systematic union, and they were proud of their armed array as the visible body of Gobind’s commonwealth. As a general rule, the troops were obedient to their appointed officers, so far as concerned their ordinary military duties, but the position of a regiment, of a brigade, of a division, or of the whole army, relatively to the executive government of the country, was determined by a committee called ‘Regimental Panchayat’ composed of men selected from each battalion, or each company, in consideration of their general character as faithful Sikh soldiers, or from their particular influence in their native villages.1
An example of how these ‘Regimental Panchayats’ acted when things went wrong may be quoted with advantage. During the period Hira Singh (son of Dhian Singh Dogra) was the minister at Lahore (September 1843-December 1844) with Missar Jalla as his Chief advisor, great harassment was caused to princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh (sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) besides many other Darbar dignitaries opposed to the Dogra hegemony. This aroused the Khalsa against the Dogras. ‘Army Panchayats’ held meeting on 21st-23rd March, 1844, when Hira Singh’s administration was subjected to a searching examination. They decided, therefore, that unless Hira Singh conceded certain demands he must be forced to resign. Four representatives of these Panchayats appeared before him in the open darbar and claimed they had come on behalf of the Sarbat Khalsa and conveyed to him the ‘Hukam’. It said that he must release Jawahar Singh (brother of Maharani Jindan) remove the guard placed on the house of Missar Beli Ram, set free his relations and dependents, raise the siege of Sialkot and Kuryanwala, both garrisons of princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh and give an undertaking that the princes will not be ill-treated in future. They also demanded the surrender of Missar Jalla, Sheikh Imam-ud-Din and Lal Singh. If he hesitated or refused, the delegates added, The order was that Hira Singh himself be seized.2
Hira Singh judging from the language and temper of the message and the firm manner in which it was conveyed in the open Darbar, readily promised compliance. But using his superb cunning and tact, accompanied of course with the gold at his disposal, Hira Singh manoeuvred to get a breather which postponed his doom for a while.
Again, when Maharani Jindan collected a number of articles of gold and silver to give in charity on the first day of the new month (Shangrat) 12 December, 1844, as was the custom, Missar Jalla questioned her right for such charitable actions. He is said to have even used abusive language for her. The Maharani thus extremely troubled at heart, appealed to the Khalsa for protection. Besides this, Hira Singh and Missar Jalla’s actions had offended the Sikh psyche beyond toleration in more than one way, such as the brutal massacre of the highly venerated Sikh Saint Bhai Bir Singh and his devoted associates in thousands in May 1844, when the Saint was reciting the holy scripture, which brought matters to a speedy climax. Accordingly, some of the Khalsa regiments moved out of the cantonment to open space near the fort. Once more they demanded the surrender of Jalla. This was refused. Instead, according to Sohan Lal Suri, the court chronicler, In the early hours of 21 December, 1844, Hira Singh and party loaded with cash and jewellery on elephants stealthily left their residence for Jammu. But hardly had they passed the Taxali Gate, when they were noticed by a company of Sikh soldiers. The news was flashed to the military lines and a body of 6000 troopers led by Sham Singh Attari went in pursuit. They overtook the fugitives. Hira Singh and his companions put up a fight but the odds against them were heavy. Among the one thousand slain were Hira Singh, Jalla, Mian Sohan Singh son of Gulab Singh Dogra, Mian Labh Singh and many others .3
According to Cunningham, The regimental panchayats sincerely aimed at maintaining discipline among the soldiers and protecting national interests is further provided by the fact that as soon as the decision to mobilize against the British was made, they voluntarily stopped functioning by an agreement with the executive heads of the State, realising, the necessity of unity of counsel in the affairs of war.
Source:Anglo-Sikh Wars and its Inside Tale – Karnail Singh