Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
13Mirch

Sikh misls and democracy.

Recommended Posts

What do you guys think? It is very thought provoking isn't it?

Res Publica.

The rise and fall of the Sikh misls and the present day decay of Democracy.

Often a commonwealth and/or a republic is built on the basis of the common good. The parameters which define this are however debatable and often victim to constant change. History is replete with examples of how the common good soon mutates into manifestations of corruption and avarice through the imperfectness of man. One such example is found in the rise and fall of the Sikh misls. A series of twelve confederacies (misls) which divided Punjab between themselves for the survival of the Sikh nation, but over time became hell bent on territorial conquest and achieving personal ambition. The concept, when presented to a mass gathering of Sikhs on March 29th 1748, was accepted with much gusto and cheering. At the time no one realised that the misls, which were to act as the lifeblood of the Punjab, would soon start to de-oxygenate it through their in-fighting. The misls, at first, were led by the glorious and Spartan Nawab Kapur Singh, a general whose only ambition was to create a united and singular nation for his community. His personality was the glue which bound the 11 confederacies together. At the time, this was no easy achievement. On one hand were the royal misls. Lead by successful and often wealthy leaders such as Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, and Charat Singh Sukarchakia; they were brave, resourceful and more often than not had their coffers full of finance. On the other hand was the reclusive Shahida, consisting entirely of the Akalis (traditional Sikh warriors) who relied on raids and looting to boost their financial position. Such a contrast could easily have caused divisions between the misls if it hadnt been for the strong-minded personality, of a single and militant leader. As time progressed each confederacy carved an extensive part of Punjab for itself. Obviously this lead it into conflict with the ruling regimes of the time. On one hand were the Mughals who occasionally approached them for help, on the other were the Marathas who were slowly consolidating their power on the sub-continent; whilst Afghanistan sent its raiders deep into Indian Territory for conquest and booty.

By 1761, however, the confederacies were beginning to dominate Punjab and ultimately by 1780 had gained total control over Punjab. Long gone were the days of the Mughal and Afghani empires, now a new empire ruled Punjab and one which would become extensively synonymous with it; the Sikh empire. In the fashion of a true commonwealth it was moulded in a democratic form, with each and every one of the 11 chiefs holding a commune once a year at Amritsar (the religious capital of Sikh Dom) and bringing his/her problems to the attention of his/her companions. Yet reminiscent of todays democracies, strains of unease and tension were beginning to appear in these communes. Whereas at first there was a feeling of companionship and brotherhood, now there was an atmosphere of tension and unease. The maxim that power corrupts was beginning to take hold, and it was only a matter of time before past allies decided to drink each others blood. After the demise of Nawab Kapur Singhs charismatic successor, Jassa Singh Alhuwalia, in 1783 the confederacies declared open war on each other and the common good soon became clouded in the mists of profit and territorial conquest. The very leaders, who the common man relied on were now ignoring his wishes and setting his residence up for a fall. This inter-fighting saw the demise of many legendary warriors and politicians who would have contributed immensely in the growth of the Sikh sovereignty. The news of this in-fighting soon reached the ears of Zaman Shah, the Afghani emperor who decided to launch an offensive against Punjab. He succeeded in capturing the Sikh economical capital, Lahore, which weakened the confederacies even further. But rather than uniting together and facing this new threat, the confederates soon started extending their empire into North India towards Kashmir and Delhi.

What was needed to preserve the common wealth of Punjab, and the common good was a shrewd and cunning leader. One who could unite the confederacies, by force if necessary, and give the state a new face. Only a few of the confederates possessed such a character, amongst them being Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Mahan Singh Sukarchakia and the father son-duo (Jai Singh and Gurbax Singh) of the Kaniheya confederacy. However all were too busy in slaughtering each other and adding more area to their ever expanding territories. Furthermore Punjab so far had only ever been subject to imperial governing, whether at the hands of the Mughals, Afghanis and Sikhs was a different matter. So far a democratic imperial ship had failed the state. It had started off well but sunk half-way to its destination. What was needed was a change of government, the times required a single figure of power unlike Kapur Singh or Jassa Singh; a figure who retained the reins of power exclusively in his own two hands. So far corruption and avarice ran rife due to their being more than one powerful leader who paid tribute to the natural law of power, more than one powerful individual will always be a catalyst for conflict. This of course is reminiscent of many democracies, whichever leader rose to prominence in Punjab needed not only to subdue the confederacies but also demolish the old system. The catalyst for a new leader surprisingly was provided by the confederacies themselves.

By this point in time all 11 had united against each other and were allying themselves with tributaries and kingdoms outside Punjab. It was to prevent an encroachment of external tributaries that the Kaniheyas and Sukarchakias bonded together in a pact. They also gave their solemn oath that if one was to attack any tributary of another confederacy, than he would share the profits with his partner. However it was not long before Mahan Singh, the ruler of the Sukarchakia confederacy, decided to break the pact. He along with his battalions attacked Kashmir and subdued its rulers, along with looting the state. This did not sit well with the Kaniheyas who decided to retaliate by crushing the Sukarchakias for once and for all. To this end Jai Singh sent his heir and son Gurbax Singh to attack Mahan Singh, who on the other hand allied himself with Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Chief Sansar Chand. The battle which followed has gone down in history as the battle of Batala. Friend and foe alike slaughtered each other in a feast of blood and metal, steel clashed on steel and warriors thundered massive war cries as they charged at each other. Ultimately the fate of the battle was decided after the untimely demise of Gurbax Singh. The Kaniheyas were defeated, and the Sukarchakias, along with the Ramgarhias, carried the day.

For many Sikhs at the time this was only another battle in a never-ending chain of battles. Yet this was the long-awaited catalyst needed for a refurbishment of Sikh sovereignty. When Jai Singh received news of his sons death, he instantly handed the reins of the Kaniheyas to his daughter-in-law, Sada Kaur. Not only did she gain a position of prominence in a much feared confederacy, but also became commander-in-chief of the said confederacys military power. It was expected that she, being possessed of a valorous spirit, would clash with Mahan Singh who was responsible for her husbands early demise; but she surprised even her most vocal critics when she sued for peace.

Sada Kaur had seen Mahan Singhs young son, the prince Ranjit Singh. The boy, despite being in his teens, was extensively shrewd and heavily cunning. He also possessed great perseverance and strength of character, which was lacking in other potential confederate heirs. He had been a victim of chicken-pox on his birth, but had survived its initial effects. However as a result he was blind in one eye and was not much of a sight to view, yet despite these handicaps he had trained himself to become one of the best horsemen in Asia and was an expert in firing from a moving stead. Furthermore he was also possessed of a strong desire to see a reconstruction of the Punjab political scene; however he needed a strong mentor to keep him on track. Mahan Singh was constantly embroiled in his own conflicts, and the young Ranjit was often left to his own devices. He had already proved himself to be an apt general, and this combined with many other factors convinced Sada Kaur to betroth her daughter to him. Hence by the time Mahan Singh died, in 1792, Sada Kaur and Ranjit Singh had already discussed their plans to change the face of Punjab permanently. On one hand were the united Kaniheya and Sukarchakia confederacies, whilst on the other hand were the individual confederacies. Despite their differences, with each other, the confederacies at any given time could unite against the Kaniheya-Sukarchakia alliance and uproot it. To prevent this Sada Kaur and Ranjit Singh launched quick successive attacks on each and every confederacy. It was soon becoming evident to the confederates that Ranjit Singh would bring about their downfall if he was not stopped. But just as Lenin and his God, communism, became an unstoppable force in Imperial Russia; so too did Ranjit Singh in a divided Punjab. He was hell-bent on re-designing the commonwealth of Punjab and was not willing to let any obstacles interfere with his vision. To this end by the time he was in his twenties, he had succeeded in subduing 9 confederacies and only two remained. It is not known why he never pursued his course with Shahida. Maybe he was fearful of its legendary battle prowess, or respectful of its generals and commanders-in-chief. Whatever the reason, even up till his death he did not enter into any debate or conflict with Shahida. The Bhangi confederacy on the other hand was a different matter. They had been responsible for his fathers early demise and also controlled Lahore, which had been won back from Zaman Shah. Also in their possession was the Zamzama the most feared cannon in that part of Asia at the time. To this end and entranced by the prospect of gaining the economic capital of the state, Ranjit Singh planned an all-out attack. One which if he won guaranteed him absolute power over Punjab. Unbeknownst to him, however, was the fact that most of Lahores population wanted him to capture the city. It had become a heavily fought over region due to the confederacy in-fighting and Ranjit Singh presented it with the prospect of peace, in a long time. Other factors too convinced the residents of Lahore that Ranjit Singh was the right ruler for them. He wanted to rule solely, this would prevent an outbreak of internal conflict in the future as was the case with the confederacies. Not only did he want to become a sole figure of power, he was also possessed of extreme cunning. Rather than execute his vanquished opponents, he would grant them employment in his court and was also planning on extending Punjab. To this end he was eyeing China, Nepal, Tibet, Afghanistan and what remained of the Indian sub-continent. Thus not only was he expanding his empire, he was also giving it a strong political legacy. Disillusioned with a democratic-confederate state he had decided to take the burden of ruling solely on his own head. Such a man, the residents of Lahore reasoned, was worthy of power.

Finally the day arrived which would decide the fate of the confederacies, 7th July 1799. Would democracy be victorious, or a dictatorial monarchy? The question hung heavy in the tense atmosphere. The Bhangis had extensive military equipment, and were expert tacticians. Ranjit Singh on the other hand had Sada Kaur and an army composed of high-spirited and valorous soldiers. By nightfall the fate of Lahore, and the confederacies as a result, was decided. Lahore had fallen. Ranjit Singh had succeeded in his designs to wipe out the confederacies and their democracy. The year 1799 finally announced a change in Punjabs fortunes and the birth of an empire which would stand on par with the undefeatable British Empire.

This fall of the Sikh confederacies however is not solely intended to be a lesson in gaining allies and military victories. It is reminiscent of many political frameworks today. Democracy, which is accepted as being an epitome of equality, is increasingly distancing itself from its real purpose. Thus there is an increasing disillusion with the system, even within its fundamentalist supporters. How equal is an individual in a democracy? Is the main question. Democracy has mutated into nothing more than a battleground for the elite few. Whereas at first the Sikh confederacies listened to their citizens, and pursued courses in a collective manner, as time progressed they became heavily embroiled in their own personal matters and forgot the common-good. Once more the common man was left with no course to resort to, as the very leaders who he selected and supported turned against his welfare. Even today a majority of nations pursue a theoretically democratic policy, but in reality are battlegrounds of the elite; who have been granted the right to rule over the common man by the common man himself. Thus what the global village needs now, nay requires now, is a new form of governorship. Similar to Ranjit Singh wiping out the vestiges of the confederacy, a contemporary Ranjit Singh needs to vanquish the remnants of democracy and replace it with a much better system. One can argue, via a devils advocates perspective, that everything man creates is doomed to failure. But one can also argue that what man creates is subject to evolution, and democracy has long overstayed its own evolution.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Where is this from? I thought Res Publica was a British thinktank, odd they know so much about Misl history.

I dont really see how you can compare modern democracies of well unified countries to the Misls though. Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rise to power wasnt just about seeing how Punjab was divided and how bad people were, there was an element of Nationalism to it. Just as Germany, Japan, Italy and China had been divided along clan/shire/state/domains lines, it took a forceful entity and movement to unite them into one nation state. This brought the security, power and unity that a confederacy could never bring. The peace and removal of infighting to the external borders was a desirable goal for the lowest to the highest in the land. Even after unification the lower classes were still pawns in the games of the higher classes, they were just more secure and faced less day to day violence. It's a bit weird how the article doesnt discuss the army revolution that took place after Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death and the inability of any of his successors to mould themselves into a 'Strong Man of the Punjab' type leader. The Sikh army went back to a democratic type of structure, but still didnt have the ability to weed out traitors.

Modern democracies on the other hand face problems based on their own personal histories and the wants and goals of the people who do the voting. Some of them may long for a strong man-type leader, but in order to may one bunch happy, you usually end up making another bunch of people unhappy. European history for the last few thousand years shows this. The ones who are usually left out are excluded from the history books to create a more nostalgic imagining of history for subsequent generations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Res Publica is a Latin term defining a commonwealth or democracy. Anything for the common good. I guess the author is making a broad comparison.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Res Publica is a Latin term defining a commonwealth or democracy. Anything for the common good. I guess the author is making a broad comparison.

Ah hah, I see it now. In fact there are a fair few similarities between early Rome and early Sikh 'republics'. Unlike modern Western democracies, the idea of discussing ideas and having debates was as important as the votes. The Romans trained their children in oratory skills and the forum was a centre piece of Roman life in many urban areas, just like Sikhs discussed things before coming to a conclusion/agreement.

Unforunately modern democracies arent too similar to either. The democracies of today are based on European systems and cultures, which themselves are traced back to the vary barbarian hordes who destroyed the Roman Empire and provinces. If anything it took them centuries to ape the few ideas they were able to decipher from classical Roman and Greek society, at times just copying with no idea of how it all fitted together. For example, one way the Romans strengthened their society was to have a patronage system which didnt leave people out or create 'have nots'. Western societies took centuries to develop something similar (the welfare state) and even this has proved untenable. Sikhs shouldnt read to much into what the west does, most of their success is based on ample stolen resources and military might. Without that their political institutions are as bad as anyone elses. Sikhs, especially those in Punjab, have to figure out their own way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

interesting but i personally wouldnt class Sukerchakia misl as a rich misl. From what i have read even upto the time of Sardar Mahan Singh they were still dependent on spoils to survive as a outfit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the patali misl sold out to afghan and british and were never part of the khalsa who were some of the other misls who refused to ally with ranjit singh and became princely states of the british

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ah hah, I see it now. In fact there are a fair few similarities between early Rome and early Sikh 'republics'. Unlike modern Western democracies, the idea of discussing ideas and having debates was as important as the votes. The Romans trained their children in oratory skills and the forum was a centre piece of Roman life in many urban areas, just like Sikhs discussed things before coming to a conclusion/agreement.

Unforunately modern democracies arent too similar to either. The democracies of today are based on European systems and cultures, which themselves are traced back to the vary barbarian hordes who destroyed the Roman Empire and provinces. If anything it took them centuries to ape the few ideas they were able to decipher from classical Roman and Greek society, at times just copying with no idea of how it all fitted together. For example, one way the Romans strengthened their society was to have a patronage system which didnt leave people out or create 'have nots'. Western societies took centuries to develop something similar (the welfare state) and even this has proved untenable. Sikhs shouldnt read to much into what the west does, most of their success is based on ample stolen resources and military might. Without that their political institutions are as bad as anyone elses. Sikhs, especially those in Punjab, have to figure out their own way.

Innovation and re-surgence might be the way forward. Especially concerning the present day situation. We both have probably seen enough to know that Western based systems never actually entirely work out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the patali misl sold out to afghan and british and were never part of the khalsa who were some of the other misls who refused to ally with ranjit singh and became princely states of the british

This was the first major mistake of the Sikhs. The one who actually sought British protection first was Bhag Singh, Maharaja Ranjits Singhs own MAMA. He simply distrusted his own Bhanja so much that he went running to ther British even though Maharaja Ranjit Singh had shown him nothing but respect and friendship.

What did he think Maharaja was? an incarnation of Bhagwan Sri Krishna, reborn to destroy his mama?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This was the first major mistake of the Sikhs. The one who actually sought British protection first was Bhag Singh, Maharaja Ranjits Singhs own MAMA. He simply distrusted his own Bhanja so much that he went running to ther British even though Maharaja Ranjit Singh had shown him nothing but respect and friendship.

What did he think Maharaja was? an incarnation of Bhagwan Sri Krishna, reborn to destroy his mama?

Whats that damn thing if mama Bhanja sit under one roof during a thunderstorm, lighting will fall on them and kill them both.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No sikh misls surrendered. It was the sikh state of Jind who first came under the protection of the British empire, like in a commonwealth, ultimately they got turned over. the sikh states are differnt from the misls.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No sikh misls surrendered. It was the sikh state of Jind who first came under the protection of the British empire, like in a commonwealth, ultimately they got turned over. the sikh states are differnt from the misls.

Phulkia was always different from the other eleven.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  



×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Use