First published in Sangarsh Magazine June 2015
The first Sikh Maharaja, Ranjit Singh, died on the 27th June 1839. With his death died a golden era of the Sikh Raj. A Raj that was established in a short but progressive manner, in history. His unfortunate death followed an era of mutinous and murderous saga. Till today Sikhs reminisce Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s phase of their history, a proud and profound history indeed. History did gave Sikhs a second change to mark the territories of a Sikh Nation at midnight of August 14-15, 1947 but Sikh leaders of the time decided against it. The both opportunities were lost because the Sikh politics of principle got distorted by the politics of family and personal selfish interests.
It is always important for ethnic and religious groups to seek a piece of physical land, claim it and declare it their homeland establishing a unique Nation with a government of their likings, with rules that protect the peoples interests and from where a nations voice echo’s on the International fronts. Similar to what Jews established after a very long struggle, similar to what India (majority Hindu) established after the end of British Raj and similar to what Pakistan (majority Muslim) established after British left in 1947. Sikhs had their Empire run by their own King, by their own government and had the laws that protected not only their interests but the interest of the Multicultural society of the time. During the first Sikh Raj all members of the diverse communities were treated equally including the Hindus, the Muslims and the Christians. Non Sikh community members were held in high regard and on high posts. Alexander Gardner is one of such examples. Gardner, born at the shores of Lake Superior, became part of Ranjit Singh’s army and was present to witness the history when Maharaja’s sons were murdered.
In 1947, the British Raj in India ended. British offered Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to draw the maps of their respective independent countries. British did admired the marshal quality of the Sikhs and used that very effectively during their battles of World War One. British counted Sikhs as the equal partner, they were fully aware that Sikh Kingdom was the last to fall after Sikhs gave British a hard fight with exemplary valour. The Sikh leaders chose not to entertain the British offer of a separate nation and showed their content by merging into the Hindu majority India on the basis of India’s promise to Sikhs of self-sovereignty and independence to practice their religion in peace. India promised Sikhs the protection of their individuality. All promises were broken and thus started the modern era of Sikh struggle and the aftermath of 1984 Sikh genocide. On the mid night of August 14th and 15th 1947 Pakistan and India achieved freedom and the Sikh Nation was the only casualty.
The plight of Sikh politics demands a closer look to identify factors as to why the glory was lost in the History. The rapid fall and the brutal end of the first Sikh Raj was not only because of the vicious attacks and ruthless tactics by the enemy within, but it was also a result of a nation’s politics transformed into a family affair. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh it seems that the history books are filled with reference to the fight and survival of a dynasty rather than a struggle to uphold a nation’s pride. In addition, in my opinion, the Sikhs lacked political vision and abilities of creating strong allies.
The similar class of politics from 1839 and 1947 continues today and possibly with an even foulest face. The sensitivities of people are always exploited for the personal political gains at the cost of a nation’s dismay. The self-interested individual were present in the past and they are present today, they will continue to create a political illusion for the benefit of their own. In the democratic World it is the people who hold the key to governance and it is the people who must be awakened to see the reality and differentiate the illusion from it.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
It is up to us, the Sikhs, to take the position what our conscience tells us and remember it may not be the one which is safe, politic or popular but do remember that the Sikhs have a rich history to prove that they took those positions in the past and they can take them again.