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REVIEWS

Betrayed & Robbed !*

A Review by Gurmukh Singh

Title : Maharaja Dalip Singh Cheated Out
Author : Sardar Avtar Singh Gill
Publisher : Jaswant Printers
Pages : 256; Price : Rs 300/-

BETRAYED by his own, and robbed by colonial Britain. The extent of betrayal was mind-numbing, while the scale of the shameful robbery, as yet to be admitted by the British Government, unprecedented. That is the true story of Maharaja Dalip Singh son of the Lion of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, as told by Sardar Avtar Singh Gill in his book “Maharaja Dalip Singh Cheated Out”.

This is the last book in the series covering mostly the period following the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on June 27, 1839. This historical record, remarkable for its wealth of detail based on original documents, and vivid descriptions of the most important episodes in the life of Maharaja Dalip Singh, makes essential reading for the research student of Sikh history.

Stripped of all that he inherited, wrote the Maharaja in 1882. “... and finding only a helpless child to deal with, the temptation being too strong, Lord Dalhousie annexed the Punjab, and instead of carrying out the solemn contract entered into by the British Government at Bhyrowal, sold almost all my personal as well as all my private property, consisting of jewels, gold and silver plate, even some of my wearing apparel and household furniture ... “(Letter of 31 August, 1882 published by The Times in London.)

Other publications in the same series by S Avtar Singh, a retired judge, are: “Badnasib Maharaja Dalip Singh” (Panjabi), “Lahore Darbar and Rani Jindan”, “Maharaja and the Koh-i-Noor”, and “Blood Bath After Ranjit Singh”. This last publication, “Maharaja Dalip Singh Cheated Out” with a Foreword by S S Johal, former Vice-Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala, starts with the revolt forced on Diwan Mulraj, the Governor of Multan, by the British, who at the time were the self-appointed gamekeepers, but acted subsequently more like poachers. The Treaty of Bhyrowal of 16 December 1846 gave the British Resident at Lahore- “full authority to direct and control all matters in every Department of the state .... The Council of Regency was but a set of puppets removable at pleasure”. The British became the sole guardian of the person and property of the infant Maharaja Dalip Singh, and of course took both including the famous Kohi-i-noor.”

With his legal training, S. Gill knows the difference between evidence, hearsay and fiction. Documentary evidence shows that annexation of Punjab on 29 March 1849 was premeditated and systematically plotted by Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India.

Born on 4 September 1838, Dalip Singh sat on the throne on 17 September 1843 at the age of five, and died in Paris on 22 October 1893. It is unlikely that any previous publication has given such a detailed and clear account of the Maharaja’s last few days. None of his children were by his side when his soul departed from an unconscious body. The book concludes by giving fairly detailed information about the Maharaja’s children. The last survivor of his family princess Bamba Dalip Singh died on 10 March 1957 at Lahore.

This is a story of disloyalty, treachery, shameful betrayal of trust, conspiracies and plots, grisly murders of own kith and kin in cold blood. Even children were not spared by their own relatives . The murders started with Dhian Singh Dogra killing Chet Singh Bajwa, an adviser of Maharaja Kharak Singh in front of and despite the pleadings of the Maharaja on the night of 8/9 October 1839. Than followed the “Bloodbath after Ranjit Singh”. Lehna Singh Sandhawalia cut off the head of young Kanwar Partap Singh on 15 September 1843. Maharaja Dalip Singh’s own maternal uncle, Prime Minister Jawahar Singh Aulakh, was killed in front of his sister Maharani Jindan and the 7 years old Maharaja Dalip Singh on 21 September. It is not surprising that the young Maharaja developed a fear and distrust of, and dislike for, his own people, which he was able to overcome only much later in adulthood. The frightened, Maharaja did not require much persuasion to surrender his throne, convert to Christianity and become a helpless “pensioner” of colonial Britain. It was also not too difficult for the British to make him part with the Koh-i-noor once he was in their clutches in England.

The Maharaja was taken away from his mother Maharani Jindan when he was only eight years old.

The second Anglo-Sikh war came to an end in March 1849 and Punjab was annexed on 29 March 1849. Acting for the Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie, Sir Henry Meirs Elliot held a Darbar at Lahore on 29 March 1849 declaring that “henceforth the sovereignty of the Punjab was assumed by the British.” This hurried and “farcical transaction” robbed Punjab of its sovereignty and made its ruler, Maharaja Dalip Singh a “throneless Pensioner” of the British Government.

The Political and religious members who made up the Council of Regency to look after Maharaja Dalip Singh’s interest, unashamedly fell over each other to betray the trust placed in them and to grab whatever was offered to them by the British.

The destiny of the ruling Maharaja, his twenty million subjects, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and the questions of the dissolution of the Sikh Kingdom and the confiscation of its property including the world-famous gem Koh-i-noor, were thus finally decided and agreed upon by four of the selfish Councillors, within a short space of two hours.

The following two quotations from non-Sikh resources illustrate the treacherous behaviour of colonial administrators. Fom John Sullivan “This is perhaps the first instance on record in which a guardian has visited his own misdeeds upon his ward.” And from M Ludlow’s, In British India, “Fancy, if you can, a widow lady with a house full of mutinous servants, who turn out and attack the police. The police knock them on the head, walk into the house and kindly volunteer to protect the mistress against any violence on their part. A quarrel again breaks out, the truncheons are again successful, and the inspector now politely informs the lady that her house and the estate on which it stands are no longer her own, but will be retained in fee simple by the police; that on turning out, she will receive an annuity, equal to about one and six pence in the pound of her rental and that she must hand over for use of the Chief Commissioner her best diamond necklace.”

Thus, “The Governor General, true to his words and deeds, violated Treaties, abused a sacred trust ... and made an acquisition as unjust as it was imprudent...”

Despite some typos, the book is well written; so that, once started, the reader finds it difficult to put it down. In fact, while all the books in this series are well researched and make gripping reading, each book is an improvement in style and flow on the previous. However, the author is perhaps too lenient towards the Sikh rulers and the Sikh regime. It is clear that unlike the British rule even in those colonial days, the Sikh kingdom was not held together by any code of practice, constitution, or underlying principles, which disciplined the administrators and made them accountable to the people. There is no mention of any constitutional or legal code capable of holding the “Khalsa raj” together through uniform application of rules and regulations.

Despite their appearance, most of the “Sikh” Sardars, rajas and even maharajas knew very little about Sikh ideology and institutions. They did not subscribe to nor were they bound by any theo-social or theo-political ideals of the Khalsa. The Khalsa institutions set up during the Guru period and further developed during the 18th Century Sikh struggle for survival had been allowed to lapse by Maharaj Ranjit Singh, himself too busy building and holding together his empire. It may be argued that the communal harmony in the Maharaja’s regime resulted more from the Maharaja’s desire to keep the rajas and jagirdars of all faiths happy and on his side through incentives, jagirs and rajaships etc than any practical implementation in a structured way of the egalitarian Khalsa principles. Lord Dalhousie’s agent, Henry M Elliot, was misled by the prevailing unSikh practices into believing that places like Ganges and Hardwar were places of “high sanctity” in the Sikh religion! The ignorance of the illiterate Sardars was appalling. It is revealed by their ignorance of the geographical locations of even the most famous places in India.

The reader is compelled to express-regret regarding Queen Victoria’s role. Was the great Queen of the British Empire so powerless as not to be able to do anything about the great injustice done to the Maharaja and the pain and anguish he was going through? It is not as if she was not aware of what was going on. On hearing about the Maharaj’s death she wrote to II Prince Victor Dalip Singh (then 27) from Balmoral “He [Maharaja Dalip Singh] was so handsome, so charming. But I will not dwell on the few after years which followed which were so painful. It is however a great comfort and satisfaction to me that I saw the Maharaja two years and half ago at Grasse and that all was made up between us ... I shall always...... the deepest interest in the welfare and the happiness of yourself and your Brothers and Sisters. Believe me always your friend and Godmother. Victoria R I.” Hollow words from the British Queen in deed!

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