“There must be something wrong,” the former viceroy Lord Curzon observed in the House of Lords in February 1924, in a situation permitting “a movement … religious and Puritan in origin … to develop into a political agitation associated with dacoity [gang violence], accompanied by violence and wrapped up in crime.” Not for the first time or the last the Punjab was out of hand. Fortunately its recently appointed governor was “a strong and fearless man, and I trust that under his administration an end may be put to these troubles.” About the same time General Sir Claud Jacob was touring Sikh villages, where he found a cocky mentality. The younger generation and, what was especially ominous, women seemed to be convinced that their community was invincible. Jacob thought the situation explosive “not in a Western sense but in an Eastern one with the possibility of bloodshed even before the rain.” Like Curzon he saw one bright spot. Ordinary Sikhs and even their leaders seemed anxious about the coming of Sir Malcolm Hailey.
Was it really conceivable that after four long years of militant agitation and suffering the mere reputation of a governor for firmness would persuade the Sikhs to stop the confrontation? Despite the cautious optimism of his article two years earlier, he himself entertained no such illusions.