The Sikh State
What is the Sikh State?
The previous page presented the Sikh Ideals. The Sikh State is the practical application of those ideals. In other words, how society functions when these ideals are wholly absorbed into its fabric: government, laws and education, etc.
Is the Sikh State just an idea or does it exist?
The Sikh State is not just an idea, it has materialised twice in the Punjab. It first existed in 1710 under the command of Banda Singh Bahadur, where Sikhs implemented the ideals of the Sikh Gurus, operating under a decision making model, as outlined below:
- Gurmata - the decision of the collective will of the people.
- The condominium of Guru Granth and Panth - ensuring the power exercised by men is always congruent with the integrity of Sikh teachings.
- The Panj-Piaras - the doctrine of shared leadership, with responsibility entrusted collectively to 5 leaders instead of 1.
- The Sarbat Khalsa - the assembly of the Khalsa, who democratically work for equalitarian policies.
- The Khalsa - those who having joined the 1699 Order of the Khalsa, dedicate their lives in pursuing the inalienable sovereignty of the people.
- The Panth - the entire Sikh community. (Represented by the Peoples’ Assembly of indirect representation).
- The Sangat - the entire Sikh and non-Sikh community. (Who wish to contribute to a better society. The local assembly of direct representation).
What are the benefits of a Sikh State?
The Sikhs have forged States for achieving the Sikh social aims of creating a just, egalitarian, forward-looking, open and plural society as an exemplar for future world societies.
These States did not solely benefit Sikhs, but also served humanity irrespective of one’s religion, caste, gender, or other defined characteristic. The Sikhs are distinctive in that they do not pursue politics for power, but do so to achieve godliness through progressing fairness as stipulated in their doctrine that ‘there is no true and genuine religious activity except in the socio-political context’.
- In 1711, the first Sikh government abolished slavery, proclaimed equality of all men as citizens of the state, and declared that the power emanated from and belonged to the people and not to a hereditary privileged group - predating the French Revolution which has mistakenly been credited with the modern ideas of equality, liberty and brotherhood.
- Sikhs participated in war to defend universal human rights. During Maharaja Runjeet Singh’s Sikh rule, Baba Sahib Singh Bedi led a independent Sikh army into an area outside the Sikh governments’ jurisdiction to obtain justice for women and girls who had been victims of sexual crimes by the foreign government. This principled and courageous stance is in stark contrast to wars that are commenced for reasons of material wealth, sectarian issues or power considerations.
- Sikh governments have been meritocratic. Appointment was based on competence alone and, therefore, non-Sikhs were eligible for employment; this has led to the appointment of Muslim and Hindu Prime Ministers and military Generals occupying decision-making and influential positions under a Sikh State. For example, Fakir Aziz-ud-din a Muslim foreign minister, and Diwan Mokham Chand a Hindu General, were employed in the Sikh government of Runjeet Singh.
- Immediately after the Delhi ‘Mutiny’ in 1857, the Sikhs, who were assisting the British, refused to partake in looting and offered protection to Muslim women. In particular, it was the regiments led by Karam Singh ‘Hothi-Mundan’ & Lall Singh who safeguarded a prominent house of Sayyids, where vulnerable Muslim women needed protection from sexual violence by looting Hindu soldiers.
Reasons why the Sikh State failed
These States never went on to progress into political systems akin to those developed by the Anglo-Saxon communities in Great Britain and the United States of America, to which they now share great nexus.
Following the first Sikh State in 1710, the Sikhs faced immense difficulties from competing powers, and they were forced to live in the vast terrains of the Punjab. In 1723, the Sikhs decreed to reclaim their sovereignty. This was later achieved, around 1761, by constructing 12 confederacies to strategically challenge the invading armies. The Sikh republican style of governance, established under the leadership of Jassa Singh ‘Ahluwalia’, in 1761 was, unfortunately, reverted back to a monarchical government under ‘Maharaja’ Runjeet Singh in 1801. Later, after the Sikh Empire was annexed following the Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1848, Bhai Maharaj Singh, in contrast to the majority of Sikh leaders at the time, refused to surrender to the East India Company, declaring that Sikh sovereignty stems from the Guru and not men.
It is thought that the demise of these Sikh States was due to abandoning the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. This calamity can be broken down into two systematic failures:
- Separating the Guru Panth from the Guru Granth. That is, the Sikh leadership rejecting Sikh ideals; and,
- Aborting the Sikh decision making methodology, as described above. Which leads to the empowerment of a class of corrupt and treacherous individuals who abandon Sikh ideals, in pursuit of power.
The Future of the Sikh State
If cultured citizens wish to exercise Sikh sovereignty today, it shall not be in the way the Sikhs achieved it three hundred years ago. It will be through the evolution of political institutions, and their processes and systems of governance, which will elevate civilisation. The Sikh world-view is that the human race is one, and that the Sikh value system can be a panacea for global problems. Currently, might precedes right, therefore justice and peace are seldom attained. A Sikh State would be inaugurated with absolute conformity to international secular law, additionally it would be aligned to the friendly cooperation of like-minded Governments. Most importantly, any Sikh State would have to act in accordance with the egalitarian teachings of the Sikh Gurus, which will benefit humankind globally who are in dire need of a fairer and more principled politics.