PAṄJAB ON THE EVE OF FIRST SIKH WAR, edited by Harī Rām Gupta, comprises abstracts of letters written daily by British intelligencers mainly from Lahore during the period 30 December 1843 to 31 October 1844. These newsletters constitute an important primary source on the period they pertain to. Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh, then a minor, sat on the throne of the Punjab, with Hīrā Siṅgh as his Wazīr. The reports provide information about the power Hīrā Siṅgh exercised, the activities of his adviser, Paṇḍit Jallā, external policies of the Lahore kingdom and the state of the Sikh army. They also refer to some of the important events of the time — for instance, the defection and death of Rājā Suchet Siṅgh, the death of Atar Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā, General Gulāb Siṅgh and Bhāī Bīr Siṅgh of Nauraṅgābād, the revolt of Fateh Khān Ṭiwāṇā and the insurrections in Hazārā and Muzaffarābād. Another event highlighted in these documents is Hīrā Siṅgh's conflict with Rājā Gulāb Siṅgh which led to the despatch of a Sikh army against the latter, then in Jammū, towards the end of 1844.
A close study of these newsletters reveals how forces of disruption were gaining the upper hand in the Sikh State. Troops marching from Lahore under Miāṅ Labh Siṅgh to Paṭṭī and Sursiṅghvālā attacked the holy ḍerā at Nauraṅgābād. Among those killed were Prince Kashmīrā Siṅgh, Atar Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā and Bābā Bīr Siṅgh, widely revered in Sikh piety. The papers also describe how the army pañchayāts had begun criticizing Hīrā Siṅgh for his subservience to Paṇḍit Jallā, how they required him to deposit the revenue of his estates into the Khālsā treasury, how they demanded the surrender of Shaikh Imām ud Dīn, the tyrannical nāzim of the Jalandhar Doāb, and of Lāl Siṅgh, charging him with scheming for the destruction of Raṇjīt Siṅgh's dynasty. Hīrā Siṅgh tried to win their support by promising them enhanced pay and by distribution of cash awards, gold medals and bracelets. He assured them that he would be a loyal servant of the Khālsā and would be guided by their advice, but he could not rid himself of the influence of Paṇḍit Jallā. The letters bring out how Paṇḍit Jallā had alienated the Sikh chiefs by his insolent manner. Successive enhancements of the pay of the soldiery had considerably raised military expenditure and Paṇḍit Jallā sought to replenish the fast-dwindling exchequer by escheats, fines and extortions. This made him further unpopular. The reports also provide interesting sidelights on the social and economic conditions in the Punjab. Satī was practised by certain sections of society. As for prices, wheat-flour sold in Lahore in September 1844 at 14 seers a rupee, gram 20 seers, and ghee one-and-a- half seer.
B. J. Hasrat