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Anglo-Sikh War

  • Name of the Battle: Anglo-Sikh War
  • Venue: In Punjab in the Northwest of India
  • Year: 1848-49

There were two Anglo-Sikh Wars or campaigns between the British and the Sikhs. The first conflict took place in 1845-1846 and the second in 1848-1849. The first Sikh war led to a partial control of the Sikh kingdom by the British. However, it was the second Anglo-Sikh War which was considered to be a major one in the history of India as it was this Sikh war, which for the first time annexed the whole of Punjab to British India and the fall of the Sikh empire. This Sikh war was a major war fought between the British East India Company and the Sikh empire.

The reasons that led to the battle

The Punjab Sikh kingdom was expanded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh during the nineteenth century, especially in the earlier part. During the same period, the territories of British East India Company had also been expanded till the areas adjacent to the Punjab. Ranjit Singh tried maintaining an uneasy relation with the East India Company, and at the same time the military strength of the Sikh army or the Khalsa army was enhanced. This army tried to obstruct British aggression against his state. Ranjit Singh also expanded Sikh territory to the north and northwest, including areas from Afghanistan and Kashmir. After the death of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh kingdom began to fall. Many short-lived rulers came to power at the central court or the Durban after his death. This led to an increased tension between the Khalsa and the Durbar. Meanwhile, the British East India Company began to strengthen its military strength on the Punjab borders. The first Anglo Sikh war took place which ended in defeat for the Khalsa. At the end of the war, the Sikh empire surrendered some territories of Punjab to the British. Also the Sikhs were compelled to hand over Kashmir as a fine to the British. This was later sold to Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu for 10 Lakh Pounds.

In January 1848, Lord Dalhousie took office of the British East India Company as the Governor General and was faced with a fresh crisis just within three months of joining his office in Punjab. Diwan Mulraj of Multan revolted against the British. This was in the month of April in 1848. He was in financial trouble as a result of which he was forced to resign in March 1848 and Sardar Khan Singh was appointed as the new Diwan by the new British Resident Fredrick Currie. Sardar Singh was sent to Lahore to take charge and he was accompanied by two British officers, Vans Agnew and Lieutenant Anderson, who were murdered on 20 April 1848. The people of Multan rose in protest. The Second Sikh war, thus began with the revolt of Mulraj, Governor of Multan.

The strength of warring forces

The British army under General Sir Hugh Gough had 12,000 British and Bengali soldiers with 66 guns as against the 35,000 Sikhs with 65 guns under the Sikh general Sher Singh.

Aftermath of the battle: winner and loser
  • Winner: British East India Company
  • Loser: Sikh Empire

The Second Sikh War began due to the revolt of Mulraj, governor of Multan. This transformed into a national revolt when the Sikh army joined Mulraj on 14 September 1848. Mulraj was joined by the Khalsa, which also included a large army force under Sirdar Sher Singh Attariwalla. Various battles were fought between the two forces. One at Ramnagar on 22 November, another at Chilianwala on 13 January 1849 and the last one at Gujrat on 21 February 1849. Mulraj surrendered in the battle of Chillianwala. In all these battles, there was great ferocity from the British army and the Sikh's force was characterised by bad leadership. Overall it was a decisive victory of the British East India Company. The Sikhs surrendered on 12 March 1849 after their defeat in the battle of Gujarat.

The larger implications of the battle

The battle of Gujarat was the last attempt by the Khalsa to save Punjab. But, the Sikhs could not withstand the army of the British. Guns were used relentlessly and destroyed the Sikhs' positions which compelled them to move out. Sher Singh and other leaders of the Khalsa army laid down their arms. The Afghans who had helped the Sikhs also retreated from Peshawar and Attock. This led to the complete victory of the British. After few weeks, Dalhousie annexed the whole of Punjab to British India formally and the Sikh empire became a history.

The overall place and significance of the battle in the Indian history

The most significant impact of the Second Sikh War in the history of India was of course the annexation of Punjab to the company. Lord Dalhousie on 30 March 1849, after winning the battle, proclaimed that the kingdom of Punjab no longer belonged to Sikhs, all the territories of the kingdom would be a portion of the British Empire in India. The British got a chance to annex more territories up to the natural frontiers of India towards the northwest. The war marked the total supremacy of the East India Company on the Indian subcontinent. Though, the British had to face a severe revolt eight years later in 1857, even then the British power, domination and imperialism had reached a high point. The entire Sikh kingdom fell. Besides, after the end of Sikh power, no active power or force remained in the country which could pose a threat to the British domination in India.

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Last Updated on : January 9, 2015