(Last Updated on : 23-10-2010)
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the first ruler of Sikh Empire and he was born on 2nd of November, 1780. He was born into a Sikh family. He was the son of Maha Singh who was the leader of the Sukerchakia Misl. His father had expired in the year 1792. At that time he was at the head of a small confederacy with a little territory and limited military resources. When Zaman Singh of Kabul had attacked India during 1793-98, Ranjit Singh had helped him a lot and in return for his services, he was appointed the Governor of Lahore at the early age of 19 years with the title of Raja. This had given Ranjit Singh a good start in life. In 1802, Ranjit Singh made himself the master of Amritsar
. By and by with time, he brought under his control the Sikh Misls or fraternities west of the Sutlej River
Rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
When his father died in 1792 and left him in control of the Sukerchukia misl Ranjit Singh was only twelve years old. In around 1797 Ranjit Singh decided to assume full powers of the Government. In the same year came a set-back in the invasion of Zaman Shah from Kabul, at the head of an army of 30,000 strong. He occupied Lahore in 1797 with a view to occupy Punjab and re-annexing it to the Afghan dominions. He had to return to Kabul in early 1799 and handed over the capital to Ranjit Singh. Even the Afghans had to acknowledge the power of the Sikhs
Conquests of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
The earliest conquests of Maharaja Ranjit Singh included defeating his coreligionists. In the year 1799, he successfully captured Lahore and eventually made it his capital. Ranjit had great ambitions of annexing Kashmir. He sent an expedition under Dewan Mukham Chand to help Fateh Khan regain the province. Ranjit Singh led a campaign into Kashmir in June 1814. In the year 1819, Maharaja Ranjit Singh undertook the third and final expedition to Kashmir. The army was divided into three divisions. Dewan Chand, the conqueror of Multan, led the advance guard and soon captured the passes on the Pir Panjal range. The second division under Kharak Singh followed soon after and occupied Rajauri. As everything went according to plan, Ranjit advanced to Rajauri from Bhimber and soon his dream was realised and Kashmir now formed a part of the Sikh Empire. His forces in Kashmir in 1822 numbered only 4,000 of which 1,000 were horsemen. Before their defeat the Afghans had maintained a force of about 20,000 in the valley. The process of territorial expansion continued. In 1823 the Afghans were defeated at Nowshera and Ranjit entered Peshawar. He carried on relentless campaigns in the trans-Indus region and the Afghans and tribesmen were given no respite. Peshawar was finally captured and annexed to his empire in 1834. These moves brought the end of the Afghan hold over Punjab
and added more power and prestige to the Sikh kingdom, its frontiers having been extended still further west and north.
Secular Rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
By a clever artifice Maharaja Ranjit Singh ousted the Bhangis from Lahore and established himself firmly in the capital in July 1799. At this time the various misls (the Sukerchukia and Kanheya had already been united) did not have capable rulers. By the time-old method of scheme and political pressure Ranjit Singh was soon able to bring the whole of the Sikh Confederation under his sway and thus founded the first stable Sikh empire. This is the second transformation in Sikh military history. After Guru Gobind Singh
who had converted a small religious sect into a fighting body, Ranjit Singh gave it further impetus and provided unity and coherence to diverse and scattered elements of this powerful society. He moulded them into a well-established Sikh state which soon became a force to be reckoned with by the British who were then extending their control in northern part of India.
He soon came into clash with the English interests when he directed his attention to the south of the Sutlej River
. Since that time onwards a diplomatic war started. Ranjit Singh had already heard of the rising power of the English and he could not forget the fact that they had defeated the powerful armies of Scindhia and Holkar besides the trained infantry battalions of Perron. The English, on their part, were keen to placate the young monarch without coming into open conflict with him. Their main danger lay from the French further northwest across Punjab and Afghanistan. They were thus, prepared to conciliate Ranjit Singh so as to keep a friendly buffer state.
Ranjit Singh was encouraged by the policy of non-intervention followed by Sir George Barlow. When Ranjit Singh found that the British Government was in need of his friendship, he raised his price very high. He demanded acknowledgement of his sovereignty over all the Sikh states as his price for an alliance. The Treaty of Amritsar was signed between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the British East India Company
in the year 1809. The Treaty curbed the advancement of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh towards the East of the Sutlej but he had full control towards the west of Sutlej River. With passing time as the British started considering Ranjit Singh as their rival they were bent upon curbing the power of Ranjit Singh.
This treaty has been variously interpreted. With one danger and threat having been overcome, the Maharaja was now able to meet others in the east and north-west. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had campaigned all his life for the survival of the young state. On the other hand, the English had gained considerably. From then onwards their sphere of influence shifted from the Yamuna up to the Sutlej. During the negotiations this was re-enforced with movements of their outposts further north up to the river. The English had already stopped the incursions of the Gorkhas towards the south and these virile people looked to the west for new dominions. Here they were faced by the hill rajas of Kangra. In this wrangle for power (1809-11) Ranjit occupied Kangra and the Gorkhas were forced to withdraw. Having settled one score he now looked towards the north and the west.
In the year 1838, the Tripartite Treaty was signed between Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Shah Shuja and the English Company. Ranjit Singh in the beginning showed hesitation to enter into the treaty. He was an unwilling partner because he felt that he was going to have in Kabul a dependent ally of the British in Shah Shuja but he also knew that he could not improve his position by remaining aloof. Historical records say that in the last decade of his career, Maharaja Ranjit Singh did not deal with the British Government in a firm manner. Probably that was due to the fact that he considered the British to be too strong for him. He did not want to expose his kingdom to the risk of a war and hence decided to follow a policy of surrender before the British Government.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh expired on 27th of June, 1839. It is also claimed by the historians that the seeds of the disintegration of the Sikh state were sown by Ranjit Singh himself and thus he is both the founder and destroyer of the first Sikh empire.