In a recent poll conducted by the BBC Histories Magazine among it’s 5000 readers, the founder of Sikh Empire, Sher-E-Punjab(Lion of Punjab) Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been voted as the Greatest leader of all times. In world history he is often known as a Ruler with great administrative and modern military skills along with religious toleration. Defeating great leaders like Winston Churchill & Abraham Lincoln, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was declared as the world’s greatest among the twenty leaders nominated by Modern Historians. He received 38 percent of the total votes cast in the poll.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was nominated by the great academician and historian, Mathew Lockwood, who is working as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Alabama. According to Mathew Lockwood, Maharajah Ranjit Singh founded the world’s most prosperous empire on the principles of toleration and openness, regardless of caste or religion. His period is often marked as the golden age for Punjab and North West India. He was a greatest conquerer and formed the world’s most “Modern Empire of Toleration” said the Historian. Mathew further added that though Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a imperialist but his concept of nation state or state building represented inclusiveness and Pluralism.
With the rise of the Great Maharaja, Punjab saw the consolidation of various small fragile and fractious “Misl” (Sovereign States) into one great empire which halted the Afghan invasion into the North West Frontier. From economically weak and splintered region, Punjab saw a change under his command. In his entire period as Maharaja, no capital punishment was awarded.
As noted Writer Kushwant Singh quoted- “Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the first Indian in Millennia who turned the tide of invasion back into the homelands of the traditional conquerors of India, the Pashtuns (Afghans). His great Sikh Empire at its height of power, extended from the Khyber Pass in the northwest to the Sutlej River in the east and from the Kashmir region at the northern limit of the Indian subcontinent southward to the Thar (Great Indian) Desert.
Despite being illiterate, the literacy rate under his rule was above 70 percent and despite being a Sikh Raaj, the official language of Lahore Darbar was Persian. Still you’ll find use of Persian as a language in Punjabs official and legal documents. He had one of the most modern Sikh Khalsa armies but yet he never abandoned the old traditional techniques inherited from the ancient Sikh martial artforms and the legacy of Nihang warriors.
Maharajah Ranjit Singh was born on November 13, 1780 to Maha Singh, chief of Shukerchakis, a Sikh Group, in Gujranwala, now in Pakistan. As a child he suffered from small pox and lost his one eye. But despite loosing one eye he had the vision of establishing a Great Empire. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was leader par excellence. He fought his first battle at the young age of 10 and at the age of 17 he blemished the attempt by Zaman Shah Durrani, the king of Afghanistan to invade India. Under his reign, the Durranis faced many defeat in the battles of Amritsar and Gujarat and couldn’t cross the Northwest Frontier, which is today’s Khyber Pass. Young Ranjit Singh captured Lahore in the year 1799 and he was crowned as Maharaja in the year 1801. The capture of Lahore is believed to be the most significant point in Sikh Military History. The Lahore Darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was secular and it allowed men from different religions to rise to ministerial or commanding positions.
His Army had many officers and generals from Europe. The foreign officers trained his Army into modern military methods and thus they fought well in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, now in Pakistan. Many of these European officers had also served under Napoleon-1. He had one of the most modern artilleries of his times, remenants of which is still part of the collections in Queen Victor Albert Museum, London.
The expanse of his empire can be traced to modern day Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and parts of Republic of China.
He also managed to have a agreement with the then British Empire, which was on a rise in India. In 1806, he signed a treaty with British and agreed to expel Maratha Force, which had taken refuge in Punjab. Before engaging with British in Anglo-Sikh Wars, his empire at its height of power was the last empire in India to challenge the British regime.
Besides restoring many Sikh Historical Gurdwaras, Maharajah Ranjit Singh also issued coins struck with images of Sikh Gurus.
He had some of the most priced possessions including the Mountain of Light, the Kohinoor Diamond. His Golden throne built in the shape of a lotus is considered to be one of the most beautiful thrones in the world. It is now part of the priced collections of artefacts in Queen Victoria Albert Museum, London.
He never forced Sikhism on Non-Sikhs and created an atmosphere of religious tolerance for all communities. The empire which he ruled had Sikhs in minority and Muslims in majority. As per noted strategist expert, Sushant Sareen, “The first surgical strike across the rice fields in Balakote was carried out by the then Sikh Army under the command of the bravest General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Hari Singh Nalwa. Maharajah Ranjit Singh also sanctioned expeditions led by Dogra Commander, General Zorawar Singh, that extended Maharaja Ranjit Singhs Northern territories to Ladakh. In 1821, he came down from Lahore to Akhnoor Fort for the Raj Tilak of Maharaja Gulab Singh and appointed him as the Raja of Jammu.”
His undying legacy includes a 22 feet long statue erected in the Parliament of India in the year 2003. Also, in 2016, in the French Town of Saint Topez a bronze statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was installed as a mark of remembrance of a Great Leader. Many Military schools across the world includes the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as one of the most important subjects in training modules. Because of his untimely illness, he died in the year 1839, and thus began the downfall of Sikh Empire. Maharaja Sher Singh was appointed as the next King. But inner line treacheries and betrayals resulted in downfall of the Sikh Empire.
As Mathew Lockwood quoted: This golden age would not survive him. “After his death in 1839, Ranjit Singh’s empire of toleration unravelled. The British invaded, the Sikh empire collapsed and instability returned to the region,”.
Under his military organisation the Sikh empire was successful to beat back the Afghans to the mountains, and blocked the invasion from Khyber pass. Where many of theFirst World countries with their modern high tech armoury and weapon system failed to contain it, Maharaja Ranjit Singh achieved this in the early 18th Century. He was a stubborn infantry Soldier, as steady under fire as he was eager for a charge. Maharaja Ranjit Singh being voted as the world’s greatest leader is a proud moment for the entire Country. It’s indeed a tribute to Sikh Military Legacy.