From Guerrilla Genius to Inspiring Commander: Lachit Borphukan’s Lessons for Modern Warfare

Against the background of the Ahom Kingdom's war against the Mughal Empire, Borphukan's leadership provides deep lessons on the art of leadership, the role of ethics and religion in battle, and the need of strategic foresight when confronted with insurmountable obstacles.

Must Read

Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

In the annals of military history, few figures stand as uniquely as Lachit Borphukan, a commander whose blend of tactical brilliance, ethical conduct, and inspirational leadership in the 17th century remains relevant in modern military discourse. Borphukan’s leadership, set against the backdrop of the Ahom Kingdom’s struggle against the Mughal Empire, offers profound insights into the art of command and control, the interplay of ethical and spiritual dimensions in warfare, and the strategic acumen required in the face of overwhelming odds. This exploration delves into the multifaceted aspects of Lachit Borphukan’s military leadership, unveiling lessons that transcend time and geography.

Command and Control 

Centralised Leadership. Lachit Borphukan, much like many military leaders of his era, exhibited a centralised leadership style. He was known for his decisive command and the ability to make strategic choices swiftly, crucial for responding effectively to the fast-evolving scenarios on the battlefield.

Delegation and Empowerment. While maintaining centralised control, Borphukan could delegate responsibilities to his commanders. This blend of central oversight with delegated authority allowed for efficient and flexible military operations, especially critical in responding to the manoeuvres of the well-organised Mughal army.

Innovative Tactics. Borphukan’s military tactics were marked by innovation and adaptability. His leadership during the Battle of Saraighat in 1671, where he effectively used naval warfare to defeat a numerically superior Mughal army, is a testament to his tactical genius.

Ethical and Spiritual Aspects 

Warfare Ethics: The ethical considerations in Lachit Borphukan’s military campaigns are best understood in the context of the era’s warfare norms. His defensive campaigns aimed to protect the Ahom Kingdom from external aggression, aligning with the ethical standpoint of defending one’s homeland.

Religious and Cultural Influence. As a figure in the Ahom Kingdom with its unique cultural and religious identity, Borphukan’s leadership was likely influenced by the local ethos and traditions. The Ahom society had its roots in unique spiritual and cultural practices, which influenced his approach to leadership and governance.

Morale and Motivation. Borphukan’s ability to inspire and motivate his troops was one of his key strengths. His leadership during critical battles, especially when facing a formidable opponent like the Mughal Empire, required tactical skill and the ability to maintain high morale among his soldiers.

Legacy and Reverence. Lachit Borphukan is revered in Assamese history as a military leader and a symbol of resistance and valour against overwhelming odds. His legacy is celebrated for the ethical stand of protecting his kingdom, which resonates with the themes of duty and sacrifice prevalent in the regional cultural narrative.

SWOT Analysis of Lachit Borphukan’s Military Leadership


Tactical Innovation. Borphukan’s greatest strength was his ability to devise innovative tactics, crucial in countering the Mughal forces. His strategic use of terrain, particularly in naval warfare during the Battle of Saraighat, is a classic example of his ingenuity.

Inspiring Leadership. His ability to inspire and rally his troops was exemplary. In critical situations, his leadership provided the morale boost necessary to withstand the pressures of battle against a formidable opponent.

Understanding of Terrain. Borphukan’s deep understanding of the local terrain and ability to use it to his advantage significantly influenced his successes, particularly in guerilla-style engagements against the Mughals.


Resource Constraints. Leading a smaller and less resource-endowed army than the Mughals, Borphukan often faced challenges regarding manpower and material resources.

Health Issues. His health, particularly towards the end of his life, was a personal weakness that affected his ability to lead. Notably, during the final stages of the Battle of Saraighat, his declining health was a significant concern.

Over-reliance on Guerrilla Tactics. While effective, Borphukan’s reliance on guerrilla tactics could be considered a limitation when a more conventional warfare approach was needed.


Exploiting Mughal Overconfidence. The Mughals often underestimated the Ahoms, providing Borphukan opportunities to exploit their overconfidence.

Alliances with Local Tribes. Building alliances with local tribes and utilising their knowledge of the terrain and guerrilla tactics presented opportunities to strengthen his forces.

Establishing a Legacy of Resistance. His leadership against the Mughals served as a symbol of resistance and courage, inspiring future generations.


Mughal Military Might. The sheer size and strength of the Mughal army were constant threats to Borphukan’s forces.

Political Intrigues. Internal politics within the Ahom kingdom, including dissent and power struggles, threatened his command and effectiveness.

Terrain Challenges. While familiar with the terrain, the challenging landscape of the region also posed logistical and strategic difficulties.

Example of Uncompromising Leadership: The Execution of His Uncle

Lachit Borphukan’s commitment to his duty and stringent expectations of loyalty and bravery from his men was starkly demonstrated in a well-documented incident during the Battle of Saraighat. As per historical accounts, during a critical phase of this battle against the Mughal forces, Lachit Borphukan discovered that his maternal uncle, who was in charge of a sector of the Ahom defences, had retreated from his position in the face of the enemy, showing a lack of courage.

Seeing this act as an unacceptable breach of military discipline and a severe threat to the morale and effectiveness of his forces, Borphukan made a harsh but decisive leadership decision. He ordered the execution of his uncle for cowardice, underscoring his stance that his duty to his kingdom and its people was above familial ties. While drastic, this action sent his troops a powerful message about the importance of courage and steadfastness in the face of the enemy. It reinforced the principle that no one was above the laws of duty and honour, not even the commander’s family.

Relevance to Modern Military Leadership

Upholding Discipline and Standards. This incident highlights the importance of maintaining discipline and adhering to standards, regardless of personal relationships. In modern military leadership, the principle of impartiality and the enforcement of discipline are crucial for maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of a military unit.

Difficult Decision-Making. Borphukan’s decision reflects the often difficult choices leaders must make, prioritising the greater good over personal connections. Modern leaders can learn from this the importance of sometimes making tough, unpopular decisions for larger objectives.

Impact on Morale and Unity. Such decisive action likely significantly impacted the morale and unity of Borphukan’s forces, demonstrating that leadership involves not just strategic decisions but also managing the human elements of a military force.

Ethical Considerations. While this example illustrates strong leadership, it discusses ethical leadership in modern contexts. Today’s military leaders must often balance strict discipline with ethical considerations and humanitarian laws. 


Lachit Borphukan’s influence as a military leader reaches far beyond the boundaries of the Ahom-Mughal conflict. His unique combination of centralised command, inventive tactics, and ethical underpinning resonates in contemporary military and leadership environments. Borphukan’s life and actions demonstrate the ageless importance of adaptation, moral integrity, and the ability to inspire in the face of adversity. Modern leaders can learn significant lessons from their methods of warfare and governance by studying their approaches to crisis management, making ethical decisions, and leading with conviction and insight. Lachit Borphukan is a historical character, a source of inspiration, and a model for good leadership in complicated situations.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This