Super statesmen in Sikh history

Jasbir Singh Sethi | Houston

In the field of conflict resolution, we know of great accomplishments by great statesmen, like Henry Kissinger. Great statesmen have saved the world from many serious conflagrations and extreme tensions. They are like super heroes in the service of humankind. They have the skills to bring parties in conflict to the table, and with compassionate understanding they can help them find common ground and agree to common goals. These great statesmen have the public confidence to negotiate with authority.

In Sikh history we have a grand galaxy of heroes with exceptional martial skills and the will to even sacrifice themselves for the greater good. But we have seldom come across super statesmen beyone the times of our Gurus. Still, we Sikhs can learn a lot from going back in our history and learning from their strategies.
Guru Hargobind Sahib ji’s imprisonment in the early 1600s, and then his release along with 52 Hindu princes and kings from Gwalior Fort many years later, is a shining example of super statesmanship.
A casual study of this period of the Mughal Raj reveals that, in their criminal justice system, there was no soft punishment. Any person convicted of even seeming to be a threat to the kingdom was punishable by death. The death sentence was even inflicted on the siblings of the accused.
The tyrannous and callous nature of these tyrants is very vividly described by Guru Nanak Dev ji in four shabads of the Guru Granth, called “Baabaravaanni.”
All other crimes, other than sedition, however small, were punishable by life imprisonment – at Gwalior Fort. 
That fort already had 52 pahari rajas serving life sentences. Some historians say that Guru Hargobind ji was also sent to the fort, most likely for a twelve-year term, equivalent of life sentence.
Now starts the role of the super statesmen who turned the whole situation around. There were two aspects of this process.
Evidently, Mughal Emperor Jahangir prided himself on justice. He had a bell installed outside his residence that any person who feels that he did not get justice can ring the bell and his complaint would be heard and justice dispensed. 
This characterist of listening to the complaints of common citizens was also a hallmark strategy of the Sikhs. Baba Budha ji and Bhai Gurdas ji arranged for Sikh activism. Groups of Sikhs would assemble outside the fort and at Chowki Bharna to keep vigils with torches. This was an example of peaceful protest against the Guru’s imprisonment. 
This activism also earned the sympathy of many non-Sikhs. They conveyed to Jahangir that a big chunk of his empire was not happy with the imprisonment of Guru Hargobind ji. From within Jahangir’s royal court, Wazir Khan, the governor of Sirhind and Mian Mir, a famous Sufi saint from Lahore, also negotiated with the emperor on behalf of the Guru. 
The popular peaceful vigil, along with internal negotiations, built pressure on the conscience of the emperor. He released Guru Hargobind.
But when Wazir Khan reached Gwalior with orders from Jahangir, Guru ji refused to accept freedom and demanded that all 52 rajas be set free. Wazir Khan went back to Agra to start the negotiation process once again. He persuaded Jahangir to release everyone. With orders in hand, he again went to Gwalior. 
Freedom from Jahangir was a great act of statesmanship, but winning freedom for all 52 Hindu rajas was a stroke of genius. These statesmen were super statesmen. This historical account elaborates the real value of social activism and reveals great lessons for Sikhs: Cultivate the friendship of those who are great souls. 
Today, the Sikh attitude is that unless you are in the trenches with me and agree to what I say, you are a traitor. This attitude makes us completely isolated, and no help - moral or otherwise - can come to our assistance. 
The assistance of other people of goodwill is very essential in statesmanship.
We must revive this tradition once again.

About the author: Jasbir Singh Sethi is a trustee of the Sikh Foundation, in Palo Also, California.

Commentaries are the opinions of the authors, and not necessarily that of Sikh Free Press.



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