Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49) – Causes and Results

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The settlement of Punjab after the first Sikh War neither fulfilled the imperialistic designs of the English nor satisfied the Sikhs. Therefore, the causes of the second Anglo-Sikh war erupted very soon. The English provided certain facilities to the Muslims in Punjab which affected adversely the religious sentiments of the Sikhs. The soldiers who were turned out of their service felt aggrieved in absence of alternative employment. The Sikhs were convinced, rightly or wrongly, that they were defeated only because of the treachery of their officers and, if given another chance, they would certainly defeat the English. Therefore, they sought another opportunity to fight the English.

Beginning of the revolt

The disrespectful behaviour of the English towards Rani Jhindan displeased the Sikhs further. Thus, the Sikhs were feeling restless because of the British control over Punjab. The British, on their own part, were anxious to occupy Punjab. Dalhousie, the new governor-general, was a rank imperialist. He simply sought a pretext for the annexation of Punjab. And, it was provided by the revolt of Mulraj.

Mulraj succeeded his father Sawant Mal as governor of Multan in 1844. Mulraj was asked to pay rupees thirty lacs to the Maharaja as succession duty. Mulraj expressed his inability to pay that amount and expressed his willingness to relinquish his office. His resignation was accepted. Khan Singh, then, was deputed to take the charge of Multan and two English officers were sent along with him. Mulraj handed over the charge of the fort to Khan Singh. But, the same day, both the English officers were murdered. It was the beginning of the revolt.

Causes of the revolt

The English initially took no steps to suppress the revolt of Mulraj. In fact, they wanted the revolt to spread to other parts of Punjab as well, so that they could use this pretext to annex Punjab. The events developed as the English desired. The revolt spread over other parts of the Sikh kingdom. The one particular reason of it was the deportation of Maharani Jhindan outside Punjab. She was charged with instigating the revolt.

The other cause of the revolt was the creation of the English. Chattar Singh the subedar of Hazara had settled the marriage of his daughter with Maharaja Dalip Singh. The ceremony could not be performed because the British objected to it. Yet, Chattar Singh remained loyal to the English. But he felt humiliated by the behaviour of the English and their interference in his internal administration. He expressed his desire to revolt, to his son, Sher Singh who was deputed to suppress the revolt of Mulraj. Sher Singh agreed to his proposal and became a party to the revolt. The revolting Sikhs handed over, Peshawar to Afghanistan in return for their support. This resulted in widespread revolt in Punjab. Thus, the English themselves provoked the Sikhs to revolt.

There is clear evidence to prove that there was no feeling of an organised revolt in Punjab even after the revolt of Mulraj, while the Lahore Durbar remained loyal to the English till the end of the revolt. Thus, there was no justification for Dalhousie to say that, “Unwarned by precedents, uninfluenced by example, the Sikh nation has called for war, and on my word, Sirs, they shall have it with a vengeance.”

Dalhousie’s plan was to permit the revolt to gain momentum and then to blame the Lahore Durbar for it with a view to annexing the State of Punjab. That is why, even when the Lahore Durbar remained loyal to the British and Maharaja Dalip Singh did not involve himself in the revolt in any way and was not even in the capacity to do so he was accepted by Dalhousie as an enemy and Punjab was annexed to the British empire after the second Anglo-Sikh War.

Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49)

The first battle between the English and the Sikhs was fought at Ramnagar on November 22, 1848. But it remained indecisive. The second battle was fought at Chilianwala on January 13, 1849. It also remained indecisive but the English succeeded in Multan. Mulraj surrendered on January 22. However, the decisive battle was fought at Gujrat, a town near the Chenab on February 21, 1849. The Sikhs were badly defeated. In March, 1849, Sher Singh, Chattar Singh and the rest of the Sikh commanders surrendered to the English.

Dalhousie annexed Punjab on March 29, 1849. Maharaja Dalip Singh was granted a pension of rupees four to five lacs annually and, was along with his mother, Rani Jhindan, deported to England.

Results

The second Anglo-Sikh war was the last war fought by the English within the frontiers of India for the extension of their empire.

The annexation of Punjab extended the British territories in India up to the natural frontiers of India towards the north-west. Besides, after the destruction of the Sikh power there remained no native power which could pose a threat to the security of the English in India.

Conclusion

Some scholars have expressed the view that provided the chance and pretext to Dalhousie for annexing Punjab by revolting against the English. This view, however, is not accepted by many others who contend that Dalhousie had no justification to annex Punjab and that he had committed a gross injustice to the Sikhs in doing so.

Maharaja Dalip Singh was a minor and he could have no hand in the revolt. Therefore, there was no justification in annexing his kingdom. Among the members of the Regency Council as well, only one had participated in the revolt, the case of another was doubtful and the rest six had remained completely loyal to the English. Thus the government of Punjab legally constituted with the help of the English had no share in the revolt of the Sikhs. On the contrary, nearly twenty thousand soldiers, loyal to the Durbar had helped the English in suppressing the revolt. Then how could that revolt be regarded as the revolt of the Sikh state? Thus, the only cause of the annexation of Punjab was British imperialism.

Points to remember

  1. In December 1846, the Lahore Darbar was forced to sign a fresh treaty with the English by which Rani Jhindan was deposed from her position as Queen Regent and a Regency Council, under the guidance of the English Resident, was nominated in her place.
  2. The non-fulfillment of the imperialistic designs of the English, the grievances of the turned-out soldiers the conviction of the Khalsa army of its superiority against the English, the disrespectful behavior of the English towards Rani Jhindan and the coming of Dalhousie as the governor-general in India were the primary causes of the second Anglo-Sikh war though its immediate cause was the revolt of Mulraj, the governor of Multan.
  3. The English permitted the revolt to spread and nobles like Chattar Singh and Sher Singh became a party of it.
  4. When the revolt became fairly widespread, the English attempted to suppress it.
  5. The battle at Ramnagar and Chillianwala remained indecisive but the English captured Multan and decisively defeated the Sikhs at the battle of Gujrat after which the Sikh nobles surrendered themselves.
  6. Dalhousie annexed Punjab by a declaration in 1849.
  7. Maharaja Dalip Singh was granted a pension and along with his mother, Rani Jhindan, deported to England.
  8. The English had no justification to annex Punjab as there was no revolt of the Sikhs because Dalip Singh was a minor, only one member of the Regency Council was a party to the revolt and nearly twenty thousand soldiers, loyal to the Darbar had helped the English in suppressing the revolt.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on the Second Anglo-Sikh war. When it occurred, causes and results of this war.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Discuss the causes of the second Sikh War. Why was Punjab annexed by the English?

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