Ranjit Singh’s exploits in battle field:-
. The high point of his battle scarred life came when he attacked Lahore which was ruled by a Bhangi Misl chieftain and seized it. In July 1799 he seized Lahore, the capital of Punjab (now the capital of Punjab province, Pakistan). The Afghan king, Zamān Shah, confirmed Ranjit Singh as governor of the city, but Ranjit Singh not satisfied with this, proclaimed himself maharaja of the Punjab in 1801 In 1801, and a formal investiture ceremony was held, which was carried out by Baba Sahib Singh Bedi – a descendant of Guru Nanak.
He had coins struck in the name of the Sikh Gurus, the revered line of Sikh leaders, and proceeded to administer the state in the name of the Sikh commonwealth. A year later he captured Amritsar (now in Punjab state, India), the most-important commercial centre in northern India and sacred city of the Sikhs. Thereafter, he proceeded to subdue the smaller Sikh and Pashtun principalities that were scattered throughout the Punjab. By this time the name and fame of Ranjit Singh spread to other parts of India and the British East India Company perceived him as a threat and decided to check his expansion plans, They entered into a treaty with him signed in 1806, as per which he agreed to expel a Maratha force that had sought refuge in the Punjab. The English then thwarted his ambition to bring together all of the Sikh territories extending up to the vicinity of Delhi. In 1809 they compelled him to sign the Treaty of Amritsar, which fixed the Sutlej River as the eastern boundary of his territories.
Read Maharaja Ranjit Singh – Part 1 here
Having annexed the important Sikh citadels of Lahore and Amritsar, He focussed his ambitions in other directions. In 1809, he went to the aid of Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra in the Lesser Himalayas (in what is now western Himachal Pradesh state) and, after defeating an advancing Ghurkha force, acquired Kangra for himself. In 1813 Ranjit Singh joined an Afghan expedition into Kashmir. Although betrayed by the Afghans who kept Kashmir for themselves, he avenged by rescuing Shah Shojāʿ—brother of Zamān Shah, who had been deposed as Afghan king in 1803 and had fled from them by occupying the fort at Attock on the Indus River, southeast of Peshawar, the Pashtun citadel. Shah Shojāʿ was taken to Lahore and pressured into parting with the famous Kohinoor diamond.
Consolidation Of Territory And Later Career:-
In the summer of 1818 Ranjit Singh’s troops captured the city of Multan, and six months later they entered Peshawar. In July 1819 he finally expelled the Pashtuns from the Valley of Kashmir, In the same year he successfully defeated the Afghan Sunni Muslim rulers and annexed Srinagar and thus acquiring the kingdom of Kashmir, along with a yearly revenue of Rs seventy lakhs. Dewan Moti Ram, one of his prominent lieutenants was appointed governor of Kashmir. This victory stretched his rule into the north and the Jhelum valley; beyond the foothills of the Himalayas .So by 1820 he had consolidated his rule over the whole Punjab between the Sutlej and Indus rivers.
The interesting fact in all Ranjit Singh’s conquests were that they were achieved by Punjabi armies which was secular in nature in its composition of Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus. He appointed commanders who were also drawn from different religious communities and same was the case with his cabinet ministers. In 1820 Ranjit Singh began to modernize his army, using European officers—many of whom had served in the army of Napoleon I—to train the infantry and the artillery. He for one believed that the army was the empire’s predominate institution, should include Hindus, Muslims, as well as Sikhs .His military recruited European Christians ie..French, Spanish, Polish, Russian, and Prussian, but took care to exclude British, whom he decided to keep at arm’s length. The modernized Punjabi army fought well in campaigns in the North-West Frontier (now in Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border), effectively quelling an uprising by tribesmen there in 1831 and repulsing an Afghan counterattack on Peshawar in 1837.
Now the British clearly saw in Ranjit Singh a formidable ally and their officers met him and sought his help in acquiring from him the disposition of Sind province presently in South Eastern part of Pakistan. Ranjit Singh reluctantly agreed to part with Sindh province in October 1831.However in 1834 Ranjit Singh made good this loss by foraying into the Ladakh and other surrounding parts in the eastern part of Kashmir in an expedition led by his Dogra commander Zorawar Singh.
Ranjit Singh later allied with the British in 1838 agreeing to a treaty with the British viceroy Lord Auckland to restore Shah Shojāʿ to the Afghan throne at Kabul. As per the agreement, the British Army of the Indus entered Afghanistan from the south, while Ranjit Singh’s troops went through the Khyber Pass and took part in the victory parade in Kabul. Shortly afterwards, Ranjit Singh took ill, and he died at Lahore in June 27th 1839—almost exactly 40 years after he had conquered the city.. Within a decade after his death, the Sikh state he had created collapsed because of the internecine strife of rival chiefs.
Administration and his policies as Maharaja of Punjab:
Maharaja Ranjit Singh after successfully uniting the warring Sikh chieftains and expanding the Sikh Empire ruled his empire with a firm hand over powering his adversaries so much so some historians opine that he was very much an autocratic ruler. But the fact was that Punjab at that time required a strong ruler at the helm and Ranjit Singh happened to be just that. He was more of a benevolent monarch who introduced a secular tolerant and inclusive society consisting of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-caste empire of remarkable liberal views. He was the embodiment of all civil and political authority in the state having maximum authority vested in him and delegating those powers very shrewdly to his most trusted subordinates to carry out his many policies favourable to his subjects. We may call Ranjit Singh a benevolent despot who looked to the welfare of the people. He considered himself as a servant of the Khalsa or the Sikh Commonwealth and acted in the name of the Khalsa.
Ranjit Singh administered his kingdom with the assistance of five ministers. Ranjit Singh had great capacity for choosing his ministers and officials. His court was studded with outstanding men. The state under Ranjit Singh was a typical secular kingdom. The state did not interfere in religion. There was no discrimination in the matter of giving jobs. Most of the Ministers were non-Sikhs. Many of his important ministers and commanders were Muslims and Hindus. The Maharaja being very religiously tolerant appointed these ministers drawing from all the three prominent faiths viz Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs The most important position was of the Prime Minister. This office was held for a long time by Raja Dhian Singh, a Hindu noble. Another important office was of Foreign Minister which was held for a long time by Faqir Aziz-ud-Din a Muslim.. The third office was that of Defence headed by leading Hindus like Mohkam Chand Misr Diwan Chand and Hari Singh Nalua successively. The Finance Ministry was held by persons like Bhiwani Das and Dina Nath in turn, who were again Hindus. The fifth minister was Sardar-Deori (equivalent and similar to the title of Lord Chamberlain in the British government). This office had been held for some time by Raja Dhian Singh and later on by Khushal Singh. There were twelve departments of the Central Government to ensure a smooth administration.
Ranjit Singh’s kingdom was divided into four provinces. These were Lahore, Multan, Kashmir, and Peshawar. The provincial head was called Nazim and only trusted persons were appointed to this office. Normally princes or special favourites of Ranjit Singh were appointed to these places. The Nazim maintained peace and order in the province and heard appeals in certain cases. The province was divided into Parganas or Districts which were further divided into Talups .These Talups consisted of 50 to 100 mauzas or villages which are smallest units of administration .The district head called Kardar and was responsible for its administration and had wide powers. He administered civil and criminal justice heard appeals, maintained peace and was in charge of revenue collection. There was a panchayat in each village. Great importance was attached to these bodies. It decided cases by arbitration. Appeal could be taken to the court of Kardar.
Every village was self-sufficient. During his reign number of irrigation canals were built to harness the abundant water resources available in his kingdom. He encouraged cottage industries, artisans. Another welfare measure was his decision to finance the expenses incurred by his military campaigns from the funds of his own treasury never taxing the people for paying the salary of his forces. This was a glaring departure from the prevalent practices which added to the misery of his subjects.
Ranjit Singh as a religious tolerant king:-
Knowing that only military might alone could not ensure stability In a religiously diverse region, Ranjit Singh maintained a careful balance between his role as a faithful Sikh ruler and his avowed principle to act as friend and protector of his empire’s Muslim and Hindu peoples. He was tolerant and liberal in religious matters. He patronised not only Sikh but also Muslim and Hindu holy men. He thus embarked on a public campaign to restore Sikh Gurudwaras/temples, Hindu temples and Muslim mosques renovating them and donating huge grants. He rebuilt and renovated the Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, at Amritsar using high quality marble in 1809 and covering the dome in gold (1830). He donated a tonne of gold to plate the Hindu Kashi Vishwanath temple to Lord Shiva in Varanasi. He patronised Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Sufi shrines, and banned the slaughter of cows which affected the Hindu sensibilities In his lands, he prohibited conversions and all his Muslim, Hindu and Sikh subjects were freely allowed to practice their faiths. He visited Hindu temples and joined his Hindu subjects participating in their worship. He also visited Sufi mosques and holy places. He ordered his soldiers to neither loot nor molests civilians.
Though on a few occasions he did convert mosques to other uses like the one at Lahore’s Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) became Moti Mandir (Pearl Temple) – but this was an aberration. He tried, with some success, to limit the destruction of conquered religious sites. Yes in a nut-shell, Ranjit Singh may have been a conqueror, even a unifier, but never a fanatic crusader.
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