The Last Sunset
– Rise and Fall of The Lahore Darbar –
A Review by Dr Kirpal Singh
Author: Capt Amarinder Singh
Publisher: Roli Books
Price: Rs.695/- ; Pages: 347 (royal octavo size)
The Last Sunset by Capt. Amarinder Singh is a monumental book relating to Lahore Darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who had been an architect of the map of the north-western India. But for his rule the territory between the Sutluj and Jamrud would have been part of Afghanistan. The areas from west of Yamuna and the territory beyond Indus had been conquered by Ahmed Shah Abdali (died in 1772) during his fourth invasion in 1756 AD. Prior to that, the Mughal Emperor, Mohammed Shah had given in writing all the territory beyond Indus to Nadir Shah, in 1739 AD, thus bifurcating and shattering the Mughal empire.
The rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) will ever remain watershed in the annals of the trans-Indus regions especially Peshawar, Bannu as well as Hazara. All these areas along with Kashmir were a part of Afghanistan. Olaf Caroe, the last British Governor of N.W. Province writes, “Ranjit Singh had wrested from Afghans their fairest province not only those east of Indus where Kabul ruler could claim racial affinity, but Peshawar itself and Bannu, fertile gardens inhabited by proud people of Afghan and Pathan stock.” Maharaja Ranjit Singh undertook strong measures to subdue and control the ferocious tribes of the north western frontier. These tribes had never been subjugated and brought under control as Attock District Gazatter writes: “The Mughal sway was more nominal than real. They appear to have been content to levy revenue and there is nothing to show that any serious Government was attempted.”
Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his General Hari Singh Nalwa dealt with the North Western frontier tribes in two phases dividing it into two sectors viz., (i) Hazara Sector and (ii) Peshawar Sector. They built forts at strategic places to control the tribes and linked those forts by building roads.
In the international sphere, the Sikhs are known for their military skill. During the British period, they fought Boer Wars in Africa, Saragarhi in North Western Frontier of India, Gallipoli in Italy and Dunkerk in France but few Sikhs have written about the military history of the Sikhs. Capt. Amarinder Singh has done a pioneering work in writing Anglo-Sikh Wars. He has exhausted all the sources, memoirs dispatches, war dairies and all type of accounts have been consulted by him. Being himself a military man, he had discussed the strategy in detail with regard to the movement of various Squadrons and Division and brought out the valour of Sikh forces against the European, well trained military men, some of whom had fought the Nepoleonic wars in Europe. The author has analyzed and commented on strategy of both the armies facing each other and brought out the failure of leaders of Lahore Darbar. The betrayal and treachery affected by Tej Singh and Lal Singh were responsible for the debacle of the Sikh forces.
For writing history of the Sikh Wars, we need two types of sources; one is the official version and the other is the private sources. Official version is preserved in the National Archives of India New Delhi. Private sources are scattered. The British, who took part in any important events used to keep diaries or to send letters to their near and dear ones mentioning the work that they had done. In private letters, they gave their real mind while in official communication, they could not. For instance, Lord Henry Hardinge who fought the 1st Anglo Sikh War, wrote to his wife at Penshurst, where I have seen one of his letter in their family Archives describing Gulab Singh Dogra, the “greatest rascal of Asia.” (see my book Hardinge Papers). This type of information he could not give in official communications. It may be mentioned here that Joseph Devey Cunningham, a famous author of the History of Sikhs, was dismissed by Lord Dalhousie for leaking out that Gulab Singh had secret understanding with the British. For this his services were dispensed with and he died broken hearted at Ambala. The author of The Last Sunset has given a lot of information collecting from the private sources.
1. Military formation of British Army at various battles of Sikh Wars.
2. He has discussed the mutual differences of various generals fighting against the Lahore Darbar.
3. He has significantly commented on ‘the role of Tej Singh and Lal Singh. How Lal Singh avoided the conquest of Ferozepur Fort with British garrison of 5000 deliberately as he was instructed by the British not to conquer it. Tej Singh with fresh forces of 10,000 left the battle field and did not come to the fore for fighting.
4. For the first time we learn from this book, how Rani Jindan fled form the fort of Chunnar in disguise of the seamstress.
The author of the book has given in detail the evolution of the Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh – both wings regular and irregular. The book has five chapters besides Prologue and Epilogue. First chapter relates to the rise of Ranjit Singh, second, evolution of his army, third, decline of Lahore Darbar after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Then fourth is First Sikh War and fifth is Second Sikh War. Epilogue relates to annexation of Punjab and Maharaja Dalip Singh.
The author perhaps could not dilate on the aspect that the First Sikh War was provoked by the British. In 1838, Ludhiana had only 3000 soldiers. Soon new cantonments were raised at Ferozepur and Ambala by the British with more armies stationed over there. After that cantonments at Digshie and Shimla were raised. In this way in 1844-45, there were 40,000 troops stationed there on borders of Punjab. Besides this, bridge of boats was got prepared from Bombay and brought to the Sutluj for display. Macnaughton and Alexander Bums had already suggested the British Govt., the bifurcation of the kingdom of Lahore by giving Peshawar to Dost Mohd. Khan, the Chief of Kabul, for making peace with him. All this was known in the Lahore Darbar. In this way British wanted an annexation of the Punjab by waging war. For this purpose, army was concentrated on the borders of the Punjab. Broadfoot, the British Agent at Ludhiana was another factor who persuaded the British Indian govemment to wage war against Lahore kingdom.
Concluding, Capt. Amarinder Singh has done a pioneering job by writing of the military history from Indian point of view. About half of the book has been devoted to First and Second Sikh Wars. No such detailed account of wars with critical analysis is available in any other book. This is the first book which has openly criticized the policy of Lord Dalhousie, It may be added here that those Indian Regiments who fought against the Sikhs during the Sikh Wars, were impressed by the valour of the Sikhs and hence rose in revolt of 1857. From the Sikh Wars they felt convinced that Indian soldiers could defeat the British. In this way, the Sikh Wars can be considered as harbinger of the rising of 1857 popularly known as First War of Independence.