THE RISE OF MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH

Maharaja Ranjit Singh brought unity and welded together warring states in the land of five rivers. Before him Punjab was, only a geographical name and it had been divided into numerous, principalities headed by Sikh, Muslim and Hindu Chiefs. The foreigners from the north west had been invading Punjab for a number of centuries. Ranjit Singh not only united Punjab but also rolled back the ever gushing tide of foreign invasions.
Ranjit Singh was born on November 13, 1780. He belonged to Sukarchakya Mist which was founded by his grandfather Charat Singh, who had fortified Gujranwala, forty three miles west of Lahore, capital of Punjab (now in Pakistan) and success¬fully defended it against the Afghan governor of Lahore. Subse¬quently Charat Singh was succeeded by his son Maha Singh who improved his position by marrying the daughter of Gajpat Singh, the founder of Jind state in the cis-Sutlej terriritory. He captured territory north-west of Gujranwala and levied tribute from the Muslim tribes of the region. Maha Singh died in 1792 leaving his estate in the hands of his infant son Ranjit Singh. As a young man Ranjit was able to impress his contemporaries with his qualities. Zaman Shah a grandson of Ahmed Shah Abdali ruler of Afghanistan wanted to conquer Punjab. For this reason he led a few expeditions. Ranjit Singh was able to throw a challenge to him. Soon after the inhabitants of Lahore invited him to occupy the capital. This was a great achievement for Ranjit Singh.
In the opening of the 19th century the political situation in the Punjab was very much complicated. There were numerous Sikh Misldars who considered rise of Ranjit Singh as a threat to their very existence. The most important Mists were Bhangls, Kanyhas Ahluwalias, Ramgarhias and Phulkian. Ranjit Singh had won to his side Kanyha Misl by marrying Mehtab Kaur daughter of Sada Kaur, leader of the Misl and Nikkai Mislar by marrying Raj Kaur daughter of Nikkai Misldar. Ahluwalia Misl was won over by exchange of turbans with Fateh Singh leader of Ahluwalia Misl. Other Misls were either conquered or won over.
The occupation of Lahore by Ranjit aroused the jealousy of Bhangis and Ramgarhias. Nizam-um-Din of Kasur, a principality held by the Afghans also joined hands with them. The forces of these three parties led an expedition to expel Ranjit Singh from Lahore. Ranjit Singh was also prepared for the ensuing contest. Both the forces met at Bhasin, a village near Lahore. Ranjit was victorious at the end. This confirmed his occupation of Lahore the ancient capital of the land, of five rivers. On the first Bisakh, April 12, 1801, Ranjit Singh was proclaimed as Maharaja of the Punjab.
Now Ranjit Singh started his career of conquest. He led an expedition against ruler of Jammu who had promised held to the Afghan ruler. Subsequently several estates were annexed. Amritsar, Akalgarh, Kangra, Gujrat, Attock, and Jhang Chiniot were conquered one by one. The Afghan rulers of Kasur and Multan who had been looking towards the ruler of Afghanistan and were ready to collaborate against him were reduced one after another. The fort of Multan was reduced with great difficulty as Muzafer Khan its ruler was determined to fight to the last. He raised a cry of Jehad and he fell fighting against the Akalis (Sikhs) who forced their entry within the fort. Multan was conquered in 1818 A. D. Next came the turn of Kashmir which had become a province of Afghanistan during the 18th century. It was con¬quered in 1819 after a successful campaign against the Afghans. This encouraged Ranjit Singh to cross the Indus and advance to¬wards Peshawar, which was situated near Khaiber pass and con¬sidered a gateway of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The Afghans on the other hand were not to tolerate the rising power of the Maharaja. They mustered a huge army to oppose the advance of Ranjit’s forces. A bloody battle was fought near Naushehra in 1823 in which Afghans were defeated and their leader Azim Khan died heart broken. This was a decisive victory against the Afghans. After this victory the Maharaja conquered trans-Indus territories like Tonk, Bannu, Mankera and Dera Ismail Khan. Peshawar was conquered and ultimately annexed in 1834. According to J.D. Cunningham “Ranjit Singh found the Punjab a waning confederacy, a prey to the factions of its chiefs, pressed by Afghans and the Marathas ready to submit to English supremacy. He consolidated the numerous petty states into a kingdom, he wrested from Kabul the fairest of its provinces and gave the potent English no cause for Interference.”
Acquisition of Kohinoor : As a result of palace revolution Shah Shujah, the ruler of Kabul was deposed by his younger brother Such Mahmud in 1809 A. D. Shah Shujan left Kabul and came towards the Punjab alongwith his deposed and blinded elder brother Shah Zaman and other members of the family. Fateh Khan, the Wazir of Shah Mohmud wanted to capture the family. Being pursued by an hostile army Shah Shujah went to Kashmir while other members of his family including his wife Wafa Begum came to Lahore and took shelter with Ranjit Singh. Fateh Khan attacked Kashmir causing great worry and anxiety to Wafa Begum whose husband was in Kashmir. She promised the world famous diamond Kohinoor to Ranjit Singh provided he secured the release of her husband from Kashmir. Ranjit Singh sent an expedition to Kashmir under Mohkam Chand who in the teeth of opposition by Fateh Khan was able to release Shah Shujah and bring him to Lahore. Ranjit Singh had fulfilled his promise and now he wanted his prize. But the family was hesitant to part with the prom ised diamond. Ranjit Singh was, therefore, compelled to use force for compliance of the promise. Kohinoor was ultimately surrendered to Ranjit Singh and Shah Shujan and his family went to seek shelter with the British at Ludhiana.
Relations with the British : Before the rise of Ranjit Singh the S ikhs were known to the British, Ranjit Singh came in contact with East India Company in 1805 when Holkar visited Punjab. He was being pursued by General Lake who encamped on the bank of the river Beas. When H.olkar asked for help of Ranjit Singh the latter sought Holkar’s assistance in sub during the Afghan ruler of Kasur. Holkar declined and consequently there could not be any under-standing between the two. Moreover, Ranjit Singh was imp¬ressed by superiority of the British forces. Holkar was, therefore, asked to leave Amritsar. This was followed by a treaty of friendship and unity which General Lake concluded with Ranjit Singh. This treaty excluded Flolkar from Punjab and practically secured Ranjit Singh from English interference in his plans of conquests in the north of the Sutlej.
With the appointment of Lord Cornwallis the British policy of expansion was reversed. General Lake had came upto the river fleas but no force was left in the Cis-Sutlej territory Actually the British decided not to extend their territory beyond the river Jamna. This gave a clear hint to Ranjit Singh to pursue his plans with regard to the cis-Sutlej territory. It was the greatest ambi¬tion of Ranjit Singh to unite all Sikh states including the cis-¬Sutlej Sikh states For this purpose he led two expeditions into the cis-Sutlej territory in 1806 and 1E07. The rulers of the states in this area were alarmed and they approached the British Resi¬dent at Delhi for protection. But the real cause for the which the British wanted friendship of the Maharaja was the fear of french invasion. The Treaty of Tilzit signed between Napolean and Czar of Russia alarmed the British Government and they wanted to strengthen the defence against the possible invasion from the Russian side. Consequently Metcalfe was sent to Ranjit Singh for negotiating a treaty. After long negotiations Treaty of Amritsar was signed in 1809 and both sides agreed to following terms :
1. Both the British and the Maharaja agreed to maintain friendly relations with each other. British would have no concern with territories and subjects of Ranjit Singh. north west of the river Sutlej.
2. Ranjit Singh agreed not to keep on the left bank of the Sutlej more troops than were necessary.
3. In event of violation of any one of the articles, this treaty would be null and void.
Treaty of Amritsar is a landmark in the history of Ranjit Singh It placed a definite check on his ambition and deprived him of fulfilling his dream of being the sole ruler of all the Sikhs But in a way the Treaty of Amritsar was benificial to Ranjit Singh. It gave him free hand on the western side. After this treaty of friendship he did not consider it necessary to keep a large portion of his army on the Sutlej frontier and consequently it became easy for him to conquer Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar. Therefore, it has been rightly stated that “Ranjit had become master of the Punjab almost unheaded by the British”.
After the Treaty of Amritsar there rose a few cases of estran¬gement between the British and Ranjit Singh. The most important was that of Ferozepur. The ruler of Ferozepur was under the Lahore Chief and after his death the territory was occupied by the British where a cantonment was raised. Ranjit Singh felt bitter but he kept quite. In the case of Shikarpur and Sindh the British forestalled the Sikh monarch and entered a secret alliance with the Amirs of Sindh. When the Sikh forces were preparing to march into the Sindh territory, Ranjit Singh was politely told that the Amirs of Sindh were under the protection of the British. Ranjit Singh was again checked on the southern side. This made him very upset. The British followed the policy of encircling the Lahore kingdom Ranjit was first checked in East by the Treaty of Amritsar. Then he was not allowed to expand towards south viz Sindh territory and by the Tripartite Treaty of 1838 Ranjit Singh’s ambition was checked on the western side. By this treaty it was agreed that Shah Shujah would be installed as king of Kabul with the help of British and Sikh forces. This resulted in first Afghan War in which the Britishers suffered defeat and disaster. But Ranjit Singh was no more there to take advantage of the situation. He died in June 1839.


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