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History

When Sikhs Conquered Delhi

by Major-General KULWANT SINGH (Retd.)

 

 

Nadir Shah's brutal offensives and the eight invasions by Ahmed Shah Abdali had made the Mughal Empire fragile and weak.

Sikhs had emerged as a strong and powerful force in northern India, and eventually halted Abdali's invasions. Under the leadership of Dal Khalsa chief, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, the Sikhs refused an alliance, and instead challenged Abdali for battle. They were anxious to avenge the killing of over 20,000 Sikhs, mostly women, children and old people, and also the destruction and desecration of the Golden Temple. Sensing defeat, Abdali called it a day, and finally returned to Afghanistan, never to come back again.

The vast area of the Indian subcontinent lying between the Indus and the Yamuna thus became free from foreign rule.

With no enemy in the North, and Shah Alam II at the head of the decaying Mughal Empire at Delhi, the powerful 12 misls had a free run in increasing their influence in all directions, from the Indus to the Yamuna, seeking rakhi (tribute, protection money) from various small chiefs, nawabs and rajas.

The Marathas, after their defeat by Abdali in the third battle of Panipat in 1761, were marginalised, and the Rohillas were a spent force. The English were in the process of finding their place at Delhi. It was easy for the Sikh misls to cross the Yamuna and make forays towards Delhi and beyond. The misls did not owe any allegiance to each other, except when the Sarbat Khalsa, through a Gurmatta, resolved to attack a common target.

Baghel Singh's Karor Singhia Misl was operating in south-east Punjab. He was a very able leader of men, a good political negotiator, and was able to win over many adversaries to his side. The Mughals, the Marathas, the Rohillas, the Jutts and the British sought his friendship, and, above all, he was a devout Sikh; amrit prachar was his passion.

Karor Singhia was one of the strongest misls with 12,000 well- trained horsemen. The combined strength under Baghel Singh, including soldiers of a few sardars who joined him, was well over 40,000. He captured territories much beyond Delhi to include Meerut, Khurja, Aligarh,Tundla, Shikhohabad, Farrukhabad, Agra and many other rich townships around Delhi, and collected tribute and rakhi from nawabs and rajas. He captured Saharanpur and overran the Rohilla territory in April 1775.

In March 1776, Baghel Singh's forces gave a crushing defeat to the Mughal army near Muzaffarnagar; thus Sikhs extended their influence on the whole of the Yamuna-Gangetic doab.

Baghel Singh invaded Delhi on January 8, 1774, and captured the area up to Shahdara. The second invasion was on July 17, 1775, when the Sikhs captured the area around the present-day Pahar Ganj and Jai Singhpura. Bulk of the fighting took place where present-day New Delhi is located. Sikhs temporarily withdrew due to shortage of supplies, but they kept the agenda of the Red Fort alive, and continued domination and intrusions into the Emperor's territory surrounding Delhi.

By early 1783, the Sikhs commenced preparations for the capture of the Red Fort.

A force of 60,000 under the leadership of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Sardar Baghel Singh assembled at Ghaziabad, continuing their attacks and capturing rich towns around Delhi. Enormous booty was collected by Sikhs, which was sent to Punjab with an escort of 20,000 soldiers. One-tenth of this booty was sent to the Golden Temple as offering to the Guru.

On March 8, the Sikhs captured Malka Ganj and Sabzi Mandi. Prince Mirza Shikoh, on orders from the Emperor, tried to stop the invaders but suffered defeat, and fled. On March 9, they captured Ajmeri Gate. There was a panic in the city; many took shelter in the fort. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia joined the Sikh forces at the last moment with 10,000 soldiers. As many as 30,000 Sikh horsemen of Baghel Singh's army were camping at a place now known as Tees Hazari, location of the Delhi High Court.

The Sikhs attacked the Red Fort on March 11,1783. The Emperor and all his guards, in fact every one in the fort, hid themselves. The story goes that an insider informed Sikhs of a weak spot in the wall of the fort, where the soldiers made a hole by ramming it with wooden logs; the place is now named as Mori ('hole') Gate, the location of Inter State Bus terminus (ISBT).

The Sikhs entered the Red Fort, hoisted the kesri Nishan Sahib, and occupied the Diwan-e-aam, a key location in the fort, where the Emperor, sitting on the throne, used to have audience with the public. In a symbolic gesture, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was made to sit on the throne, which made him the Emperor. His old rival and his name-sake, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, joined by some other chiefs, opposed Ahluwalia's sitting on the throne. Before the event took an ugly turn, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia gracefully vacated the throne and, thus, avoided a controversy amongst the chiefs at a critical moment.

The Emperor was quick to reconcile with the Sikhs; he offered a treaty and accepted their terms. The Emperor was to pay Rs 300,000 as nazrana. The kotwali area was to remain the property of the Sikhs. Baghel Singh was allowed to construct gurdwaras on all sites connected with Sikh history. Baghel Singh was to retain 4,000 soldiers till his task was completed; the Emperor was to pay all expenses. The Sikh army left the fort after the treaty.

The Sikh conquered the Red Fort, but they missed a great opportunity and failed to exploit the advantage of being the strongest force.

 

[Courtesy: The Tribune]

September 1, 2010

 

Conversation about this article

1: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), September 01, 2010, 8:33 AM.

All of Sikh history - including chapters like this one - is completely missing from history books in India. Even people in Delhi and Punjab do not know about this and it has never been taught in schools. How can one include these important chapters and correct the history being taught to kids today?

2: Simon (London, United Kingdom), September 01, 2010, 11:35 AM.

The whole world will learn about it very soon, so I wouldn't worry about schools.

3: Amardeep (U.S.A.), September 01, 2010, 1:34 PM.

To begin with, we should create titles like 'Sikh Victories' or 'Wars won by Sikhs' in wikipedia and add these kinds of articles under those titles. Wikipedia is becoming a good source of reference.

4: Harinder (Lucknow, India), September 01, 2010, 2:07 PM.

In 2010, the spiritual home of Sikhs is Punjab and the political capital is Delhi.

5: Peejay (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), September 01, 2010, 2:34 PM.

S.G.P.C., our main Sikh organization, has failed us miserably. Making sure that Sikh history forms part of every school book in India should have been their main focus. No wonder that the common Indian and Sikh children are totally ignorant of our rich heritage. It is a well known fact that kids growing up in Punjab are more interested in drugs and vulgar songs/ dances. I wish our leadership will wake up and instead of wasting their time and energy on petty politics/ issues, do something constructive.

6: N. Singh (Canada), September 01, 2010, 3:27 PM.

What I don't understand is why the Sikhs did not take this opportunity to create Khalsa Raj! A crucial mistake which has cost us dearly in history and we are still paying the price. Also, growing up as a child I was told how brave the Sikhs had been in battle, how noble and gracious, but no one ever talked about strategy! It came as a shock to me when I began reading about various Sikh battles to learn that the Sikhs of old were great strategists, for example in a document called 'Jangnamah'n Qazi Nur Muhhamad writes: "If you wish to learn the art of war, come face to face with them in the field. They will demonstrate it to you in such a way that one and all will praise them for it ... If their armies take to flight, do not take it as an actual flight. It is a war tactic of theirs ... The object of this trick is that when the furious enemy runs after them, he is separated from his main army and from his reinforcements. Then they turn back to face their pursuers and set fire even to water". I was dismayed to read in "Open Secrets" by Maloy Krishna Dhar who worked as a secret intelligence agent in India during the insurgency, that Sikh youths would come out fighting believing that bullets could not penetrate their chests because they had a mistaken belief in their own prowess! What a waste of life and all because the Sikhs relied on brute force, not tactics. What is the use of teaching children gatka when the real skill is in the science of martial arts including strategy.

7: Taran (London, United Kingdom), September 02, 2010, 8:00 AM.

Very interesting! Just when Jassa Singh Ahluwalia sat on the throne, the other namesake Jassa Singh Ramgharia opposed to it. It shows our character in general. Traces can be found in almost every Sikh even today.

8: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), September 02, 2010, 9:37 AM.

And this was the golden opportunity to conquer the rest of India as expressed by one of the Chiefs, but since the Holla Mahalla was close, they all decided to go to Anandpur Sahib first and celebrate the victory.

9: Amardeep (U.S.A.), September 02, 2010, 1:41 PM.

Why are we blaming those great Sikhs whose achievements are much more than ours? Our next generations will laugh at our follies. What are we doing?

10: N.S. Dhesi (United Kingdom), September 08, 2010, 10:07 PM.

General Kulwant Singh ji: It would interesting to know how many Sikhs attained the ranks of Brigadiers and Generals in the Indian Army. Names, if possible, please.

11: Harjinder Singh (India), October 25, 2010, 10:23 PM.

Guru Sahib blessed me with a trip to Uganda and the Makindu Gurdwara. I came across an amazing research by a Gursikh which I want to share with you. http://satguru.weebly.com/index.html.

12: Jaswant Singh  (Delhi, India), May 31, 2011, 6:00 AM.

Please try to celebrate March 11 of every year as Delhi Fateh Diwas so that our new generations know about it.

13: Nitish (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India), November 17, 2012, 5:40 PM.

It is a great article, showing Sikhs at their best. In my view, India was very lucky to have Sikhs in such a crucial time of history when Sikhs fought bravely against the tyranny of the foreign invaders.

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