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As the many readers may be unfamiliar with the history of the Sikh Empire, I will attempt to describes its rise and fall below:
The 18th century saw the decline of the Mughal Empire, and a massive power vacuum form in the Punjab. The power vacuum was taken advantage of by invaders from the middle east, Nader Shah of Persia and Ahmad Shah Durrani of Afghanistan, coming to loot, occupy and slaughter the land and its native population. This lead to Sikh leaders, many of whom farmers, forming their own little kingdoms, known as misls, in order to contain the declining Mughals from the east and the Afghans in the west, thus protecting the region's agriculture and trade.
These misls were unequal in strength, and attempted to expand its territory and resources at the expense of each other, however united against foreign invasions and held biannual meetings in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar. The misl period in the Punjab was soon to come to an end however with the rise of Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh was the leader of the Sukerchakia misl and had created a highly organised and modern army based on Franco-British principles.
Ranjit Singh cemented himself as a capable ruler as a 17 year old in 1797, when Zaman Shah Durrani, of Afghanistan, attempted to annex the Punjab. A battle was fought in Ranjit Singh's Sukerchakia misl, whose regional knowledge and warrior expertise helped resist and defeat the invading army, gaining him recognition. In 1798, the Afghan ruler sent in another army, which Ranjit Singh allowed enter Lahore, before encircling them with his army, blocking off all food and supplies, burning all crops and food sources that could have supported the Afghan army leading them to retreat back to Afghanistan.
His modernised and strong army, which along with marrying the daughters of other misl leaders, allowed his borders expand. After taking the historical and cultural capital of the Punjab, Lahore, Ranjit Singh essentially became the de facto ruler of the Punjab, with him being coronated Maharaja in 1801, and the Sarkar-i-Khalsa, or Sikh Empire being established. The establishment of the empire, allowed there to finally once again be stability in the region, allowing trade and industry to flourish and allowing Lahore to once again become a major centre of the Indian subcontinent. Despite the empire being ruled by a Sikh, Muslims made up the majority of the population. The religious demography of the Sikh Empire was Muslim (70%), Sikh (17%), Hindu (13%). Due to this the empire was secular and allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority.
Early British-Sikh relations
With rise of the British East India Company, in to the east of the empire a new threat was looming. A Muslim regiment under Charles Metcalfe was sent to Amritsar for talks with the Maharaja. The soldiers went into a Gurdwara without taking their shoes off, which is mandatory to do, and some Nihang guards unsheathed their sabres and challenged them. The soldiers formed a line and fired musket volleys, resulting in the death of many Nihangs whilst wounding others. Witnessing the strength of the British, Ranjit Singh accepted the Treaty of Amritsar (1809). The treaty stated that Ranjit Singh could not expand south of the Sultej river, effectively ceding his territories south of the river to the British, however he was free to expand north of the Sultej. The British saw the Sikh Empire as a stable buffer from invaders such as the Afghans, whom the Sikhs had defeated, contained and expanded into their territory various times by now, and the rising Russian threat. This incident also led to the further westernisation and modernisation of the army, with generals who had once served Napoleon, namely Jean-François Allard, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Paolo Di Avitabile and Claude August Court, being brought in to train the army. These efforts to improve the army as the empire expanded rapidly into the regions of Kashmir, Sindh, Himachal and Pashtunistan.
One major factor which led to the demise of the empire were the Dogras. In 1808, Kashmir was annexed to the Sikh Empire. Gulab Singh Dogra, a direct descendant the historic rulers of the region, was 16 years old when Kashmir was annexed to the Sikh Empire. Gulab Singh Dogra and his two brothers, Dhian Singh Dogra and Suchet Singh Dogra, went on to enrol into the Sikh army. Gulab Singh Dogra soon distinguished himself in battles, and was awarded a jagir (a land grant) near Jammu and allowed to keep an independent force. As a jagirdar (a lord similar to in feudal times in Europe) for the Sikhs, Gulab Singh Dogra extended the boundaries of the Sikh kingdom to western Tibet with the help of Zorawar Singh Kahluria. The Sikh rule was then extended beyond the Jammu Region and the Kashmir Valley to include the Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom of Ladakh and the Emirates of Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar. The Dogras, who were Hindus, requested the Maharaja to change the colour of the national flag from dark blue, a traditional colour of the Sikhs, to red or a deep orange, a traditional
colour of the Hindus, and include a picture of a Hindu deity. Ranjit Singh agreed to change to colour but refused to add an image of a Hindu deity. Hari Singh Nalwa was the commander-in-chief of the army, was often seen as one of their best general. He occupied the Khyber Pass, had defeated the Afghans on various occasions and had annexed most of their empire into the Sikh Empire. Whilst fighting on the frontier, Hari Singh Nalwa called for aided, Dhian Singh Dogra received the call but did not inform Ranjit Singh. As a result, Hari Singh Nalwa died in 1837. When Ranjit Singh found out he was furious, but Dhian Singh Dogra managed to weasel his way out, saying that he didn't want add pressure on the Maharaja. The death of Hari Singh Nalwa, effectively stopped the westward conquests of the Sikhs and stopped them from possibly finishing of the Afghans and fully annexing their empire.
After Ranjit's death, things took a turn for the worst as factional rivalries and violence ensued. Dhian became grand vizier and advisor to Ranjit Singh's unpopular heir, Maharaja Kharak Singh. Kharak's son, Nau Nihal Singh was seen as a better leader as his father. Dhian convinced Nau Nihal Singhl to take over from his father as he was just a figure head king. Dhian poisoned Kharak, on the day of the death of Kharak, Nau Nihal was walking back from his father's cremation, escorted by Main Udham Singh Dogra, as they passed under Roshni Gate, the beam of stones and tiles of the archway collapsed and crashed upon their heads. Main Udham Singh Dogra died, but Nau Nihal Singh had an injury the size of a rupee on his head. He was carried away by Dhian Dogra. When the door to his room was opened some time later, the floor was splattered in blood and Nau Nihal was dead. Maharani Chand Kaur, wife of Kharak Singh and mother of Nau Nihal Singh was poisoned and had her head smashed in by the order of Dhian and Gulab Dogra.
There were at the time two major factions within the Punjab contending for power and influence: the Sikh Sindhanwalias and the Hindu Dogras. The Dogras managed to make Sher Singh, the eldest illegitimate son of Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja. Historians record that he was not very smart politically and let the Dogra brothers take charge of all functions of state. The army at this point had expanded rapidly from the time of Ranjit's death, from 29,000 in 1839 to over 80,000 in 1845 as landlords and their retainers took up arms, and had begun to operate increasingly independent from the central court. The large size also led to factions being formed within the army. Maharaja Sher Singh was unable to meet the pay demands of the army, although he reportedly lavished funds on a degenerate court. In September 1843 he was murdered by his cousin, an officer of the army, Ajit Singh Sandhawalia. The Sandhawalias also murdered Dhian Singh. Hira Singh Dogra, aroused the army and killed Ajit and Lehna Singh Sandhawalia.
Jind Kaur, Ranjit Singh's youngest widow, became regent for her infant son Duleep Singh. After the grand vizier Hira Singh was killed, while attempting to flee the capital with loot from the royal treasury, by troops under Sham Singh Attariwala, Jind Kaur's brother Jawahar Singh became grand vizier in December 1844. In 1845 he arranged the assassination of Peshaura Singh, an elder son of Ranjit, who presented a threat to Duleep Singh. For this, he was called to account by the army. Despite attempts to bribe the army he was butchered in September 1845 in the presence of Jind Kaur and Duleep Singh.
Jind Kaur publicly vowed revenge against her brother's murderers. She remained regent. Lal Singh became grand vizier, and Tej Singh Dogra became commander of the army. Sikh historians have stressed that both these men were prominent in the Dogra faction. Originally high caste Hindus from outside the Punjab, both had converted to Sikhism in 1818. It is likely that they chose the Sikh faith purely for the purpose of securing military promotions.
During all this chaos, parties had contacted the British for support. This greatly determined the longevity of the crumbling empire, as it altered the British that the it was no longer the stable empire it once was and thus could no longer operate as a buffer against invaders, especially with Russian threat increasing.
Raja Lal Singh, Tej Singh Dogra and Gulab Singh Dogra were anxious to start a war with the British, as they had an agreement with the British. Lal and Tej were in direct communication with the British, giving away camp, battle positions and tactics, they also tampered with Sikh guns, cannons and other weapons and didn't attack when presented the opportunity. Despite the fact that him and Tej Singh revealed the entire plans of the Sikhs, the British Empire had great difficulty defeating the Sikhs. Later despite his treachery the Sikhs narrowly lost the Battle of Ferozeshah, giving the British one of the most challenging fights experienced in years.
Previously Gulab Singh Dogra had stolen ₹8,000,000 and 500 horses from the treasury. He used this money to buy Jammu and Kashmir from the British for ₹7.5 million, to create the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, in British India.
Sir Lepel Griffin, a British observer said, "There are no characters in Punjab's history more repulsive than Dhian and Gulab Dogra ... but let it not be said that the son of the grand vizier at any time lacked his father's typical characteristics." In summary these men tore apart the Sikh Kingdom from the inside, in a clever but repulsive fashion, had it not been for them the Sikh Raj may still exist today.
The empire was annexed in 1849 after the Second Anglo-Sikh War.
Point of Divergence
After hearing that Dhian Singh Dogra hadn't called for aid for Hari Singh Nalwa, Ranjit Singh banishes the Dogras and removes them as jagirdars of Kashmir. In an attempt to regain Kashmir, the Dogras would wage a war with the Sikh Empire, which the Sikhs would easily win.
Without the Dogra's, such factional chaos as in OTL isn't likely to occur. Ranjit Singh's unpopular heir, Kharak Singh, still gets deposed, however in ATL, it is the army who lead a coup to allow his son Nau Nihal Singh to make the Maharaja. Rather than dying shortly after sustaining an injury leaving his father's funeral, Nau Nihal would rule until he was 82.
OTL vs ATL
- Sikhism is a much larger religion in the ATL. As they are politcal dominant they attract more follower, for example, in this ATL most Nanakpanthis (Hindu followers of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak) convert to Sikhism, replacing much a Kashmir's, Punjab's and Sindh's population with Sikhs. The religion also attracts many Sufi Muslims.
- Punjabi becomes the lingua franca of the Northern Indian subcontinent rather the Hindi-Urdu and English