Banda Singh Bahadur – the founder of the first Sikh republic
Sirdar Kapur Singh
On the occasion of the 292nd martyrdom anniversary of Banda Singh Bahadur, WSN pays tribute to the saint-warrior, who boldly and painstakingly put the principles enunciated by the Gurus into practice and who was mercilessly killed by the Mughal forces. This extract from the speech of none other than Bhai Sahib Sirdar Kapur Singh, delivered to young Sikh students under the auspices of the All Canada Sikh Federation in 1974 is a befitting tribute to the work of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, whose legacy has been forgotten by mainstream Sikh religious and political bodies and has been hijacked by others who are muddling his personality.
After the passing of Guru Gobind Singh and after the ordination of the Khalsa, that is since the beginning of the eighteenth century when Guru Gobind Singh passed-away, the Sikhs have played, a by no means insignificant part, in the history of Asia and indirectly, the history of the world.
In 1711, they set-up a republic in the heartland of the Moghul Empire in India, wherein they gave land to the tillers in a feudal society, proclaimed equality of all men as citizens of a state, and declared that power emanated from and justly belonged to the people and not to a hereditary privilegentsia. This republic was set up by Banda Singh Bahadur.
These remarkable and most modern principles, which were not only avowed but which were put into practice, although for a very short while, are historical phenomena with which not many people in the West or even the East were then acquainted with; but which, if properly understood and appreciated, would make men marvel as to how it was that in a conservative, tranquil, progressive-and-struggle-avoiding East, such revolutionary and remarkably dynamic ideas not only could spring-up but could be put into practice and could be applied to the actual polity of a state which was founded, but which, unfortunately, did not last.
This state of the Sikhs lasted only for six or seven years. Emperor Bahadur Shah marched with all the resources of the Moghul Empire from Deccan, the distant South, to destroy this Sikh republic in the north of India, which extended from the confines of Ludhiana to the outskirts of Panipat, the rivers Ravi to Jamuna. It was posited in the heart of the north of India, and if it had endured, or had it been possible to make it endure for another forty or fifty years, not only the Moghul Empire would have fallen much earlier than it did, but in India itself such a social and political revolution would have been brought about that it would have been India which might have been the fore-runner of modern ideas of equality, liberty and brotherhood which we now credit to the French Revolution and which now have inspired and enthused modern political activity during the last one century.
The Sikhs, inspired as they were by the teachings of the Gurus, proclaimed and actually applied another Sikh principle in this short-lived republic. It was on the 10th of December, 1710 that an Imperial Ordinance was issued from Delhi by the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah, which runs to the effect that: nanak-prastan ra harkuja kih biyaband ba qatal rasanand---"Every Sikh, wherever he is found,wherever he is seen, should be put to death without any hesitation and without any further thought".
The Ordinance of 7th April, 1711, issued by the Sikh Republic under the seal of the state and sign manual of their chief executive, Banda Singh Bahadur, proclaimed: "We do not oppose Muslims or Islam, but only tyranny and usurpation of power."
This was the solution which the Moghul Empire in India had conceived of, to solve, what they might have described as, "the Sikh problem" and it is even a fiercer and a more frightful notion than the one which entered the head of Hilter during the Second World War, when he wanted to accomplish, what he euphemistically called, "the solution of the Jewish problem", by exterminating every living Jew wherever he could be found and apprehended.
This Ordinance was issued on the 10th of December, 1710, and it was against those people who were small in numbers but were the bearers of the principles of a new society, for the purpose of setting up a modern polity for the guidance of world society in the future centuries to come. Their reaction to this imperial edict of totalitarian and utmost barbarism is worth noting.
On the 10th of December, 1710, the Royal Ordinance of ruthless destruction of all Sikhs, was issued; and on 7th April, 1711, hardly three months and a few days afterwards, an Ordinance in reply was issued by the Sikh Republic under the seal of the state and sign manual of their chief executive, Banda Singh Bahadur, which proclaimed: "We do not oppose Muslims or Islam, but only tyranny and usurpation of power."
The substance of this Ordinance of The Sikh Republic is recorded in contemporary documents, such as the Persian Ruquati--Aminul-davallah, Dastural--Insaha and the Imperial Daily Diaries, the day-to-day records made by authority of what passed in the royal court.
They are now available for everybody to see, that hardly three months after this drastic Ordinance which was issued for the utter destruction of the Sikh people, the Sikhs had the political maturity and the greatness of heart to reply by issuing an Ordinance which said, “We do not oppose Muslims. We do not oppose Islam. We only oppose tyranny, and we only oppose the usurpation of political power which belongs to the people and not to privileged individuals or to Mughals."
This outlook, this temper, this sentiment, is so democratic, of such high cultural calibre and such exalted ethics, that it would not be easy--one may search the pages of the contemporary history of those days, of seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century history--one will not come across its equal or its parallel in the political policies and practices of a state anywhere in the world of those days.
After that, when this initial effort of establishing a Sikh republic in the heart of northern India failed, in which republic the Sikhs tried to apply the high principles of ethics and politics enunciated by the Sikh Gurus, there comes a period of about half a century of relentless persecution and genocide pogroms against the Sikh people by two contending empires, the mightiest empires of Asia of those days: the Mughal and the Pathan Empire. The Pathan empire persecuted and tried to uproot the Sikhs and to destroy them root and branch, under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Abdali, one of the greatest generals, of the stature of Chenghiz Khan, Halagu and Nadir, the greatest generals which Asia has produced. Under his might and under his generalship, and that of his successors, for almost fifty years, the Pathans as well as the Mughals tried their worst and tried their utmost to cow-down the Sikhs, to finish the Sikhs and to make them submit.
But the Sikhs withstood this terrible onslaught. They neither submitted nor abandoned their harsh cry of "death or liberty", a sentiment foreign to and unknown in the Eastern societies, ancient or modern. This is a sentiment which is unique in the history of Asia, though in Europe you do find traces of it. But for fifty years, under the most callous and under the most terrible persecutions where the aim was complete genocide, the Sikhs not only refused to submit but refused to abandon their cry: "We want death or liberty! We want death or liberty." And in the end they had their liberty. Sikh supremacy was then established. And then it slid into the form of the Sikh Empire, which was called the Sarkar Khalsa that is “the people’s Commonwealth” from the middle of the eighteenth-century to the middle of the nineteenth-century.