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Patriots or Rebels? Sikh Obedience Patterns in History

Jogishwar Singh

Events of the 1980s in the Indian Punjab put the political, religious and economic demands of the Sikhs in sharp focus. In the light of these developments, it is relevant to discuss the evolution of patterns of obedience by Sikhs to political authority. Such consideration may clarify certain aspects of Sikh behaviour which, otherwise, may appear rebellious and disorderly. It is essential to try and understand the impact of Sikh history and tradition on shaping attitudes towards political authority. A detailed discussion of this aspect being beyond the scope of a limited article such as this one, only certain broad outlines will be traced.

Determining Factors: Living Historical Heritage; Inseparability of Religion and Politics; Absence of a Personality Cult, “History is important to the Sikh in a way that it is not to the Hindu, Buddhist or Jain. He is conscious and proud of its influence and aware that he is still an active participant in an historical process”.1 One major reason for such an ever present historical consciousness shaping attitudes towards obedience is the almost continuous chain of popular struggles for acquiring or defending basic rights denied by oppressive political authorities. From the martyrdom of the fifth Guru, Guru Arjun Dev ji (Guru 1581-1606) in 16062 to the imprisonment of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib (Guru 1606-1644), in Gwalior fort by the emperor Jahangir3, to the martyrdom of the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib (Guru 1664-1675) in 1675 to the travail filled life of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib (Guru 1675-1708), to the brutal genocide inflicted by political authorities on the Sikhs between 1710 and 1768 can be traced this tradition of struggle and sacrifice in defence of the Sikh way of life. Obedience was extended only to such political authority as allowed freedom of conscience, leaving the Sikhs free to practise their religion. The Sikhs did not believe in giving obedience to a political authority merely because it existed and claimed sovereignty over them by force of arms. The spirit nurtured by the Sikh Gurus, so strikingly crystallised by Guru Gobind Singh ji in the creation of the Khalsa in 1699, runs counter to such obedience unless the political authority claiming it fulfils certain minimum obligations towards the Sikh Panth.4 The tenth Guru, while repeatedly emphasising that resistance was justified only “when all other avenues of protest, including willing martyrdom, were of no avail”5, does also emphasise that “power must reside in clean, ethical and just hands”6. Again, the “threat to political authority would not arise so long as the person concerned exercised it for the betterment of his subjects”.7 Even Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not given unquestioned obedience, and this in the heyday of Sikh power! “Ranjit Singh had to camouflage his monarchy. He knew that he merely directed into a particular channel a power by which he could not enslave an equal member of the Khalsa.....everything was done for the sake of the Guru, for the advantage of the Khalsa and in the name of the Lord”.8 If this was the state of affairs under a Sikh ruler, it is not realistic to expect unquestioning obedience from Sikhs to later political authorities unless they convince the Sikhs that power is being exercised in a just manner and that their religion is not under threat.

This introduces a second major factor conditioning Sikh attitudes towards political authority – the inseparability of politics and religion. The whole historical experience of Sikhism reflects such inseparability. No amount of secular arguments based on principles of political science can prove otherwise. Any expectation that, politics and religion being distinctly separate vocations, the Sikhs must determine their obedience regardless of how the State affects their religion ignores history and Sikh historical evolution. Guru Hargobind Sahib wore two swords, the “Miri” symbolising temporal authority and the “Piri” symbolising spiritual authority. Across the Durbar Sahib, he constructed the Akal Takht which subsequently became the centre of Sikh political decision making. This intermingling of religion and politics was not something suddenly introduced by the sixth Guru, subsequently sanctified by his grandson, Guru Gobind Singh ji. This development was inherent in the evolution of Sikhism. The earlier Gurus were not apolitical holy men who turned a blind eye to the prevalent political situation around them. Guru Nanak Sahib comments extensively on the prevailing political rot of his age.9 “As important as the religious and communal aspects of Nanak’s preaching were the political”.10

The political aspects came to the fore only when the State oppressed the Sikh religion but it does not mean that they were not always shimmering in the background. Guru Amar Das ji (Guru 1552-1574) and Guru Arjun Dev ji are both said to have been involved in political matters by representing the cause of the overburdened or unjustly treated tax payers to Mughal authorities.11 “Guru Arjun clearly had some of the trappings of a temporal prince”.12 This view is shared by a well known Muslim historian also.13 “Henceforward the Guru was looked upon by his disciples not only in the light of a spiritual guide but also as a ruling sovereign”.14 Guru Gobind Singh ji considered God Himself as the fountainhead of all political authority. Human beings exercised such authority only as His mandate.15 Pure and clean hearted people, fired by the love of God, can distinguish good from evil and, accordingly, accept or reject incumbents in office.16

Sikhism is a holistic way of life and conduct, embracing political attitudes as well. It is not just a set of theological principles or codes of conduct. “Sikhism took a comprehensive and integrated view of religion....to tackle all the challenges thrown up by the totality of life, because life could not be arbitrarily compartmentalised into religious, social and political segments. As such, the goal of religion was to bring about a change not only in the character of the individual but also in the socio-political environment which determined its development”.17 Also, “the Sikh Panth was, thus, not organised as just another sect to pursue the traditional Indian approach to religion. It was made the basis for....fighting political domination and for capturing political power for a plebeian mission”.18

This view may be labelled as anachronistic by proponents of total separation of politics and religion. It can, however, not prevent the Sikhs from conditioning their obedience to political authority on its accommodation of their tradition. Attempts to weaken the hold of the Shiromani Akali Dal by pointing out that it is mixing up religion and politics have not cut much ice in its rural strongholds, where a lot of Sikhs live and work. A large segment of Sikhs vote for this party, in spite of its extremely poor present leadership, because it purports to safeguard the interests of the Panth. It is a regular part of Akali election propaganda to exhort Sikh voters to vote for the Panth. Sikhs questioning the fundamental nexus between politics and religion in Sikhism are “leaders in India but not leaders among the Sikhs”.19 They remain generals without soldiers. Repeated attempts to break the Akali Dal’s political hold by inducing defections from its ranks, by dismissal of governments led by it, or creation of rival Akali Dals have furnished only fleeting gains, failing to break its hold on rural Sikh masses because of this nexus anchored in Sikh historical tradition.20 This inherent political strength remains an important factor in Punjab politics.

Interwoven with the hitherto discussed two factors is another important factor, completing a sort of obedience trinity: obedience to an individual. Sikh tradition shows that two broad epochs can be discerned in the evolution of Sikh attitudes towards obedience to an individual:

1. Period of the ten Gurus (1469-1708)
2. Post-Guru Period (1708  onwards)

In the Guru period, emphasis is laid on unquestioning obedience to the Guru. Such obedience was one of the criteria determining the succession to the Guruship. Guru Nanak Sahib bypassed his own sons to anoint Bhai Lehna as his successor, rewarding the latter’s unquestioning obedience and devotion to him.21 A similar process came into play when Guru Angad Dev ji (Guru 1539-1552) bypassed his own sons to anoint his favourite disciple Amar Das as the third Guru. Guru Amar Das ji, in his own turn, bypassed his own son to anoint his son-in-law Bhai Jetha as the fourth Guru. “What was looked for in a successor was moral courage and devotion to the reigning Guru”.22 Even when the Guruship became hereditary in the family of Guru Ram Das ji (Guru 1574-1581), this criterion continued to be valid. He did not anoint his elder sons but his youngest son, Arjun Mal, as his successor. The Guru Granth Sahib is full of hymns extolling total obedience and devotion to the Guru.23However, the word Guru is synonymous with Waheguru Almighty at many places in these hymns.

From the time of Guru Arjun Sahib onwards, the Guru came to play an increasing temporal role in the lives of his Sikhs. Obedience to the Guru had an increasingly temporal notion as well. The Sikhs were, thus, conditioned to render obedience to an individual incorporating spiritual and temporal authority in himself.24 Guru Gobind Singh ji altered this tradition when he vested the Guruship after him in the Guru Granth Sahib and not in an individual. He demonstrated by his actions how much he himself respected the Khalsa. He is said to have accepted being fined by his Sikhs after he made a gesture of saluting Saint Dadu’s grave with his arrow.25In the Guru’s composition can be found the apotheosis of the Khalsa.26

A new spirit was now infused into the Sikhs, with each believing himself as much a leader as any other. The Sikhs earned their Guru’s trust in them. “After bringing into being a revolutionary organisation, the Guru placed a revolutionary ideal before his men, the objective of the Raj Khalsa or people’s democracy”.27 Fired with a missionary zeal, the Sikhs not only withstood a genocide after the Guru’s death but also showed in practice how the power of faith produced leadership qualities without blind obedience to any one individual. This trait can be illustrated by innumerable examples from those times down to the present day. It has been rightly pointed out that “mindless obedience and self effacement ...is not possible among guerrilla units because a guerrilla force is essentially a political army organised on democratic lines”.28 This trait, developed during the Sikh guerrilla war of 1710-1768 did not disappear from the Sikh bent of mind and obedience attitudes.

Banda Singh Bahadur was sent by the tenth Guru as his personal envoy to the Punjab. But even he could not obtain mindless obedience from the Khalsa. There was a split in the Panth because many felt that Banda was exceeding his brief from the Guru. His adherents came to be known as “Bandai Khalsa”, while those harking back to the principles of the Guru were called “Tat Khalsa”. This split shows how even a charismatic and dynamic leader like Banda Singh could not obtain unquestioning loyalty from the Khalsa. A similar reluctance led to prolonged bickering in 1733 when Zakaria Khan, the governor of Punjab, made the offer of a jagir and the title of Nawab to the Sikhs assembled in their general assembly, the Sarbat Khalsa, at Amritsar. The Sikhs were instinctively against the idea of elevating one of themselves as a temporal superior commanding obedience. Only reluctantly was Sardar Kapur Singh awarded the title of Nawab. He commanded no obedience purely by virtue of this title. He obtained obedience through his selfless service of his fellow Sikhs.

There is a controversy amongst even historians, illustrating Sikh attitudes quite well. Dr N K Sinha rejects outright the notion that Sikhs struck coins in 1758 bearing the inscription “Mulk-i-Ahmad grift Jassa Kalal”  (in the country of Ahmad, conquered by Jassa Kalal)29 because such an act went against the entire trend of Sikh history till then. The presence of an individual’s name on coins, the traditional mark of sovereignty, was not attempted by Sikh rulers. Banda Singh made the first ever formal assertion by Sikhs of political sovereignty when he got coins struck in 1710.30 However, these coins bore the names of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, not his own name. “The inscription on Banda’s seal became a model for future inscriptions on Sikh coins and seals”.31 Coins bearing this inscription were struck in 1765 after the capture of Lahore.32 “Even Ranjit Singh in the plenitude of his power never left the impress of his name on the coins. The theocratic zeal and the democratic spirit were far too deep rooted to allow any individual to do such a highly objectionable thing”.33 Modern day Sikh leaders have always faced opposition and splits when it starts being felt that they are becoming predominant. Sikh Chief Ministers of Punjab have never got unquestioned obedience.

These obedience behaviour parameters having been outlined, their interplay in various phases of Sikh history can now be briefly surveyed. For this purpose, the following time divisions are proposed:

1. Period of the first nine Gurus (1469-1675) and of Guru Gobind Singh till 1699.
2. Creation of the Khalsa and its Early Years (1699-1708)
3. Period of State Persecution and Sikh Response (1710-1768)
4. Period of the Sikh Misals (1768-1799)
5. Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Lahore Durbar (1800-1849)
6. Period of British Rule (1849-1947)
7. Post Independence Period (1947 onwards)

It will now be examined how the Sikh obedience pattern evolved in each of these time periods.

1. 1469-1699 Gurus and Disciples
It has already been pointed out how devotion and obedience to the Guru recurs as a leit motif for this period. However, even in this period, obedience was not just a one way street with nothing being given by the Guru in return. The Sangat or assembly of Sikhs is as important in the hymns composed by Guru Arjun Sahib, as the Guru himself.34 The Lord becomes manifest in the Sangat. In its company the world ocean can be crossed and salvation found.35 Here lies the kernel of the later apotheosis of the Panth as the Guru. Though the ideal of devotion to the Guru was carried to such an extent that two followers are said to have burnt themselves on the funeral pyre of Guru Hargobind Sahib,36 it was matched by the Guru’s concern and esteem for his Sikhs. Guru Ram Das Sahib compares it to a mother’s care for a new born baby.37 The implication is obvious: the Gurus were given obedience because they, in turn, assiduously devoted themselves to the spiritual and temporal welfare of their Sikhs. They did not proffer the idea of blind obedience merely because they were in a position of authority. What a far cry from modern day tainted and venal Sikh leadership which believes primarily in lining its own pockets, yet expects obedience from Sikh masses !

The Gurus’  actions consistently evolved a political angle to the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak Sahib has even been called the “first popular leader of the Punjab in recorded history”.38 His ideas “gave birth to Punjabi consciousness and to Punjabi nationalism”.39 His practical demonstration through his own life that religion did not mean asceticism and isolation from society meant that his followers would be imbued with a political consciousness arising out of their being firmly grounded in the prevalent social order.

Guru Angad Sahib not only developed the Gurmukhi script. He also organised a regular system of collecting offerings to meet the expenses of the Langar.40 He ordered his followers to take part in drill and competitive games after the morning service. He started a tradition which made it easy for his successors to raise troops of able bodied men from among his disciples.41 He is said to have affirmed that if “ever the necessity to fight arose, it was the duty of a soldier to give battle regardless of the odds against him”.42 These were not the words and actions of someone trying to raise his followers as obedient sheep. Guru Amar Das Sahib established a system of twenty two “Manjis” under the direction of heads called “Sangatias” for systematising the collection and transmission of donations.43 This was the embryo of a taxation system, a necessary adjunct of a political structure. In the third Guru’s time, “Brahmins began to persecute the Sikhs44” and poison the ears of Mughal authorities against them. “This was the beginning of the oppression of the Sikhs which subsequently compelled them to take up arms”.45

The third Guru is said to have made even the Emperor Akbar sit on the floor to share a meal in the langar with the Sangat at Goindwal before meeting him.46 This constitutes a clear lesson that the supreme political authority of the land had no precedence before religion. Akbar was an enlightened sovereign who did not get provoked by this principle of the Sikh faith. Had he sought to suppress this faith, as his son Jahangir began to do, there should be no doubt that the Sikhs would have offered resistance to his political authority, as they did to that of his successors. The tortures suffered so patiently by the fifth Guru in 1606 under the orders of the Emperor Jahangir were a living example of higher principles than mere obedience to sovereign power guiding the Sikh faith. Guru Arjun Sahib could have saved his life by conforming to the dictates of political authority. Instead, he chose to affirm the supremacy of higher tenets: freedom of conscience and religion. “Within a century that intervened between Guru Nanak and Guru Arjun, a comparatively small group of followers became a community with an unfolding power development, self reliance and political significance”47 is the opinion of a German research scholar of Sikhism.

Guru Hargobind Sahib merely carried forward the momentum of this evolution under changed circumstances. He is said to have declared in 1633 that he would “wrest sovereignty from the Mughals and bestow this all on the downtrodden and the helpless”.48 Militarisation of the Sikh movement was an organic growth of the Sikh thesis. The sixth Guru built the Akal Takht as the seat of Sikh temporal authority. The first three armed clashes between Sikh and Mughal forces took place during his time. The imperial forces were vanquished in each of these battles. “Fighting in the van of the Sikh forces were Hargobind’s own sons, Gurditta and Tegh Bahadur”.49 Even the seventh Guru, Har Rai Sahib (Guru 1644-1661), set aside his elder son Ram Rai in favour of his second son, Har Krishan (Guru 1661-1664), as his successor because the former is said to have altered the word “Musalman” to “Beiman” in a verse of the Sikh scripture to please the Emperor Aurangzeb.50 It was, thus, again affirmed in practice, if such an affirmation were still required, that the cultivation of political authority at the cost of compromise with the tenets of the Sikh faith would not be tolerated. The immutability of verses in the scripture was (and is) such a tenet. Guru Har Rai Sahib is said to have offered some assistance to Prince Dara Shikoh in the war of succession among the sons of the Emperor Shahjahan.51 This earned Aurangzeb’s wrath, just as Jahangir, his grandfather, had been similarly aroused by the action of Guru Arjun Sahib in having blessed the rebellious Prince Khusrau.

We can discern a persistent trend: the Gurus set higher store on their religious belief than on blind obedience to sovereign authority. The ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib’s martyrdom confirmed this in a striking fashion. A Muslim historian writing about Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib says that the latter was “universally acknowledged amongst the Sikhs as Sacha Padshah, or veritable king, who guided the soul to salvation, while a temporal monarch guided merely man’s worldly actions”.52

The ground had, thus, been prepared. “Any external interference with the affairs of the Sikh Gurus and the Sikh Panth was likely to be resented by them; and a persistent challenge to the Sikh’s allegiance to his Guru could force on him the withdrawal of his allegiance to the State”.53 This should always be borne in mind by those clamouring for the Sikhs to separate politics and religion and blindly obey the State. Scholarly sounding discourses by retired bureaucrats or politicians on Indian TV channels cannot counter the weight of historical evidence. Most such “experts” are motivated by their personal ambition without any link to history.

2. 1699-1710: The Early Years of the Khalsa
The tenth Guru not only changed the external appearance of the Sikhs, he also institutionalised the attitudinal change towards political authority that had been evolving slowly before him. If it had been unrealistic to expect blind obedience to the State by the Sikhs even earlier, it became virtually impossible after the creation of the Khalsa in 1699. Henceforth, the Panth was fired by the slogan: “Raj kareyga Khalsa, aaki rahey na koey”.54 It is wrong to consider the transformation wrought by the tenth Guru as a rebellion against Muslim authority on narrow communal lines. He equally defied the oppressive practices of the Hindu hill rajas. He called for resistance to oppression, regardless of its communal affiliation. The whole thrust of the Guru’s efforts was to make his Sikhs soldier saints who would be worthy of carrying the honour of Guruship that he was going to bestow on them. If political authority were to come in the way of free practice of their ideals, then not only were it to be fought against, but fought against as a matter of duty. Through his poetic compositions, his lifestyle and his actions, he embodied this ideal, even to the extent of losing all his sons in the process. Guru Gobind Singh Sahib is not a mythological figure of yore. His spirit still infuses the thinking of many average Sikhs (which, sadly, cannot be said of present day Sikh leadership). His deeds are present in many Sikh minds. They still condition obedience to political authority.

The tenth Guru’s heroic legacy led to an immediate Sikh struggle for political authority because the Sikhs became convinced that their religion would always be in dire straits without political power. They would only obey such political authority as safeguarded their religion. “After the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs refused to recognise any authority, be it Mughal or Afghan, which they believed would deny them justice”.55

The rules of the ball game had changed. “If military courage is democratised, as it was in the Punjab, the government cannot afford to flout the opinion of the people. It can ignore the masses only when military courage is the monopoly of a ruling caste or of an aristocracy, as the Spartans ignored the Helots, as the feudal nobility ignored the commonality of Europe in the Middle Ages”.56 No political authority could henceforth hope to earn obedience from the Sikhs by pure intimidation. Qazi Noor Mohammad’s description of Sikh character in his magnum opus “Jangnamah”, written about 56 years after the death of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, attests how Sikh society had imbibed a heroic spirit.57 In one of his writings, the tenth Guru says “a king must apply the same laws to himself as he does to others....a peaceful approach can bear fruit only if the opponent has also some scruples and is influenced by religious and ethical values. If he did not have any regard for such values, the only remedy would be to oppose him tooth and nail.”58 This should always be borne in mind when political authority is tempted to procrastinate and indulge in playing games with the Sikhs with a view to dividing them in order to concede no genuine demands. The July 1985 accord between the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the Sikh leader, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, showed that when negotiations are carried out with a spirit of accommodation of just demands, the Sikhs are not recalcitrant rebels but law abiding citizens of the land. Existence of a tiny minority not in agreement with such accords cannot be used as an excuse to tar the entire community in black colours, as is generally done by Indian media, avid for sensationalism.

Based on Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s teachings, the natural political order preordained by the Zeitgeist of the Sikhs can only be a democratic polity. It cannot be a state based on absolute despotism of the individual, be he a monarch, a dictator, a Prime Minister or other. Regimes tending to be dictatorial evoke immediate resistance from the Sikhs. By democratic polity is meant a state where the ruled are regularly and freely consulted on matters pertaining to their religious and political welfare. It does not necessarily mean a parliamentary democracy as understood in modern parlance. It has been opined that “the democratic values enunciated and promoted in practice by Guru Gobind Singh have not been paid enough attention”.59 Government was carried on at Anandpur Sahib in accordance with democratic principles before the tenth Guru was compelled to abandon his headquarters there. Panches and Jathedars, regularly elected at public gatherings, carried on administration. The Guru did not impose autocratic leadership or the principle of blind obedience. He respected the popular will of his followers. His authority relied upon voluntary submission rendered by his followers because of his great sacrifices, superior intellect and spiritual attainments. The Guru even had to revise course in face of pressure of public opinion, as in the case of an offer of safe conduct by besieging hill rajas if he evacuated Anandpur. He wanted to educate his followers in the principles of representative government.60

These pristine ideals were later on misused by feudal forces. However, Sikh ethos has not allowed obedience to autocrats and autocratic systems, based on individual rule or otherwise, as an accepted corollary of Sikh religious and political evolution. The tenth Master adapted the traditional Panchayat system into Sikhism when he constituted the Panj Pyaras. All matters of vital importance to the community were to be referred to this council for deliberation and formulation of concrete proposals, which were carried by “sarab samiti” (unanimity) or “bahu samiti” (majority). The congregation was the prototype of a modern general assembly.61

It is easy to notice here some resemblance to the system of direct democracy practised by my fellow Swiss citizens in their Communes (places of origin) and Cantons (provinces). This resemblance extends to more than just procedural similarities. In both cases, the Sikhs and the Swiss, there exists a long tradition of resistance to oppressive regimes, coupled with a desire to be left alone to practise their way of life. Both fought against far superior imperial armies through guerrilla tactics employed by motivated individuals fired with a spirit of liberty in defence of their way of life. Swiss history has instances of individuals like the legendary Arnold von Winkelried sacrificing their lives for their cause. Sikh history is replete with innumerable such feats in which Sikhs courted martyrdom for the sake of their Panth. Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, Baba Deep Singh, Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das are just some of the more well known martyrs of the Sikh faith.

Both the Swiss and the Sikhs won renown as excellent soldiers. Both were eagerly sought after as mercenaries in the armies of others. This author feels that such strong attachment to liberty and to one’s way of life arises only when obedience is given voluntarily, believing in the good faith of the state. It is not extracted by force from unwilling subjects. The changes introduced by the Sikh faith, so strikingly consolidated by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, were soon put to the test of fire and found more than equal to it.

3. 1710-1768: Martyrdom and Victory
This period is marked by no less than an attempted genocide of the Sikh nation by political authorities, first the Mughals, followed by the Afghans. If Punjab today is not a part of Afghanistan, in spite of formal cession of all territory west of the Indus and the revenue of four districts of Sialkot, Aurangabad, Gujrat and Pasrur to Ahmad Shah Abdali62, it is only because of unending resistance by the Sikhs. Had the Sikhs accepted the principle of complete separation of politics from religion, thereby according unquestioned obedience to Afghan sovereign authority, Punjab would have become a part of Afghanistan. In such a scenario, foreign troops might today be sitting in Lahore and Chandigarh.

This period of constant struggle for survival had deeply marked the Sikh psyche. It has convinced many Sikhs, at least those conscious of their history, never to blindly accept political authority. The state which was, in theory, supposed to protect them, organised a genocide of Sikhs. This genocide is comparable to what was inflicted on the Jews by Nazi Germany, not in absolute numbers but in the sense of a political authority deliberately attempting to exterminate a religious group through the unfettered use of state power. The organised massacre of Sikhs in some parts of India in 1984, with the clear connivance of political authorities, was a minor glimpse of what the Sikhs had suffered between 1710 and 1768. The brutalities perpetrated on the Sikhs need no retelling here. They are evoked every single day in the “Ardaas”. The Panth survived its ordeal in the 18th century through its unshakeable faith in ultimate victory and fortuitous political circumstances. This reinforced its resistance to blind obedience to the state.

During the period under review, decision making was carried on through the Sarbat Khalsa and the Gurmatta. After their experience with Banda Singh Bahadur63, no single individual was allowed to dominate political activity. The Sarbat Khalsa was the general assembly of the Sikhs, taking place twice a year at Amritsar.64 A resolution passed by such an assembly was the Gurmatta (Guru’s decree).65 The Sarbat Khalsa appointed Jathedars (group leaders), chose agents and entrusted them with powers to negotiate on behalf of the Panth.66 There was no obedience to one single powerful individual.

The political system of the Sikhs has been described as a “federative republic”  by a Muslim historian.67 When deemed necessary, an individual was delegated specific powers by common consent through a majority decision.68 He was barely allowed the dignity of primus inter pares.69 “Among the Khalsa no pre-eminence was allowed except that which merit and ability naturally give.....anyone who possessed the strength of arms, determination and organising ability could ride with followers behind him and call himself a Sirdar”.70 Not only this, “the democratic functioning of the army gave their individual soldier a feeling that he was his own leader and the duties he was carrying out were self imposed”.71 He was “subordinate to none and was his own leader”.72

This attitude was confined not just to the political or religious sphere but was also extended to other spheres of the Sikh way of life. A historian has described Banda Singh Bahadur’s efforts as a “peasant upsurge in eastern Punjab”.73 He was able to rouse a “downtrodden peasantry to take up arms. In seven stormy years, Banda changed the class structure of land holdings in the southern half of the state by liquidating many of the big Muslim zamindar families of Malwa and the Jullundur Doab. Large estates were first broken up into smaller holdings in the hands of Sikh or Hindu peasants. With the rise of Sikh power, these holdings were once again grouped together to form large estates, but in the hands of Sikh chieftains.”74

This process did not, however, take land away from many small peasant proprietors given land by Banda Singh. “Banda confiscated jagirs and distributed them among landless farmers”.75 The tradition of a preponderance of small peasant proprietors in the Punjab can be traced back to Banda. As peasant proprietors, the Sikhs extended their independence in obedience attitudes to the economic sphere. They were directly affected by whether political authority followed policies safeguarding their economic well being or functioned only through extortionist tax collectors. Agriculture became the favoured occupation of these peasant proprietors. From this time onwards can be traced how political decisions affecting agricultural operations become important factors in determining Sikh attitudes towards political authorities.

It should not surprise people nowadays when rural Sikhs get worked up over river water disputes that directly affect the availability of irrigational water to their fields, directly determining their economic condition. Sikh farmers have constituted the vanguard of the Green Revolution in India. A major reason for this development is their legacy of ability to take progressive decisions, evolved from Sikh historical experience. The progress of Sikhs in the economic sphere cannot be divorced from the traits of their obedience patterns, conditioned by their historical experience.

4. 1768-1799: Misal Period, Leaders Galore
Chronologically, the formation of Sikh confederacies known as Misals dates from before 1768. This formation occurred in the 1740s when foundations of this system were laid. The year 1768 has been chosen as a determinant point because the Misals become unchallenged masters in the Punjab after Ahmad Shah Abdali’s ninth and last invasion in 1769. Misal chieftains gradually deviated from the pristine idealism that had characterised the founders of this system like Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Nawab Sardar Kapur Singh Fyzullpuria.

There were twelve Misals.76 However, in this system, obedience was not granted automatically. Troopers joined chieftains of their own free will. They left when they wanted to. They were quite “at liberty to abandon the profession of arms or to transfer their military allegiance from one chief to another”.77 The Misal chieftains could not take their followers’ obedience for granted. They had to continuously respect the wishes of their adherents. “It was only by such means that they could hope to retain them in their service, the slightest show of indifference exhibited by a chief to the interests of his fighting men, invariably ending in the latter going over to another chief”.78 Transfer of allegiance was not treated as desertion or treachery. It was every Sikh’s inherent right. He had the freedom to choose the recipient of his allegiance. There was no question of accepting regimented discipline as understood in modern military sense. This did not mean that the Sikhs were not good fighters. It meant that they were just not willing to accept discipline like sheep. They considered themselves as good as any other person claiming allegiance from them. Obedience was given voluntarily, not coerced.

An English traveller describes the Sikh polity, thus, in 1783: “Sikh government seemed to be an aristocracy but on closer examination revealed a large vein of popular power branching through many of its parts... No honorary or titular distinctions were conferred on any member; punishments were rarely inflicted in the army; equality of rank was maintained in civil society which no class of men however wealthy or powerful were suffered to break down”.79 Meeting a Sikh on one of his travels in the hill areas of Uttar Pradesh, the Englishman asked him who his chief was. “He told me (in a tone of voice and with an expression of countenance which seemed to revolt at the idea of servitude) that he disdained an earthly superior and acknowledged no other master than his prophet Govind Singh”.80

There was no question of accepting any chief as supremo. The practice of Gurmatta and the Sarbat Khalsa were followed as before. There was a confederal polity and no personal despotism or obedience to the sovereignty of a single individual. “A nation was up in arms against its enemies and it is the collective efforts of the masses rather than individual achievements that ultimately made the revolution a success”.81 A Punjabi saying reflects this tradition of those times: “Khalsa so jo nit karey jang” (Khalsa is he who daily goes to war). The “jang” in question was an unceasing struggle against tyranny and intolerance practised by ruling authorities.

Nevertheless, removal of foreign danger saw the outbreak of intense rivalry between various Sikh chieftains, till then held in check by the supreme need of uniting in the face of persecution of the Panth. These rivalries constitute a characteristic that has been continuously affecting Sikh politics till the present day. As soon as the need to combat oppressive political authority recedes into the background, internecine rivalries come to the fore because of a spirit of refusal to recognise obedience to others, unless gained voluntarily through respect of the religious ethos of the obedience giver. George Forster had already foreseen in 1783 that some ambitious chief would display the standard of monarchy.82

The Sikh experiment in monarchy did not last long because, among other reasons, there was no respect in the Sikh psyche for the monarchical ideal and no tradition of obedience to it. Dr N K Sinha’s comment is apt: “What might have been the most novel experiment in statecraft, degenerated later, in the nineteenth century, into a military monarchy....which, though it dazzles by early success, spells ultimate failure”.83
Ranjit Singh’s monarchy did not conform to the kind of democratic polity envisaged in the ideals of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s Khalsa. Obedience to a centralised political authority had no place in Sikh tradition. Ranjit Singh himself was not unaware that his co-religionists were difficult to command. His rule was tailored accordingly to take due account of Sikh sensibilities towards obedience to political authority.

5. 1800-1849 Ranjit Singh: Apogee or Aberration?
Ranjit Singh did not allow his name to appear on his coins, a most unusual step for an Indian ruler. Striking a coin in one’s own name was one of the traditional ways of proclaiming one’s sovereign authority in India. His government styled itself as the “Sarkar Khalsa Jio” or government of the Khalsa. He always claimed to act in the name of the Khalsa. It has been opined that his deference to the Khalsa Panth was dissimilar to the seeming deference of Julius and Augustus Caeser to the Roman Senate which had become a dead institution by their time. The Khalsa, on the other hand, was a living reality”.84 It was not a case of “render unto Caeser what belongs to Caeser” but a clear, unsaid, acknowledgement of “render unto the Panth what belongs to the Panth”. Sovereignty belonged to the Panth in Sikh history and ethos, not to an individual. Ranjit Singh could never afford to ignore the existence of the Khalsa Commonwealth to which every single individual Sikh belonged as a member.

Ranjit Singh was not “the supreme embodiment of all economic and political authority. One great limitation was to be found in the living principle of a commonwealth”.85 He is even said to have been sentenced by the Sangat, assembled at the Akal Takht in Amritsar for an offence against Sikh social mores.86 Knowing how Guru Gobind Singh Sahib had held God Almighty to be the source of all legitimate political authority, Ranjit Singh strove to render himself acceptable to the Sikhs and earn their obedience by proclaiming himself as God’s vice-regent on earth and his humble servant.87 He tried to win obedience from his Sikhs by posing as an agent of God88, seeking to win legitimisation in the eyes of the Panth. He was certainly aware that many Sikhs looked askance at his lifestyle and the brahminical practices introduced during his reign.

Ranjit Singh was no doubt a secular individual who appointed non-Sikhs to some of the most important positions at his court but his distrust of his co-religionists played a major part in such appointments. He knew that the concept of a Maharaja, an individual sovereign, was not in harmony with the tenth Guru’s ideals or the ideology evolved for a Sikh political order during the war of liberation against oppressive state authority. His kingdom was an aberration in the evolution of Sikh polity based on religious tenets, regardless of how justified it may have been on circumstantial arguments. It definitely ran counter to the Sikh political ethos.

This contradiction was amply reflected in his delicate relationship with the Akalis led by Akali Phoola Singh and Akali Sadhu Singh. The Akalis (not to be confused in any way with members of the present day political party known as Shiromani Akali Dal, in its innumerable factions) considered themselves bound by Sikh tenets and not by Ranjit Singh’s laws. They refused to acknowledge any earthly superior. Yet, Ranjit Singh “dared not crush them though he had the means to do so.....dared not defy the religious susceptibilities of his people and abolish the order of the Akalis”.89

Captain Leopold von Orlich, a European officer, mentions that the Akalis had reportedly pelted visitors with mud at some of Ranjit Singh’s military reviews. He himself saw the Akalis shouting scornfully in Maharaja Sher Singh’s presence.90 The Akalis were a living manifestation of the fact that the highest political authority, the Maharaja himself, was not above the Panth.

The organisation of Panchayats was never eradicated in the Sikh army. This goes against modern ideas of military discipline on European lines but was fully in accordance with Sikh tradition. These Panchayats were to play an important role in the politics of the Sikh Durbar after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839. After his demise, elected army Panchayats gradually took over executive authority under the designation of “Panth Khalsa Jio”.91 A French traveller writes: “A Prussian officer, Mr Mévius, was in command of a cavalry regiment since many years. Lately, he tried to introduce German discipline, flogging; his Sikhs revolted at once”.92

The Sikhs fought valiantly on the field of battle. It is just that they would not yield obedience even under a Sikh ruler if his actions came into conflict with Sikh ethos. For the author of this article, Ranjit Singh cannot be considered as a cult figure in the pantheon of Sikh heroes mentioned in the daily Ardaas. His rule marked the high tide of Sikh political power. One of the principal reasons for the quick downfall of his empire after his death was that the Sikhs had not really accepted it as something of a supreme ideal for the Panth. It was not able to unite them in its defence.
Faced with the Sikh ethos of democratic polity, Ranjit Singh relied more and more upon his non-Sikh courtiers, for whom blind obedience to an individual sovereign posed no moral or ethical problems of conscience. After his death, his Dogra favourites betrayed the interests of the Sikh Panth without hesitation. Their treachery to the Sikh Kingdom that had conferred so much honour and power on them easily rivals the treachery of Mir Jaafar at the battle of Plassey in 1757. Had men of the calibre of Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Akali Phoola Singh been in the positions held by the Dogras, Sikh history might have taken a different turn after Ranjit Singh’s death. But he sent these Sikh heroes to the battlefield where they fell, keeping the treacherous Dogras in positions of power at his court which they sold for the proverbial tuppence, in this case the lordship of the state of Kashmir.

The author of this article strongly feels that the inherent contradiction between Ranjit Singh’s desire to be accepted as the political sovereign led him to ignore capable Sikhs, imbued with the confederal ideology imparted by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. He preferred non-Sikh Dogras since they were his unquestioning sycophants. Having no bonds to Sikh historical tradition, they betrayed the Sikh Kingdom without any qualms of conscience after Ranjit Singh’s death. By appointing them to senior court positions and by entrusting them with so much power, Ranjit Singh ensured the quick destruction of his kingdom. The Muslim poet Shah Mohammed narrates the events of the Sikh wars, leading to the conquest of the Punjab by the British in his inimitable style: “Je hovey Sarkar taan mul paavey, jehrian Khalsey ne teghan maarian ni; Shah Mohammeda ik sarkar bajhon, faujaan jit ke vi aj nun haarian ni”. So moving, and so true. For any Sikh, it is difficult to pardon the treachery practised by Ranjit Singh’s Dogra courtiers after his death. But it should not be forgotten that Ranjit Singh himself put these traitors in positions from which they could ensure easy destruction of the Sikh kingdom after his death.

6. 1849-1947 British Rule: Collaboration & Confrontation
The British did not treat the Sikhs with kid gloves after annexing Punjab in 1849. However, by recruiting large numbers of Sikh soldiers into the British Indian Army, they reaped immediate rewards when Sikhs played a prominent role in recapturing Delhi from the mutineers in September 1857.93 Sikh troops took the corpses of Mughal princes, slain by the English cavalry officer Hodson, to Chandni Chowk and laid them out for display in front of the Sis Ganj Gurdwara, the spot where Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib had been martyred by the Mughals in 1675, nearly two centuries earlier.94 This is an illustration of how the Sikhs nurture feelings of vengeance against oppressive political authorities over generations. If they feel grievously wronged by the State, their obedience to it will always be tinged with revanchism, being proffered only grudgingly.

A cosy relationship with British overlords amply suited feudal Sikh interests. Princely families of Cis-Satluj states and rich Sikh landlords displayed singular loyalty to the British rulers. The Namdhari religious head, Baba Ram Singh, a genuine Indian nationalist patriot, failed to capture the imagination of the Sikh masses for his campaign against the British. He was nevertheless a pioneer of Swadeshi and civil disobedience. Sikh masses did not follow him. They considered him to be in violation of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s injunction that the only Guru after him would be the Guru Granth Sahib. Also, British political authorities in Punjab had wisely undertaken some measures for ensuring economic development without directly interfering in Sikh religious practices. However, this Anglo-Sikh entente did not last long. After recognising in 1918, at the end of the First World War, that the Sikhs had made more sacrifices for the British Empire than any other Indian community in proportion to its numbers, the government gazetted them in 1923 as a community of outlaws and rebels.95

What had caused this rupture? Once again, Sikh masses had withheld allegiance to a political authority felt to have been acting against their religious interests and unresponsive to their genuine demands for handing over management of their gurdwaras to an elected body instead of letting it remain in the hands of Mahants and their agents. Traditional Sikh practices of suffering martyrdom while fighting oppressive political authority were witnessed in the struggle for control of the gurdwaras. A series of successful non violent “morchas”  (campaigns) forced the British government to concede Sikh demands and enact the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925,96 constituting an elected body, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), to manage Sikh shrines. Anyone familiar with the sacrifices of the Sikh masses (not the Sikh rulers of various princely states or richer Sikh landlords, who were staunch collaborators of British rulers) for winning over control of their shrines should be able to understand why Sikhs react so emotionally against real or perceived attempts by political authority to weaken this hard won control, sanctified by spilling so much blood.

The Shiromani Akali Dal came into being on 14th December 1920 at Amritsar.97 It immediately assumed a leading role in agitating for the emancipation of Sikh gurdwaras from the control of the Mahants. It became the political foil to the Singh Sabha movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for renewal of Sikh society on modern lines, including religious renewal. The Akali Dal helped in weaning Sikh masses away from pro-British lobbies like the Chief Khalsa Diwan, reducing the latter to a minority grouping, out of tune with the majority of its co-religionists. It developed into a vehicle for airing Sikh demands, though it never succeeded in claiming the allegiance of all Sikhs. Right from its beginnings, it was plagued by splits on ideological or, more commonly, personal issues because everybody wanted to assert his claim to predominant leadership. In the Akali Dal’s evolution can be discerned the best and the worst features of Sikh attitudes towards obedience to political authority. Capable of mobilising Sikh masses to heights of sacrifice in defence of the Khalsa Panth, it has often displayed personal rivalries of the pettiest kind, thereby allowing political opponents to take advantage. Splits have dogged its existence from the very beginning.98 The present day situation in the Punjab more than amply reflects this tradition of personal pettiness prevailing over common interests of the Panth. No conscientious Sikh can afford to remain unaffected by the intellectual poverty, venality and sheer mediocrity of present day Sikh political leadership.

However, this fact of repeated fission of Sikh political entities is partly a direct consequence of the Sikh tradition of not giving obedience to a single political authority, coupled with a refusal to recognise others as better qualified to lead than one’s own self. Sikhs actively participated in the Indian struggle for national freedom from British rule. They believed promises made to them by the Congress party, especially by Pandit Nehru. They helped in driving the British out of India, suffering mutilation of their own homeland in the process in 1947. Euphoria about achievement of independence was quickly followed by the reality of broken promises, economic suffering and calculated mischief practised by Indian political authorities.

7. 1947- 2009 Post-Independence: Continuity and Change
Immediately after independence, Jathedar Udham Singh Nagoke, Swaran Singh, Baldev Singh and Gyani Kartar Singh dissolved the Assembly Akali Party. They joined the Congress, proclaiming that the Akali Dal’s concern should be to preach the Sikh religion.99 This implied that politics was separate from religion. Master Tara Singh vehemently contested this announcement. He proclaimed that the Akali Dal would retain its political character in order to safeguard the interests of the Sikhs.100

Sikh masses, still suffering from the trauma of the partition of the Punjab with its cataclysmically gory aftermath, were confronted anew with the question of whether religious considerations were to be an integral part of their obedience to political authority or not. Sikh sensibilities had been already rubbed raw just after independence. The then governor of Punjab, Chandu Lal Trivedi, proclaimed the Sikhs to be a criminal tribe on 10th October 1947. He directed the Deputy Commissioners under his control to take special precautions against them.101 It was a most inauspicious beginning for the Sikhs in an independent India.

The Sikhs, a people with a strong consciousness of their history, had made enormous sacrifices for Indian independence. They were now insulted and offended by Trivedi’s actions. A new sentiment of insecurity and alienation began to take root that their way of life was not properly appreciated by political authorities in newly independent India. This, in turn, generated a behavioural pattern by the majority community which further aggravated the situation. To this vicious circle was soon added the touchy issue of Punjabi language and linguistic rights of the Sikhs.

Khushwant Singh writes that the “chief cause of Sikh uneasiness in free India was the resurgence of Hinduism which threatened to engulf the minorities. Renascent Hinduism manifested itself in a phenomenal increase in Hindu religious organisations, the revival of Sanskrit and the ardent championing of Hindi”.102 The Sikhs resented the fact that Punjabi-speaking Hindus got Hindi recorded as their mothertongue in the 1951 census. Just as Urdu had slowly been identified as a “Muslim” language, communal feelings gradually led to identification of Punjabi as a “Sikh” language. Language became intertwined with religion: Punjabi for the Sikhs and Hindi for the Hindus.

The Akali Dal quickly seized this opportunity for asserting itself as the champion of Sikh interests. The acceptance of the demand of a Telugu speaking Andhra Pradesh state unleashed similar demands for a Punjabi speaking Punjabi Suba. Rejection of this demand was termed by Master Tara Singh as a “decree of Sikh annihilation”.103The Akali Dal launched a morcha for obtaining a Punjabi Suba. The technique that had proved successful against the British authorities for winning over control of Sikh gurdwaras was now sought to be tried against the political authorities of the new India. Large numbers of Sikhs felt that they were being unfairly denied their linguistic rights. This obviously affected the bond of their obedience to the political authorities who were felt not to be conceding their legitimate demands. Extremist voices began to be raised that only a separate Sikh homeland could ensure such protection. Punjabi Suba was finally conceded in 1966. However, by then, the intercommunal divide had been needlessly exacerbated.

To the issue of denial of linguistic rights was added the problem of sustained attempts by the ruling Congress party to weaken the hold of the Akali Dal on gurdwara funds through their control of the SGPC. Constant attempts were made to divide the Akalis in the years 1954 to 1956 when Partap Singh Kairon was the Chief Minister of Punjab. The Congress felt that so long as the Akalis controlled the SGPC, their hold on sizeable chunks of rural Sikh votes could not be broken. This policy did yield temporary gains in the sense of weakening successive Akali agitations but ultimately proved to be counter productive by sowing the seeds of extremism, when this policy was renewed in the 1980s. The Congress tried to weaken the hold of the Akalis on rural Sikh masses by encouraging religious figures mouthing radical Panthic slogans. This policy directly opened an unsavoury chapter in the history of the Punjab which became subjected to violence, both by the Indian state as well as by Sikh insurgents. The intercommunal divide was widened for short term political gains, totally ignoring the disastrous effects this would generate over the long term.

Apart from other consequences, this disastrous policy followed by the ruling political cliques generated a situation in which a fateful actor strode on to the Punjab political scene: Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Religious terminology and Sikh historical tradition were freely used to highlight latent Sikh grievances: exclusion of Punjabi speaking areas from the reorganised Punjab; refusal to allocate a fair share of river waters to Punjab; attempts to interfere in the Sikhs’ control of their gurdwaras and a drastic reduction in the number of Sikhs being recruited into the armed forces.

Such grievances had for a decade or more been sublimated by sustained economic betterment brought about by the Green Revolution. By the 1980s, agricultural production had stopped rising as fast as it had during the 1970s, having reached a high production plateau. Absence of heavy industry in Punjab, coupled with a severe curbing by foreign governments in the numbers of Sikh youth allowed to emigrate to their countries led to a large number of Sikh youth remaining chronically unemployed in Punjab. A large stratum of educated youth became a restless vector of change through the barrel of a gun. This angry generation of youngsters was further alienated by an Akali Dal dominated by vested family interests hungry for power at the cost of welfare of the general community. Such a generation found its raison d’être in Sant Bhindranwale.

The chain of events culminating in Operation Bluestar in June 1984, followed by the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi in October 1984, followed by the organised massacre of innocent Sikhs in large parts of India, especially in Delhi, is too recent to need any recapitulation.

Sant Bhindranwale managed to convince many young Sikhs that the Sikh way of life was under attack from hostile political authorities. They became his praetorian guard. He promised them a place in the Sun. The so-called secular educational system had made Sikh students aware of modern political trends, thereby trying to dilute their traditional obedience patterns without inculcating a nationalist ideal to fill the void thereby being created in their minds.

Pre-1947 protagonists of Khalistan had spoken of a state “democratic in constitution...a socialistic economic structure with full protection of the culture and rights of the minorities”104, as well as “the economic basis of life in such a state is bound to be socialistic, in accordance with the traditions of the Sikh society”.105  Recent ideas of Khalistan, discernible in the utterances of some people in Punjab, seemed much more theocratic and fundamentalist in concept. This was not in accordance with Sikh obedience patterns which had resisted intolerance in any shape or form over two centuries. A theocratic Khalistan cannot be in accordance with the principles of the Sikh faith. It would be at variance with democratic Sikh practices inherent in Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s ideas, practised during the Sikh war of independence against oppressive rule. Herein lies a significant development.

Young, educated and dissatisfied Sikhs, influenced by secular political ideas that weaken traditional Sikh religious concepts of power being legitimate only in a collective Panth, are sometimes ready to embrace the concept of unquestioned obedience to charismatic individuals. Herein lies a portent of trouble. If political authorities do not concede genuine demands of the Sikhs, the traditional obedience patterns based on Sikh religious tradition begin yielding place to blind obedience to leaders challenging established political authority in the name of Sikh traditions. Massacres of Sikhs, organised by political authorities in 1984, far from cowing down such trends will only accentuate them.

Political authorities in India have continued the well established British policy of “Divide et Impera” (divide and rule). Such games as are being played by present day Sikh leaders alienate Sikh youth to such an extent as to render it susceptible to ideas at variance with Sikh historical obedience patterns. We could be witnessing a significant change in the Sikh obedience matrix. Lack of economic opportunity further complicates this cocktail. Punjab has to be put on the path of rapid economic progress, thereby providing employment for Sikh youth not absorbed in gainful employment by the agricultural sector. Sagacious policies have to be pursued by those in power to convince Sikh youngsters that the Sikh way of life is not in danger.

Only time will tell whether politicians will have the sagacity to avoid giving a casus belli to Sikh youth having lost their traditional obedience patterns.



1. W. Owen Cole, Piara Singh Sambhi: The Sikhs – Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Boston 1978, p. 7
2. Khushwant Singh gives 30th May 1606 as the date, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. I, Third Impression, Delhi, 1981, p. 61
3. Ibid, p. 5. Also, Muhammad Latif: History of the Panjab – from the Remotest Antiquity to the Present Time, New Delhi, 1964, p. 4
4. Roughly translated, means the entire collectivity of the Khalsa. For more details, see Jagjit Singh: “The Sikh Revolution – A Perspective View”, Ist edition, New Delhi / Chandigarh, 1981.
5. Gopal Singh: “Guru Gobind Singh and the Social Ideal in Sikhism and Indian Society, IIAS Publication, Shimla, 1967, p. 118
6. Ibid
7. J.S. Bains: Political Ideas of Guru Gobind Singh in Ibid, p. 130
8. Jagjit Singh : The Sikh Revolution, op. cit., p. 240
9. See the Babar Bani. Also, see Khushwant Singh: A History of the Sikhs, Vol I, loc. Cit. p. 34
10. Ibid, p. 48
11. W. Owen Cole, P. S. Sambhi, loc. cit., p. 30
12. Ibid, p. 30
13. S.M. Latif, loc. cit., p. 253
14. Ibid
15. J.S. Bains, loc. cit., p. Pp 128-133
16. Ibid, p. 131
17. Jagjit Singh, loc. cit., p. 101
18. Ibid, p. 102
19. The Manchester Guardian, London edition, 13th May 1985; p. 8
20. The first Akali Dal led coalition ministry led by Sardar Gurnam Singh was brought down on 25.11.1967 after eight months through defections. The second coalition, again led by Sardar Gurnam Singh, fell after 13 months on 25.03.1970 because of defections. The Akali ministry led by S. Parkash Singh Badal was dismissed in 1980. Even in the general elections of 1972 when the Congress was riding the crest of post-1971 war euphoria, the Akalis won 24 seats in a house of 104. They won 58 seats to the Congress party’s 17 seats in 1977.
21. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol I, p. 49
22. S.M. Latif, loc. cit., p. 250
23. Just one example. Maajh ki Vaar : Gur data gur hivai, gur dipak tey loe
24. J.S. Grewal, S.S. Bal: Guru Gobind Singh, Chandigarh, 1967, pp 20-21
25. S.S. Caveeshar: The Sikh Studies, Lahore, 1937, p. 109
26. Judh jeetey inhi ke prasad, inhi ke prasad su daan kare ; Agh augh tarey inhi ke Prasad, inhi ki kripa phun dham bharey; Inhi ki kripa su vidya lai, inhi ki kripa sabh satru marey; Inhi ki kripa se sajey ham hain, nahin mo so garib karor parey. For a translation, see Tarlochan Singh: “Social Philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh” in Sikhism and Indian Society, loc. Cit. p. 199
27. Arjun Dass Malik : An Indian Guerrilla War – The Sikh Peoples’ War 1699-1768, New Delhi, 1975, p. 25
28. Ibid, p. 13
29. S.M. Latif, loc. cit. p. 230
30. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol. I, Pp 101-102
31. Degh o Tegh o Fateh o Nusrat-e-Bedirang ; Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh. For a translation, see Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 107, Footnote 12
32. N.K. Sinha : Rise of Sikh Power, III edn, Calcutta, 1960, Pp 55-56
33. Ibid, p. 56, Footnote 3
34. Cole and Sambhi, loc. cit., p. 26
35. Ibid, p. 26
36. J.S. Grewal, S.S. Bal, loc. cit. p. 20-21
37. Ibid, p. 21
38. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 48
39. Ibid, p. 48
40. Ibid, Pp 51-52
41. Ibid, p. 52
42. Ibid, p. 52, Footnote 7
43. Khushwant Singh calls the heads of these Manjis “Masands”. This term Masand forms the general usage from the time of Guru Arjun Sahib in any case.
44. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 54
45. Ibid
46. Cole, Sambhi ; loc. cit., p. 21
47. Christine Effenberg : Die politische Stellung der Sikhs innerhalb der indischen Nationalbewegung”, Wiesbaden, 1984, p. 10. Translated by the author from the original German text which reads: “Innerhalb eines Jahrhunderts, das zwischen Guru Nanak and Guru Arjun lag, wurde aus einer verhältnismässig kleinen Anhängerschaft eine Gemeinschaft mit Machtentfaltung, Selbständigkeit und politischer Bedeutsamkeit”.
48. Jagjit Singh, loc. cit., p. 254
49. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol I, p. 66.
50. Ibid, p. 69, Footnote 17
51. Ibid, p. 68
52. S.M. Latif, loc. cit., p.260
53. J.S. Grewal, S.S. Bal; loc. cit., p. 26
54. The Khalsa shall rule, its enemies shall disappear !
55. J.S. Grewal, S.S. Bal; loc. cit., Pp 160-161
56. N.K. Sinha : Ranjit Singh, Reprint of the III edition, Calcutta, 1960, p. 139
57. Bhai Jodh Singh : Structure and Character of Sikh Society” in “Sikhism and Indian Society”, loc. cit., PP. 44-45. Also see the translation of the Jangnamah by Dr Ganda Singh.
58. J.S. Bains, loc. cit., p. 134
59. Wazir Singh: “Guru Gobind Singh’s Philosophy of Values” in Sikhism and Indian Society”, loc. cit., p. 211
60. S.S. Caveeshar, loc. cit., p. 108
61. Wazir Singh, loc. cit., p. 212
62. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol I, p. 135.136
63. W.L. McGregor: History of the Sikhs, Vol. I, London, 1846, pp 111-112
64. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 121
65. Ibid.
66. Ibid.
67. S.M. Latif, loc. cit., p. 271
68. Ibid, p. 290
69. A.D. Malik, loc. cit., p. 40
70. Ibid, p. 83
71. Ibid, p. 84
72. Ibid, p. 89
73. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol. I, p.101
74. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol I, p. 118
75. A.D. Malik; loc. cit., p. 28
76. Khushwant Singh, loc. cit., Vol I, p. 132. Also, N.K. Sinha; “Rise of the Sikh Power”, p. 57
77. S.M. Latif: loc. cit., p. 290
78. Ibid
79. George Forster: Origin amd Making of a Nation” in “Rare Documents on Sikhs and their Rule in the Punjab”; edited by H.S. Bhatia, New Delhi; 1981; Pp. 31-32
80. Ibid
81. N.K. Sinha : loc. cit.; p. 2
82. George Forster : loc. cit. ; pp. 36-37
83. N.K. Sinha : loc. cit.; p. 2
84. N.K. Sinha: Ranjit Singh, loc. cit.; p. 137
85. N.K. Sinah: Rise of the Sikh Power, loc. cit.; p. 136
86. S.S. Caveeshar : The Sikh Studies, loc. cit.; p. 111
87. Dewan Ummer Nath: Memoirs of the Reign of Ranjit Singh in Rare Documents on Sikhs, loc. cit., p. 149
88. Ibid
89. N.K. Sinha: Ranjit Singh, loc. cit.; p. 138
90. Capt. Leopold von Orlich: Travels in India, Sinde and the Punjab” in “Rare Documents on Sikhs.”; loc. cit.; Pp. 232-233
91. Jagjit Singh: The Sikh Revolution, loc. cit.; p. 240
92. Victor Jacquemont: Etat politique et social de l’Inde du Nord en 1830, Paris ; 1933 ; republished ; p. 237. The original text in French reads : Un officier prussien, M. Mévius, commandait depuis plusieurs années un régiment de cavalerie. Dernièrement, il essaya d’y introduire la discipline allemande, la schlague ; ses Sikes se révoltèrent aussitôt. Translated from the French by the author of this article himself.
93. Khushwant Singh: A History of the Sikhs, Vol. II, impression of the Indian edition, New Delhi, 1978; p. 110
94. Ibid, Pp 110-111
95. S.S. Caveeshar: The Sikh Studies, loc. cit.; p. 186
96. Khushwant Singh ; loc. cit. Vol II, p.212
97. Harcharan Singh Bajwa: Fifty Years of Punjab Politics (1920-1970); I edition; Chandigarh, 1979: p. 21
98. For a concise account of such splits, please see Christine Effenberg: “Die politische Stellung der Sikhs…”; loc. cit.; Pp- 36-78
99. Harcharan Singh Bajwa ; loc. cit., p. 18
100. Ibid
101. Ibid, p. 83
102. Khushwant Singh ; loc. cit., Vol II, p. 293
103. The Spokesman, New Delhi, October 19th, 1955
104. Gurbachan Singh and Lal Singh Gyani: “The Idea of the Sikh State”; Lahore; 1946; p. 3
105. Gurbachan Singh, Lal Singh Gyani; loc. cit.; p. 13



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