Unsung hero

Baba Banda Singh Bahadur: Battle Strategy Against Mughal Forces
By Surinder Singh.
Har-Anand Publications. 
Pages 128. Rs 295.

SURINDER Singh has rightly chosen Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, a martyr to the cause of the Sikhs, as the subject of his book.

Guru Gobind Singh met Madho Das Bairagi at Nander, converted him to Sikhism and named him Banda Singh Bahadur. Later, the Guru sent him to Punjab to fight against the Mughal tyranny. As the author writes, "During the initial years of the 18th century, in spite of Mughal governmentís all out efforts to literally wipe out the Sikhs with all sorts of barbaric atrocities and executions, Banda Bahadur has made a phenomenal contribution to keep the flame of Sikh existence alive and burning." Thus, the memory of a commander of this calibre of the Khalsa army needs to be cherished.

The author explores the fighting techniques of Banda Bahadur in detail. The subject needed extensive study because Banda Bahadur followed strategies like the element of surprise which caught the enemy unawares, dhai path (two and a half steps) and kept the morale of his soldiers high which are crucial in winning any war. The author claims: "I have been virtually living with Banda Bahadur for the past couple of years and strongly feel that the nation owes a debt of gratitude towards him and in all fairness should give him his due place under the sun."

It is amazing that Banda Bahadur planned his battles with such care that his partisan band of a few hundred soldiers could take on the Mughal army which was far superior in every respect, be it the number of soldiers, cavalry, arms or ammunition. From a bairagi to a saint soldier, it was a phenomenal achievement! He accomplished this all with the blessings of Guru Gobind Singh.

Besides his excellence in war craft and statecraft, Banda Bahadur was the first to issue Sikh coinage. He was responsible for the liquidation of the zamindari system in Punjab. The role of peasants became crucial during battles. They were an untapped energy and it was Banda Bahadur who succeeded in rousing them. The zamindars of certain areas who were tired of the tyranny of the Mughals too reposed their trust in him and supplied him with arms and horses. The Sikhs developed into a political power under Banda Singh Bahadur. His followers could move unchecked in major parts of Punjab after routing the huge, well-trained, well-equipped Mughal army. His aim was to avenge himself on all those who had harassed Guru Gobind Singh. He did it by razing Sirhind to the ground, attacking the well-fortified town of Samana and other towns like Ghuram, Jalalabad, etc.

Besides discussing the battle strategy of Banda Bahadur, the author has written about the Sikh Guruís wars with the Mughal forces, their contribution to the art of defensive warfare. It traces the process of the Sikhs becoming a martial race, the gradual build-up of arms by the Gurus for the defence of their followers. The book throws light on the nine battles fought by Guru Gobind Singh before the creation of the Khalsa in 1699 and 11 battles fought after the creation. The writer has enumerated the principles to be observed in war as followed and practiced by the Sikh Gurus. This short and crisp book fulfils a long-standing demand of many people who feel that Banda Singh Bahadur has not got the due which he ought to.

The writer has chosen words with care that lead to visualisation of the battles, especially the siege of Gurdas Nangal, where Banda Bahadur and his followers were taken prisoners and then ultimately taken to Delhi and brutally massacred.