Career and Achievements of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

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The Sikhs certainly became weak after the death of their leader Banda but did not lose their military spirit. They frequently troubled Ahmad Shah Abdali during his invasions on India. Ahmad Shah Abdali did not come to India after 1767. The Sikhs utilised that opportunity to their advantage and, excepting Lahore, they gradually occupied all territory extending from Saharanpur in the East to Attock in the West and from Jammu in the North to the Kangra in the South. However, they were divided into twelve misls. Each misl had its own chief. They usually engaged themselves in fighting one another. The credit of organising these misls into one strong state goes to Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Treaty between Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the English and Fateh Singh

Sardar Maha Singh, the father of Ranjit Singh, was the chief of the Sukarchakia misl. Ranjit Singh was born in 1780, Maha Singh died in 1792 and Ranjit Singh succeeded him hardly at the age of twelve. Ahmad Shah Abdali was succeeded by Timur Shah and Zaman Shah respectively in Afghanistan. Zaman Shah attacked Punjab several times during the period 1795-98. Ranjit Singh served him well during the course of his third attack. In return, Zaman Shah appointed him the subedar of Lahore and bestowed on him the title of Raja. In 1802, Ranjit Singh captured Amritsar. When the English were apprehensive of a combined attack of Napoleon Bonaparte and Zaman Shah on India, they offered presents worth ten thousand to Ranjit Singh. In return, Ranjit Singh refused to help Jaswant Rao Holkar against the English. In 1806, Ranjit Singh, the English and Fateh Singh, the Sikh chief of Kapurthala entered into a treaty by which it was agreed that if the Sikhs did not interfere in the affairs of the English, the English, in turn, would not interfere in the affairs of Punjab. The treaty made Ranjit Singh free to conquer the territory north and west of the river Satlaj.

Ranjit Singh was ambitious from the very beginning. He had thrown off the yoke or the Alghan ruler by this time and aspired to conquer all the Sikh States of of Punjab. Cunningham wrote of his aim thus : “Ranjit Singh laboured with more or less of intelligent design to give unity and coherence to diverse atoms and scattered elements to mould the increasing Sikh nation into well-ordered state or commonwealth as Govind had developed sect into a people and had given application and purpose to the general institutions of Nanak.”

Ranjit Singh first attempted to conquer the territory between the river Satlaj called the Yamuna. There were some Sikh states east of the river Satlaj called the Cis-Satlaj states. These were Nabha, Jind, Patiala etc. The English had taken them under their protection after the defeat of the Sindhia. But after the departure of Wellesley, Sir George Barlow withdrew the protection of the English from these states which resulted in mutual conflicts. Ranjit Singh availed of this opportunity to bring them under his influence and crossed the river Satlaj for the first time on July 26, 1806. He occupied Ludhiana and handed it over to his uncle Bhag Singh, the ruler of Jind. Next time, he crossed the river Satlaj to settle the dispute between Raja Sahib Singh, the ruler of Patiala and his queen. The English did not like the interference of Ranjit Singh in the affairs of Cis-Satlaj States. They were encouraged the rulers of these states to seek their protection which was readily agreed to by them. The English feared the invasion of the French at the same time and therefore, desired to avoid open hostility against Ranjit Singh. They opened negotiations with Ranjit Singh and deputed Mr. Metcalfe for the purpose. The English desired Ranjit Singh to agree not to attack the Cis-Satlaj States and enter into a defensive treaty with the English against the French. Ranjit Singh was prepared to accept a treaty with the English against the French provided the English accepted him as the ruler of the Sikhs. The English did not agree to it. Ranjit Singh crossed the river Satlaj for the third time and conquered a part of the territory east of it. It seemed that the negotiations between the two parties would break down. But, at that very time, circumstances went in favour of the English. Napoleon Bonaparte became entangled in the War of Peninsula in Europe and there remained no possibility of any French attack on India. Britain also succeeded in developing friendly relations with Mahmud II, the new ruler of Turkey. Thus, the danger of attack from the North-West having ended, the English became free to pursue a bold policy towards Ranjit Singh. Sir Charles Metcalfe repeated the demand of the English for a treaty and Lord Minto, the governor-general, dispatched an army under Sir Ochterlony towards the West.

On February 9, 1809, Sir Ochterlony issued a proclamation declaring the Cis-Satlaj states to be under the protection of the British. It was also made clear that any attempt by Ranjit Singh for capturing them would be challenged by the arms of the English. Ranjit Singh felt offended but he was not in a position to fight the English. He had the wisdom to understand that by that time he was the master of only a part of Punjab while the English had become the masters of practically the whole of India. It would have been suicidal for him to challenge the power of the English at that time. He, therefore, reconciled himself with the circumstances and agreed to a treaty with the English.

maharaja ranjit singh

The treaty of Amritsar

The treaty of Amritsar was signed between the two parties on April 25, 1809. Its terms were as follows :

  1. The English accepted the possession by Ranjit Singh of over forty-five parganas north of the river Satlaj.
  2. Ranjit Singh accepted the protection of the British over the Cis-Satlaj states.
  3. The river Satlaj was accepted as the dividing line between the territories of the English and Ranjit Singh.
  4. The English and Ranjit Singh accepted perpetual friendship between each other.

Ranjit Singh observed the terms of this treaty throughout his life though it put a permanent check on his ambition to unite all Sikh states under him. The English were certainly benefited by this treaty. Sarkar and Datta write: “The British frontier was now pushed from the Jamuna to the Satlaj and British troops were posted at Ludhiana.”

When the English put a check on the advance of Ranjit Singh towards the East, he attempted to extend his kingdom towards the West and the North. At that time the Gurkhas, under Amar Singh Thapa, were trying to conquer the Kangra Valley. Ranjit Singh moved first and captured Kangra from its ruler Sansar Singh in August 1809. He made treaties with the neighbouring hill-chiefs and, with their help, checked the return of Amar Singh Thapa. Amar Singh could return only after paying rupees one lakh to Ranjit Singh. Thereafter, Ranjit Singh conquered all Sikh states west of the river Satlaj. Shah Shuja, the Amir of Afghanistan, was forced to leave Afghanistan. He sought protection of Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh provided shelter to him but secured from him the famous diamond Koh-i-noor. Ranjit Singh, in July 1813 also captured Attock. The first attempt of Ranjit Singh in 1814 to capture Kashmir failed. But ultimately, he succeeded in his third attempt and captured it in 1819. Ranjit Singh tried to capture Multan. He repeatedly attempted to do so in 1803, 1807, 1816 and 1817 but failed. But his attack on Multan in 1818 succeeded and he occupied it. In 1820 and 1821, Ranjit Singh conquered Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan, Bakhar, Leh and Mankera. In 1823, he captured Peshawar from the Afghans. Ranjit Singh desired to conquer Sindh as well but here, as was the case with the Cis-Satlaj states, the English put a check on his ambition and he could not even-attempt for its annexation. Thus, Ranjit Singh struggled all through his life to extend his kingdom and he largely succeeded. In the North-West of India, he established a strong state. He rightly deserves to be ranked as the first Sikh king. He, however, was checkmated in extending his territories towards the East and the South by the British. He died on June 27, 1839 at the age of fifty-nine.

Relations of Ranjit Singh with English (Anglo-Sikh Relations)

Ranjit Singh first came in contact with desired to capture the Cis-Satlaj States. The English resisted his attempt and took these states under their protection. He, finally, agreed to sign a treaty with the English and the treaty of Amritsar was signed between the two in April 1809. After that Ranjit Singh might not have been happy with the English but always maintained friendly relations with them and adhered implicitly to the terms of the treaty. The English were under serious Strain during the course of the Nepal War in 1814 and the Burma War in 1824 but Ranjit Singh did not think of exploiting their predicament. He rather refused to help the Gurkhas when they appealed to him for help. He also refused to help the Bhonsle against the English when the Bhonsle approached him for his help after his defeat in the third Maratha War. The same way, he refused to help the Jat Raja of Bharatpur against the English in 1825. He also became a member of the tripartite treaty in 1838 when the English decided to invade Afghanistan.

On the contrary, the English never behaved as his friends. They obstructed him in extending his empire and did not let go any opportunity to take advantage of his difficulties. The Wahabis declared Jihad, i.e., war in defence of the religion against Ranjit Singh in 1826, organised themselves within the territory of the English and attacked Ranjit Singh. The English knew it well but did not attempt to check the Wahabis. They rather in a way, welcomed it because that weakened Ranjit Singh. The English did not permit Ranjit Singh to extend his sway over the Cis-S atlaj States. They also checked him in extending his influence over the Amirs of Sindh. On the contrary, they brought the Amirs under their influence and protection. Ranjit Singh desired to conquer Sikarpur but could not fulfil his aim because of the strong warning of the English. The English arbitrarily occupied Ferozpur even when they had previously accepted the control of Ranjit Singh over it. Ferozpur had strategic importance from the military point of view and was close to Lahore, the capital of Ranjit Singh. Murray wrote : “The capital of Lahore is distant only forty miles, with a single river to cross, fordable for six months in the year.” Therefore, the English captured it even at the cost of incurring displeasure of Ranjit Singh. Thus, Ranjit Singh gave no cause for displeasure to the English. The English, on the contrary, were completely indifferent towards his pleasure or displeasure. Many English historians have described the policy of Ranjit Singh towards the English as one of practical wisdom. They argue that it was in his selfish interest to be friendly with the English and therefore, he wisely avoided fighting against them which would hay, certainly resulted in his defeat and disaster.  

But there are certain other historians who express the view that the policy of Ranjit Singh exhibited weakness, lack of self-confidence and farsightedness on his part. N. K. Sinha writes : “But in almost all Cases, as Bismarck has put it, a political alliance means a rider and a horse. In this Anglo-Sikh alliance, the British government was the rider and Ranjit Singh was the horse.” This group of historians argue that Ranjit Singh should have thought and might have thought that, sooner or later, the English would attempt to conquer Punjab. In such case, he ought to have attempted to enter into alliances with the Gurkhas, the Marathas and other native rulers with a view to turning out the English from India. Whatever might have been the result of such a policy probably it could have paid some dividend rather than the policy of silently waiting for the – doomsday of his Kingdom.

Certain historians have drawn parallels between Ranjit Singh and Shivaji, the builder of the Maratha nation. Of course, there is similarity in achievements of both. Both of them organised their people in a solid group and established military states in their respective lands which could stand against their powerful neighbours. The Sikh wars fought against the English after the death of Ranjit Singh were fought fiercely and indicated that if the Sikhs had fought them under the command of Ranjit Singh probably the result would have been different. But this very fact would raise the query as to why Ranjit Singh could not attempt against the English what Shivaji had achieved against the Mughals. The historians have assigned different reasons for it. One is that Ranjit Singh did not possess those virtues of personal character which Shivaji possessed. The weakness of his character demoralised him and he dared not take any bold step against a powerful foe, the English. The administration of Ranjit Singh suffered from one serious defect. It depended entirely on him because he did not create any council of ministers like Asht Pradhan created by Shivaji. Some other historians say that another weakness of his -administration was that he gave much importance to Dogra Rajputs and people of castes-other than the Sikhs in his administration. Those people did not remain loyal to the Sikh state after his death and engaged themselves in their selfish interests much against the interest of the Sikh state. Therefore, the kingdom established by Ranjit Singh was destroyed within ten years after his death.

Conclusion

Ranjit Singh occupies an important place in the history of India. Punjab was divided and weak before his rise and could become an easy prey to the English. But he converted it into a strong and consolidated state. He also organised a strong army of fifty thousand cavalrymen. Ranjit Singh was short in stature and was deprived of the left eve by small pox. Yet his personality was impressive. He himself was not educated but attempted to educate his subjects. He was fond of opium and drinking alcohol but fulfilled the responsibility of the administration perfectly, He was a capable commander and organiser of the army. He administered his state well, and his subjects were happy under him. Sir Lepel Griffin wrote : “He ruled the country which his military genius had conquered with vigour of will and an ability which placed him in the front rank of the country.”

Ranjit Singh was a practical statesman and understood well the limitations of his power. After the treaty of Amritsar, he always remained friendly to the English because he knew that the English were more powerful than him and he would bring disaster to himself in fighting against them. His religious policy was also liberal and he was popular among his subjects of all faiths. Therefore, Ranjit Singh is ranked among important rulers of India. Victor Jacquemont expressed: “Ranjit Singh is an extraordinary man, a Bonaparte (Napoleon) in miniature.”

Thus, we can conclude that though Ranjit Singh was a capable ruler, he did not pursue a farsighted policy towards the English. He certainly succeeded in establishing the first Sikh kingdom in Punjab during his life time but he failed to strengthen its foundations which would have sustained it even after his death. His policy towards the English was also responsible for the collapse of the Sikh Kingdom after his death.

Points to remember

  1. The Sikhs grew powerful in Punjab and the neighbouring territories after the retirement of Ahmad Shah Abdali from the politics of India.
  2. They, however, were divided into twelve misls before the rise of Ranjit ingh.
  3. After the death of his father, Maha Singh, Ranjit Singh became the head of Sukarchakia misl in 1792.
  4. Ranjit Singh helped Zaman Shah, ruler of Afghanistan, during his third attack on Punjab and, in return, received the subedari of Lahore and the title of Raja.
  5. In 1806 Ranjit Singh and the English agreed not to interfere in each other’s affairs which made him free to conquer the territory north and west of the river Satlaj.
  6. Ranji Singh tried to conquer the Cis-Satlaj Sikh States but the English took these states under their protection in 1809.
  7. The same year Ranjit Singh signed the treaty of Amritsar with the English by which river Satlaj was accepted as the dividing line between the territories of the two.
  8. His advance thus being checked b the English towards the East, Ranjit Singh extended his kingdom towards the West and the North.
  9. Ranjit Singh conquered Kangra Valley in 1809; annexed all the Sikh states west of Satlaj; provided protection to Shah Shuja; occupied Attock in 1813, Kashmir in 1819, Multan in 1818, Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan, Bakhar, Leh and Mankera in 1820 to 1821, and Peshawar in 1823.
  10. Thus, Ranjit Singh established an extensive and powerful state in the North-West and assumed the title of Maharaja.
  11. Ranjit Singh was short in stature, uneducated and fond of opium and drinking alcohol, yet, he was a capable commander and a successful administrator who organized a strong army of fifty thousand cavalrymen and provided peace and prosperity to his tate.
  12. He maintained friendly relations with the English because he understood well the limitations of the power.
  13. He has been described as “a Bonaparte in miniature”.
  14. Ranjit Singh signed the treaty of Amritsar with the English in 1809 and, thereafter, always remained friendly to them.
  15. Ranjit Singh took no advantage of the predicament of the English caused by the Nepal War in 1814 and the Burma War in 1824; refused to help the Bhonsle and the Raja of Bharatpur against the English, and was a member of the tripartite treaty in 1838 when the English decided to invade Afghanistan.
  16. On the contrary, the English permitted the Wahabis to organise themselves against Ranjit Singh, checked his efforts to conquer the Cis-Satlaj States, Sikarpur and Sindh and occupied Firozpur much against his wishes.
  17. Even then Ranjit Singh avoided conflict with the English which has been described as an act of practical wisdom by several English historians. But many other historians have described this policy as an unwise one by which Ranjit Singh waited silently for the doomsday of his kingdom.
  18. Certain other historians have drawn parallels between Ranjit Singh and Shivaji because both succeeded in organising their people and establishing independent states against heavy odds.
  19. Yet, the question has arisen as to why Ranjit Singh did not dare fight against the English and thus failed to create an enduring kingdom.
  20. Weakness of character and one-man leadership of administration as compared to Shivaji have been described as the primary causes for the failure of Ranjit Singh in these spheres.
  21. Thus, though Ranjit Singh was a capable man and a successful ruler, he did not pursue a farsighted policy towards the English which contributed to the collapse of the Sikh kingdom after his death.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on achievements of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His career and achievements. Childhood and early life. Biography.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Elaborate the achievements of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Or

Give an estimate of the career and achievements of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Or

Describe the course of growth of Sikh power under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Or

Discuss the Anglo-Sikh relations between 1805-39

Or

Discuss the relations of Ranjit Singh with the English.

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