RUHĪLĀ-SIKH RELATIONS, The Ruhīlās came from the Yūsafzaī tribe of Afghāns originally belonging to Roh, a tract of land south of Chitrāl in the North-West Frontier region. They established themselves in the early years of the eighteenth century as a semi-independent power in the district lying between the River Ganges and the Kumāoṅ hills and extending eastwards up to Shāhjahānpur. Their first powerful chief, 'Alī Muhammad, received from the Emperor Muhammad Shāh a Mansab or rank of the 4,000 grade and was appointed faujdār of Sirhind in 1745. Ālā Siṅgh, the founder of Paṭiālā state, made alliance with him and joined him in a campaign against the Muslim chief of Rāikoṭ. But 'Alī Muhammad suddenly attacked Ālā Siṅgh's capital, Barnālā, which was given over to plunder. Ālā Siṅgh himself was taken prisoner and detained in the Fort of Sunām, but he escaped through a stratagem in 1747. 'Alī Muhammad died in September 1748.
The next great leader of the Ruhīlās was Najīb Khān who started life as a foot soldier under 'Alī Muhammad, but rose in rank soon after his master's death. He received from the Mughal Emperor 'Ālāmgīr II the mansab of 5,000 zāt and sowār and the title Najīb ud-Daulah. Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, before returning homewards after his fourth invasion, 1756-57, appointed him Mīr Bakhshī or paymaster of the army and his own mukhtār or agent plenipotentiary. While the plunder of Delhi was being transported to Lahore under prince Taimūr, Ālā Siṅgh attacked him at Sanaur and again at Mālerkoṭlā and robbed him of a considerable part of the treasure. Ālā Siṅgh had also supplied provisions to the Marāṭhā army on the eve of the battle of Pānīpat, January 1761. The Durrānī, therefore, sacked Barnālā soon after Pānīpat and forced Ālā Siṅgh to become a tributary. For this reason, Ālā Siṅgh did not give any active support to the Sikhs during what is known as Vaḍḍā Ghallūghārā or the Great Holocaust perpetrated on them by Ahmad Shāh Durrānī on 5 February 1762. Yet Ālā Siṅgh was summoned to present himself before the Shāh. He was saved only through the intervention of Najīb ud-Daulah.
But Najīb ud-Daulah being the Durrānī's agent was not the Sikhs' favourite. Following their conquest of Sirhind in January 1764, the Dal Khālsā or federated force of the Sikh misls, under their leader, Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā, poured into the Gaṅgā-Yamunā Doāb in the middle of February 1764 and plundered the country up to Murādābād and Chandausi in Ruhilkhaṇḍ, the land of the Ruhīlās. Najīb ud-Daulah had to pay a heavy sum of 11,00,000 rupees to persuade them to go back to the Punjab early in March. This was, however, only the first of the Sikhs' biannual raids into the territories of Najīb and the Emperor. In November-December 1764, the Jāṭ ruler of Bhāratpur, Jawāhar Siṅgh, solicited the Sikhs' help against Najīb ud-Daulah. 15,000 Sikhs already in the Gaṅg Doāb, joined him and defeated Najīb twice during January-February 1765, after which they retired to the Punjab at the news of a fresh invasion of their country by Ahmad Shāh Durrānī. During the Sikhs' raid on the Doāb later in the year, a severe battle lasting several days took place between them and the Ruhīlās, with Najīb personally in command, near Shāmlī in present-day Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. The periodic raids of the Sikhs and skirmishes with the Ruhīlās continued till Najīb's death on 31 October 1770. His son and successor, Zābitā Khān, inherited his father's title and office, but he did not have his father's strength of character. With the Emperor now under Marāṭhā control and Ruhilkhaṇḍ conquered by the Nawāb of Oudh in 1774 with British help, Zābitā Khān's influence was restricted to a small area around Ghausgaṛh in the upper Gaṅg Doāb. He came to terms with the Sikhs conceding to them the right to collect rākhī or protection levy. The Sikhs in May 1776 frustrated the Nawāb of Oudh's efforts to wean them away from Zābitā Khān, and instead assisted the latter to occupy Mughal territories. The Emperor took away his titles of Mīr Bakhshī and Amīr ul-Umarā and sent a force to bring him to book. Zābitā Khān helped by his Sikh friends withstood the onslaught for several months, but was finally defeated on 14 September 1777. He fled to the Sikh camp and escaped, under their protection, across the Yamunā while his entire camp, family and treasure fell into the hands of the victors. To strengthen his alliance further he became a convert to Sikhism and assumed the name of Dharam Siṅgh. Najaf Khān, the Regent of the Empire, considered it advisable to conciliate Zābitā Khān with a view to keeping the Sikhs in check through him. He called Zābitā Khān to Delhi and restored his family and territories to him. Zābitā Khān in turn gave his daughter in marriage to Najaf Khān. But the Sikhs were alienated from him, for they had not been consulted during these proceedings.
The Sikhs, passing through the Doāb in December 1778, entered Ruhilkhaṇḍ despite opposition by the troops of the British East India Company guarding the fords and ferries on the Gaṅgā, and returned after plundering several villages with impunity.
Zābitā Khān died on 21 January 1785. His son and successor, Ghulām Qādir, tried to re-establish friendly relations with the Sikhs. His vakīl or agent waited upon the sardārs who were again out on a plundering raid in Ruhilkhaṇḍ in January-February 1785, and persuaded them to withdraw promising to pay rākhī money. The Sikhs withdrew but Ghulām Qādir did not honour his part of the agreement. Having waited for two years, during which period, the rākhī arrears rose to 1,00,000 rupees, the Sikhs invaded his territories in February 1787. Ghulām Qādir paid to some chiefs their share of the dues. In July 1787 he persuaded Sardār Baghel Siṅgh and some other chiefs to join him in an attack upon the imperial capital. Their combined force entered Delhi on 5 September 1787. The Emperor, finding himself helpless, conferred the office of Mīr Bakhshī with the title of Amīr ul-Umarā on Ghlam Qādir. But the Ruhīlā chief’s haughtiness and his secret parleys with Begum Samrū led to disaffection among the Sikhs, who once again pillaged his territories in the Doāb in 1788. Ghulām Qādir was ultimately captured by the Marāṭhās in December 1788, and put to death on 4 March 1789. Mu’in ud-Dīn Khān alias Bhambū Khān, the younger brother of Ghulām Qādir, and his mother were given refuge by Jassā Siṅgh Rāmgaṛhīā in his estates in Gurdāspur district of the Punjab.
Harī Rām Gupta