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The Sikhs in History (Paperback) - Book By Sangat Singh

Publisher: Singh Brothers
Authors: Sangat Singh
Page: 748
Format: Paperback
Language: English
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Table of Contents For 'The Sikhs in History' - Book By Sangat Singh

  Foreword ix
  Preface (to new Edition) xi



1. The Sikh Problem 3



2. Evolution of the Sikh Panth (1469-1708) 13
3. Factors in Rise and Fall of the Sikh Power (1708-1849) 81



4. Search for Identity (1849-1925) 125
5. The Sikhs and Indian Independence (1925-1947) 173



(Search for a Place Under the Sun)

6. The Formative Phase (1947-1950) 237
7. Nehru's Negativism (1950-1964) 273
8. Achievement and Frustration (1964-1975) 309



(Facing Genocide)

9. Indira's Sikh War (1975-1984) 341

Nights of Long Knives - I (1984-1988)

(Pogrom, Accord, Fraudulent Commissions and State Repression)


Nights of Long Knives - II (1988-1994)

(Untempered State Terrorism)

12. The Sikhs in 1994-2009 501



13. The Sikh Diaspora 587



14. Future of the Sikhs 639
  Appendix - I : The 3rd Centenary:Conferment of Guruship on Granth Sahib 667
  Appendix - II : Gurdwara Rikab Ganj Affair 695
  Appendix - III : The World Sikh Convention: April 2010 712
  Appendix - IV : Banda Singh Bahadur Strikes Sovereignty at Chapar Chiri 719
  Index 725


Various scholars, including indigenous Sikh savants as well as foreigners in far-off places, have taken in hand to write historical works on the Sikhs. Since they include material ranging from much that is often mere chronological narrative on to tendentious efforts implying that Sikh history is simply a ripple on the broad ocean of Indian history, it is difficult to percieve the driven of the historiographical flow. In this book Sardar Sangat Singh proves himself among those few who in masterly style have set forth a comprehensive and rounded account of the history of this remarkable nation, or you may call it a family of believers and learners, an ecclesial entity. About this last term - in classical Greek the ekklesia was the free citizen-body of the polity, the polis-city, called out by the herald to exercise its corporate rights on behalf of the city-state. The great Jewish translators of the Hebrew Bible who were given the name "Septuagintalists" used it to refer to the nation - religion constituted by the call of the God to the elect, chosen people to come out, come together and make their national decisions. So the author sets forth the history of how the Guru personified in ten supreme teachers over a period of two centuries laid down a way of life, of worship, of thinking and of being, of living and of dying. After this the light of the Guru still shone forth and guided in the ever-present Sri Guru Granth Sahib with its symbiosis (shared life) in the Sangat. The word Sangat itself goes back to some very ancient Indic thinking associated with a religious group or polity. The Buddhist use in Pali, which presumably reflects the Maghadi term used by Buddha Sakyamuni himself, takes up part of its meaning in indicating the select, elect and disciplined congregation of monks. As with many such old words, the Sikh Guru gave it a new radiance of meaning to indicate the elect, both men and women, of whom the Khalsa is the core, who have devoted themselves to the Guru's divine purpose.

Sardar Sangat Singh brings the history on to the present day. He indicates the rhythm, the thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis of Sikh history. It becomes immediately clear that this book stands in the upper echelons of the genre, taking its place with thev greatest  of the works which have followed from the days of Cunningham and Macauliffe. We have set before us the main factors which destroyed Buddhism in the land of its birth, which infiltrated Sikh Councils almost from the beginning, for Sikhism has no barriers against anyone, whatever their origin may be. So that again and again, leadership could be taken over by these people and the whole movement brought round to fulfil their desires. we see the dire consequences of this, especially after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and after partition, leading on the terrible days of 1984 and its aftermath. This is not a picture of the new India that I want to look at, but I cannot argue against it or redraw whichever way I turn. The author has placed the matter before us in measured, logical and unequivocal terms. He does not neglect that great new factor - the Sikh diaspora, which has spread across the world and helps us to set aright the dharmas of the religions which went before and have gone astray as the Bachitar Natak puts it.

In his most recent revision Dr. Sangat Singh has brought the history down to the present day even though that is one of the most complicated tasks any historian or political scientist or historian of religion could undertake.

The ways ahead that Sikhsim could take are starkly set before us. Unless the Sikhs themselves determine on a way ahead, produce suitable leadership and carry out a total reconstruction and reform, they are doomed to that classical fate mentioned by Macauliffe of getting an insider's view of how the great snake of the Indian jungle deals with its prey. As Sikh reformers said over a hundred years ago, "Our grandchildren will look at traces of us and say with bewilderment , were those quaint people really our ancestors?"

Various other scenarios are possible. In History of Religions we may compare the decisions of various forms of the religion of the Jewish people at the end of the decimation of 70 of the Common Era which had culminated in the destruction and razing of their Holy City and Temple by the Romans. A number of Jewish groups just disappeared. One group centered itself on a book and a set of exclusive laws and customs which could be carried anywhere and has survived as the Judaism we know today. Another group, who were the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, opened themselves to all languages, all peoples and cultures and became Christianity. (There are some Christians today who fear the openness may have gone too far in the face of human inner corruption.) Should we imitate Buddhism and hope that as we die out in one country we shall come alive in another? Or should we, like Islam, keep a sacred book and language, a basic set of legal and social concepts while giving much freedom to locality and to adopting and co-opting military, technical and economic opportunities. The Sikh must make up their minds. They must think out their own inimitable and breath-taking answers, somehow raise up an acceptable ledaership, and follow through.

The situation today of the Sikhs is bad and it makes one truly sick at heart but it is not as potentially death-dealing as the situation, when the tenth Guru was assassinated or when the British took over the kingdom of Lahore or when, in the 1870s, the Singh Sabha revived the faith or when  the holocaust and genocide of 1947 fell upon us. From 1947 to 1984 to the present day this storm and crisis has hardly abated. Perhaps the darkness may have to last as long as the one that started in 1708 and went on until the armies of the Khalsa had stopped the invasions from Iran and Afghanistan and secured the mountain line. But the purposes of the Guru cannot be thwarted, not even by our human stupidity and short-sightedness. We must remain ready and prepare ourselves and our children for the road ahead.

I commend this book to the reader with enthusiasm and cofidence.

Noel Q. King
Professor-Emeritusof History and Comparative Religions
University of California, Santa Cruze, USA

Preface (to New Edition)

Histories of the peoples or of the nations have been written and rewritten continuously. With the rise of nationalism in Europe in the 18th century, histories of various European countries , including that of England, have been rewritten during the 19th century from their repective national perspective. So has been the case during the present century with the historians of colonised people who during and after the colonial rule have found new contours of their past. History of India too has been rewritten from that perspective. For instance, yesterday's extremists and terrorists have been acclaimed as today's heroes and revolutionaries.

With the decolonisation of the subcontinent in 1947, the Sikhs for the first time in history came under the tutelage of a reviving Hinduism. Brahminism, whenever in ascendance, has been intolerant of non-conforming faiths. It was time for the Sikhs to re-examine their history and draw appropriate lessons.

That was all the more so, as there have been persistent attempts to overturn the Sikh history and theology. The beginnings were made in the early 17th century by dissident Minas who in collaboration with Brahmins played havoc with Guru Nanak's Janam Sakhi, biography. Then followed the Brahminical infiltrators at the hour of the Sikh triumph in the second half of the 18th century. They, in collaboration with Brahminical malcontents, made serious inroads into the Sikh theology. The worst part of it was that the contamination came to be passed on as the original . Even scholars like Bhai Santokh Singh (Gurpartap Surajgranth, 12 volumes, 1823-43) fell a prey to the duplicity and were seen to propound the untenable viewpoint that the Khalsa was created as a swordarm to protect a decadent and decrepit Hinduism.

The Sikhs throughout history have been deeply influenced by certain basic postulates. One constant factor has been the deep hostility of Brahminism to the Sikh movement. That was quite discernible right from the beginning when Guru Nanak set up a new settlement of Kartarpur-Ravi, away from the bustle of the existing habitats, for the new faith to germinate in an atmosphere free from the existing social pressures. The founding of new townships of Goindwal, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Sri Hargobindpura, Kartarpur off-Beas, and eventually Kiratpur and Anandpur Sahib, later, are to be seen in that light. The other facet of the same coin was the Sikh movement's underpinning of the downtrodden classes. This lent them the strength , but further accentuated Brahminical opposition.

The third factor has been the variable quality of the Sikh leadership. For instance, the Sikhs had a unified leadership for about half a century after the assassination of Guru Gobind Singh when they passed through the period of worts persecution; and during the Gurdwara Reform Movement in 1920s, except the final phase when they were splintered. Conversely, the Sikhs have easily fallen prey to their ego problems, and wiles of Brahmins who throughout history have sought to undermine and subvert the Sikh movement. The Sikhs have yet to find a viable counter to the Chanakya niti (policy, rather diplomacy) of sam (equality), dan (concession), dand (repression), bhed (dissensions) of which they have been victims right from the era of third Sikh Guru, Amar Das (1552-74), and more glaringly from 1699 when the hill chiefs successfully manoeuvred an imperial campaign to retard the consolidation of the nascent Khalsa. The Brahminical Hindus seemed to change sides during Abdali's numerous invasions only to infiltrate Sikhism at the hour of its triumph in latter half of the 18th century, eventually to subvert the Sikh kingdom in post-Ranjit Singh era. By 1849, when the Sikhs entered the modern phase of their history, Brahminism had shattered the Sikh political power and shaken Sikhism to its core.

Another complicating factor has been the fact that the Sikhs had emerged as a nation in pre-modern times, when the sub-continent was a conglomeration of various races, tribes, and ethnic groups. The Marathas too emerged as a nation under Shivaji, contemporaneously with the Sikhs. Bengalis attained an identical position in the 19th century under inspiration of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Anand Math , and the partition of Bengal in 1905 was rightly considered by them as an attack on Bengali nationalism. Tilak, who had re-invigorated Maratha nationalism by reviving Ganesh festival (their principal deity) in 1893, contended shortly before his death in 1920 that India was not yet a nation. Swami Dayanand articulated in parts the Hindus of Punjab and neighbouring provinces. Swami Vivekanand had sought to over-arch various brands of Hindu nationalism by instilling in them a sense of pride and dignity.

The mantle of all these Hindu revivalists fell on M. K. Gandhi. He, to begin with, unsuccessfully  sought to overarch pan-Hinduism and pan-Islamism represented by Khilafat in early 1920s. His blessing Swami Shraddhanand's shuddhi movement (for reconversion of Muslims to Hinduism) in mid-1920s signified that Gandhi had lost interest in Hindu-Muslim modus vivendi. During this half decade, Gandhi showed critical lack of understanding of Sikhism. Right from the beginning, he emitted total hostility to Sikhism and rabidly sought to undermine the Sikh identity.

India was yet to evolve as a nation on the eve of decolonisation of the sub-continent in 1947. Significantly, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and independent India's first Governor General, stated in spring 1947 that India was "a great subcontinent of numerous nation." That was notwithstanding M. K. Gandhi being acclaimed as father of "our nation",at first by Subhash Chandra Bose for his own reasons in 1944 and later by Jawaharlal Nehru in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly in December 1946. Pertinently, Gandhi was proclaimed father of "our nation" before the partition had become inevitable. That only showed the Hindu unwillingness to accommodate the Muslims except on their own terms.

The Congress policy laid down during the freedom struggle for minorities and other non-conforming groups for the post-independence period, in the words of Lord Wavell, was "to deal with them through bribery, blackmail, propaganda and, if necessary, forces". Jinnah fully understood the Hindu gameplan. The Sikhs , who, as if, had put on blinkers, did not; and have come in for that treatment. The Sikh predicament in post - 1947 era can directly be attributed to that.

As the Indian saying goes, there are three stipulations that associate a citizen to the state. These are sunwai (being heard with patience to get right the wrongs), izzat (maintenance of human dignity), and iqbal (ability to shape one's destiny). The Sikhs right from the day of Indian independence in 1947 had no sunwai with the Indian set up. They lost their izzat in 1982 when at the time of Asian Games every Sikh, irrespective of his political affiliation or background or even nationality was humilliated while crossing Haryana, with a few offering apologies. After the Operation Bluestar and the November 1984 pogrom against the Sikhs in all parts of India, they lost iqbal as well.

The book deals with this situation. It is in this background that I have narrated an account of the Sikhs in the context of Indian history.

This work is like an inverted pyramid, with over half the space going to the contemporary history from 1947 onwards. It spells out the contours of the ongoing struggle - its origins, growth and development, the present state, and possibilities in the near future.

Right from 1947, there have been no attempt to harmonise the Sikh aspirations to those of the Hindus who rather have emerged as a ruling race. The absence of Conflict Resolution Departments, much less, faculties, in the Indian Universities and institutes has only helped in the lopsided growth of Indian consciousness.

I have throughout been conscious of the fact that writing contemporary history is a highly sensitive affair. It has been my humble endeavour to present to the student of the Sikh history, a comprehensive account to understand the present Sikh dilemma in the current of their history. As a historian, I have been conscious that facts are sacred, while interpretation is one's own. My commitment has been to history, pure and simple, and not to the personalities involved however high the position they might have held, or, may be holding.

When I started the work, my objective was to rewrite and reinterpret the Sikh history in a major way. I was moved by the consideration that if one wants to make a nation, or, in this context, to awaken a nation, as if from a deep slumber, one has to at first write its history. Here, I had two inspirations. The first was Prof. E. H. Carr's scintillating observations, "There is a dual and reciprocal function of history - to promote our understanding of the past in the light of the present and of the present in the light of the past". There was, I thought, much need for that, especially after having lived through the contemporary, post-1947, pathetic history of the Sikhs. The second was ancient Greek Historian Thucydides' signal achievement to impart philosophy to the political history of ancient Greece. Since I was basically writing political history of the Sikhs, without ignoring Sikhism and Sikh philosophy, that was of more relevance to me.

I must place on record my indebtedness to the numerous scholars who, during the last four decades or so, have done considerable work on various facets of the Sikh history. Special mention must be made of the Spokesman weekly, New Delhi, founded by S. Hukam Singh in 1951; Punjabi University Patiala's bi-annual journal, Punjab Past and Present, launched by Dr. Ganda Singh in 1967; and the voluminous documentation done by Dr. Gurmit Singh, Advocate, formerly of Sirsa, who single-handedly has sought to delineate the correct moorings of the political development of the Sikhs in pre and post independent India.

The need for a reappraisal of the Sikh history has been uppermost with some of the thinking Sikhs durings the last two decades or so. The Kendri Sri Guru Granth Sabha right from its coming into being in 1973 was seizedof it. By 1980, it made earnest attempts at a reappraisal of a segment of Sikh history. After holding three seminars in 1981 at various centres in Punjab, the then President of Kendri Singh Sabha, S.Hukam Singh, in 1982, wanted me, then on a foreign posting, to go on extraordinary leave to undertake the project. I was conscious that Kendri Singh Sabha was doing me a great honour. A century earlier, Singh Sabha Lahore under the aegis of Prof. Gurmukh Singh had got interested a civil servant, Max Arthur Macauliffe in the Sikh religion. Now a corresponding body was asking me to get interested in the Sikh history as against my current avocation of international and strategic studies. For obvious reasons, it was not possible to accede to Hukam Singh's plea straight away. But the idea remained embedded in my mind.

I am thankful to the History Board of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar , especially Principal Satbir Singh, for appointing me,  in the autumn of 1990, chairman of a small committee to undertake the writing of modern Sikh history. Since I was not willing to accept the Gurdwara funds for the project, I have done the work on my own.

This work was principally written in 22 months, October 1990 to August 1992. Thereafter, it was first extended in April 1993 and again in November 1994 when I went in for computerisation for the New York edition the following June. The Indian edition brought out in the next February had principally the footnotes at the bottom of each page, as against these being at the end. Later, I added footnotes of my meetings with Dr. Sohan Singh, formerly of Panthic Committee, and interview of a correspondent of Jalandhar newspaper with Sardar Didar Singh Bains of California who had taken over as President of the World Sikh Organisation at New York at the instance of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

I had a chance meeting with Prof. Noel Q. King, Professor-Emeritus of History and Comparative Religion, California University, Santa Cruz (USA) in June 2000 at a seminar at the University of San Jose (CA). I accepted his suggestions to add a chapter on The Sikh Diaspora and also to update the work. It was gracious of him to contribute a Foreword. In it he significantly observed :

It becomes immediately clear that this book stands in the upper echelons of the genre, taking its place with the greatest of the works which have followed from the days of Cunningham and Macauliffe. 

When I updated the work to 2002, Prof. Noel Q. King very kindly added to the Foreword. I must convey him my thanks. Now, I have brought it to mid-2005.

I am thankful to the general body of people for showing me that affection and understanding of the Sikh history and Sikhism. I must, however, add, that I am very disappointed at the current developments.

The opinions expressed in the book are my own and I am fully responsible for them.

Guru Arjan Dev's Martyrdom Sangat Singh
June 16, 2005  


Author Sangat Singh
Pages 640
Cover Paperback
Language English

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