LUDHIĀṆĀ POLITICAL AGENCY, renamed North-West Frontier Agency in 1835, was established in 1810 as the main official channel of Anglo-Sikh political and diplomatic communications. When, in February 1809, Lt-Col David Ochterlony established a British military post at Ludhiāṇā during Charles Metcalfe's negotiations with Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, the town belonged to Rājā Bhāg Siṅgh of Jīnd. Raṇjīt Siṅgh had seized Ludhiāṇā from the ruling Muhammadan family during his Mālvā campaign of 1807 and bestowed it on Bhāg Siṅgh. From April 1809 the Ludhiāṇā military post served as a link with the Sikh government at Lahore, and Bhāg Siṅgh was allowed a compensation of Rs 500 per month for the temporary occupation of his territory. As commander of the post and performing both military and political functions, Ochterlony realized the strategic importance of Ludhiāṇā, and he recommended to his government its retention on a permanent basis.
In May 1809, the British decided to withdraw their military detachments from Ludhiāṇā on moral as well as on political grounds. Lord Minto had given a personal assurance to Raṇjīt Siṅgh that the treaty of friendship and alliance between the Sikhs and the British had rendered the stationing of British troops on the Sutlej frontier unnecessary. Yet the post continued, mainly because of the strong pleadings of Ochterlony, Metcalfe and Seton, who maintained that its retention was essential for the security of British interests. But Lord Minto kept his word and the military post was withdrawn in April 1810, and Ludhiāṇā was converted into a political agency. Lt-Col Ochterlony was appointed agent to the Governor-General at Ludhiāṇā, and stayed at the post until 1815. He had three assistants, Birch, Ross and Murray, to deal with the affairs of the protected Sikh chiefs and hill states between the Sutlej and the Yamunā. In 1815, the agent's office was shifted to Karnāl which was considered more central to the area the agency looked after. In 1822, it was moved to Ambālā. Ludhiāṇā was reduced to a sub-agency to deal with only the Lahore Darbār.
Lieut Murray held Charge of Ludhiāṇā sub-agency as political agent till 1823, when Claude Wade succeeded him. In his dealings with the Lahore Darbār, Wade discovered certain anomalies in the jurisdiction, function and authority of Ludhiāṇā sub-agency. It was directly under the control of the Delhi Residency, but had to take orders from the political agent at Ambālā on many a matter, especially in relation to the Sikhs. Moreover, the Mahārājā's government suggested that, as Ludhiāṇā was nearer Lahore, it was a more convenient channel of intercourse between the two governments. The point was also stressed that, since Ambālā was concerned with safeguarding the interests of the protected states, Lahore government's territorial disputes with them could not with propriety be entrusted to it. In 1827, while Ambālā was given full jurisdiction over protected cis-Sutlej states, Ludhiāṇā was given full authority not only to deal with the disputed cis-Sutlej territorial possessions of the Lahore government, but also to conduct all political and diplomatic relations with it. In 1832, Ludhiāṇā regained the status of political agency, and Wade was authorized, as political agent, to deal with all British political affairs in relation to the Sikh Darbār, and to territories beyond the Sutlej and the Indus. Three years later, the designation of the Ludhiāṇā Political Agency was changed to North-West Frontier Agency.
The political officers who held charge of the agency for over three and a half decades (1810-1845) were Ochterlony, Murray, Wade, Clerk, Richmond and Broadfoot. The sub-agencies at Ambālā, Fīrozpur, Kaithal, Sabāthū and Nāhan were served by men like Cunningham, Nicholson, Henry Lawrence, Mackeson, Mills, Malville and Abbott.
The Sikh government at Lahore did not have a counterpart of the Ludhiāṇā political agency. Its diplomatic representation was through its vakīls or envoys stationed at Ludhiāṇā (Rāi Kīshan Chand and two subordinate vakīls, Rāi Govind Jas and Faqīr Shāh Dīn), at Fīrozpur Rāi Rām Dayāl, at Ambālā and at Delhi Rāi Anand Siṅgh.
While the Ludhiāṇā political agency played an important role in the evolution of Anglo-Sikh diplomatic relations, the vast mass of its records of transactions are, in spite of their bias and inaccuracies, our primary source of information on the political history of the Sikhs in the first half of the nineteenth century. These records were used by Murray, Wade, Prinsep, Mac Gregor, Edwardes, Cunningham and others in writing their books on Sikh history. The records of the Ludhiāṇā agency are especially full and comprehensive. Of particular interest are Lake's transactions in the cis-Sutlej region (1805-1806) in the wake of Holkār's arrival in .the Punjab, Minto-Raṇjīt Siṅgh correspondence relating to the Metcalfe mission (1808-1809), and the despatches of Edmonstone, Ochterlony, Seton and Carey. Later Ludhiāṇā agency records contain Anglo-Sikh transactions from 1810-1845. They comprise documents on the Indus navigation scheme, the claims of the Sikh government in respect of 47 cis-Sutlej territories, Anglo-Sikh Afghān affairs, and the exchange of political and complimentary missions between the Sikhs and the British government. The transactions from 1834 onwards contain despatches of the North-West Frontier Agency and the correspondence of Wade, Clerk, Richmond and Broadfoot. Documents abound on Burnes' mission to Kābul (1837-1838), Macnaghten's mission to Lahore (1838) and the Tripartite treaty, Sikhs' role in die first Afghān war, and British policy towards the State of Lahore till the beginning of hostilities in December 1845. Another interesting category of documents pertains to periodical reports furnished by the British newswriters from places such as Multān, Peshāwar, Lahore and Kābul.
B. J. Hasrat