Q . Maharaja Ranjit Singh has recently been named the greatest world leader in a poll. Examine his reign and role in unifying the north-west with India. (15 marks, 250 words, GS-1, Modern History)
Maharaja Ranjit Singh (13 November 1780 – 27 June 1839), popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab”, was the leader of the Sikh Empire, which ruled the northwest subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century.
After his father died, he fought several wars to expel the Afghans in his teenage years and was proclaimed as the “Maharaja of Punjab” at age 21.
- Prior to his rise, the Punjab region had numerous warring misls (confederacies), twelve of which were under Sikh rulers and one Muslim.
- Ranjit Singh successfully absorbed and united the Sikh misls and took over other local kingdoms to create the Sikh Empire.
- He was the Misalder (chief) of Sukerchakia Misl from 1792 to 1801, and reigned as first and founding Maharaja of the Sikh empire for 38 years from 1801 to his death in 1839.
- He proclaimed himself Maharaja of the Sikh empire on 12 April 1801 after his conquest of Lahore.
- Ranjit Singh thus struck a careful balance between his role as a faithful Sikh ruler and his desire to act as friend and protector of his empire’s Muslim and Hindu peoples.
- The Sikh army was defeated in the first Anglo-Sikh War and under the terms of the Treaty of Lahore and the Treaty of Bhyroval, all major decisions were made by the British East India Company.
- Ranjit Singh’s combined the strong points of the traditional Khalsa army with western advances in warfare to raise Asia’s most powerful indigenous army of that time.
- Established Sikh Empire in the region which saw continuous strife and conflicts, thus providing stability to Indian subcontinent by restricting further intrusions like invasion of Zaman Shah of Afghan Durrani empire.
- He reconstructed the Golden Temple of Amritsar. The golden part of the Golden Temple and even some of the intricate marble work was done under the aid of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
- Right at the doorstep of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple is a plaque that details how in 1830 AD, the maharaja did sewa over 10 years.
- He owned the famous Koh-i-Noor Diamond.
- Ranjit Singh presided over a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-caste empire of remarkable toleration and inclusivity.
- He is also credited with funding Hazoor Sahib gurudwara at the final resting place of Guru Gobind Singh in Nanded, Maharashtra.
Shortcomings of his reign-
- Low spending on infrastructure.
- Unreformed Jagir tax system, inherited from Mughals.
- Infighting among the elites.
Ranjit Singh, however, was more than a mere conqueror. While the Indian subcontinent was riven with the imperial competition, religious strife and wars of conquest, Ranjit Singh was, almost uniquely, a unifier – a force for stability, prosperity and tolerance.