Khalsa Raj – The Sikh Kingdom Of Punjab – Had Strong Secular Base


I just had the honor of presiding over the colonel Harpartap Singh Dhillon memorial lecture organized by the Encyclopedia of Sikhism Department of the Punjabi University Patiala. The speaker was Bobby Singh Bansal, a historian from London. He gave a talk and showed a documentary about the Sikhs in Afghanistan. He brought out the fact that the Sikhs, particularly the great Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa, played a decisive role in the area in the nineteenth century. One thing which particularly impressed me was that he considers Dewan Mohkam Chand as one of the main architects of the Khalsa Raj, the kingdom of Punjab.

I had read about Dewan Mohkam Chand, a Hindu Khatri general and the Commander in Chief of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. He was a brave, extremely loyal and a very wise military strategist. I always felt that had Ranjit Singh listened to his advice in Phillaur and confronted the British, the history of Punjab, India and perhaps the world could have been different. Still, I did not think that he was one of the main architects of the Khalsa Raj. After attending the lecture, I was inspired to review the history more closely. I was amazed by the role played by Mohkam Chand in building the empire. Many historians believe that he was the chief architect in making Ranjit Singh an emperor from a missil(tribal) chief.   The tragedy of Punjab and India started with the defeat of king Jaipal, a Hindu khatri king around the year 1000 AD when the Punjabis lost it to the Afghans. This opened Punjab and India to 800 years of most barbarian and cruel invasions of the Afghan chiefs such as Mahmood Ghaznavi, Mohammad Ghori and Ahmed Shah Abdali. All these looted and humiliated us. It was under the command of Dewan mokham Chand that the Punjabis turned the tables and defeated the Afghans who were led by Dost Mohammad Khan. Later Hari singh Nalwa consolidated the victory and completely reversed the roles of the Punjabis and the Afghans. While many of us are familiar with the historical role of Nalwa, very few among us completely understand or appreciate the historical contribution made by Dewan Mokham Chand.

Kohinoor became the pride of the Ranjit Singh’s empire. Mohkam Chand played the historical role in acquiring the diamond for the empire. The Afghans and the Punjabis launched a joint campaign against Ata Mohammad who was holding Shah Shujah of Afghanistan as a hostage. Shah Shujah’s wife Wafa Begum was in Lahore. The Afghans broke an understanding with the Punjabis that they would start the campaign together and left early so that they can reach Kashmir first. Mohkam Chand found a shorter way and reached Kashmir before them. While the Afghans were busy looting Kashmir, Mohkam Chand took control of Shah Shujah and brought him to Lahore. This opened the way for negotiation with the royal couple and finally they decided to give Kohinoor in return for Ranjit Singh’s protection.

Mohkam Chand wanted to integrate the Malwa region with the Khalsa Raj. He frequently crossed the river Sutlej and asserted his influence when there were local conflicts in the Malwa region such as in Patiala or Nabha. The British were very unhappy and gathered force in Ludhiana. Mohkam Chand saw this as an opportunity to finish the British influence in Punjab. He advised Ranjit Singh to give the British a crushing defeat just like he gave to the Afghans in the battle of the Attock. Ranjit Singh was a different man now. He was surrounded by many opportunists and sellouts, who just like many Malwa chiefs, had already sold themselves to the British. These opportunists and lackeys had already betrayed the principles of Sikhism and adopted decadent feudal life styles. They advised Ranjit Singh not to fight but negotiate with the British. This opened the way for the eventual British conquest of Punjab.                                                                                                                                                                         While in the military field, Mohkam Chand played a great role in Ranjit Singh’s rise from a missil chief to an emperor, in the diplomatic field Fakir Azizuddin played a similar role. It will be no exaggeration to say that the wisdom and diplomatic skills of Fakir Azizuddin not only helped Ranjit Singh to expand his empire but also to maintain cordial relations with the Muslims who formed the majority of the population. It will be no exaggeration to say that a Hindu general and a Muslim diplomat helped Ranjit Singh the most in becoming an emperor from a missil chief. This shows that the Khalsa Raj was truly secular. The Sikhs, the Hindus and the Muslims all contributed in building the kingdom of Punjab.                                                                                   Shah Mohammad, a great Muslim poet, who wrote about the Anglo-Sikh wars, brings out the fact that the three communities, the Sikhs, the Hindus and the Muslims lived peacefully and in great harmony till the British came. The Intensity of feelings and the passion for the kingdom of Punjab in his writings shows his complete loyalty and dedication to the khalsa Raj.  The deep admiration for the Sikh soldiers (Singhs) in his writings also shows that while the Muslims and the Hindus completely considered themselves to be a part of the Khalsa Raj, they looked at the Sikhs as the vanguard of the Raj. This is what I call true secularism. The British with their policy of “Divide and Rule” not only conquered Punjab but sowed the seeds for further divisions of Punjab and India.

If we want to learn correct lessons from the history then it will become clear that Punjab or India made great progress when the principles of true secularism were followed. As opposed to the negative secularism of the Western capitalism, which in reality translates to the policy of “Divide and rule,” The principles of true and positive secularism can be found in “Sri Guru Granth Sahib”. While the negative secularism of the west is based upon selfishness and greed, Positive secularism of the East is based upon the principles of universal concern and universal welfare as laid down in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The positive and true secularism promotes love, peaceful coexistence, tolerance and harmony.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at [email protected].