Remembering the Real Lion of the Punjab
The Sikh community across the world commemorates the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the month of June every year. Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) is commended as Sher-i-Punjab (the Lion of Punjab). He remains one of the most popular figures in the history of the Punjab. On both sides of borders in today’s Punjab, where there is a crises of leadership,using history to understand important leadership concepts such as collaboration, problem solving, tolerance and inclusion is very important. The need to tap the insight and practice of some of historical figures such as Ranjit Singh is more relevant today than ever before.
The eighteenth century saw the decline and dissolution of the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire writes Rein court started in dilemma and ended in the same unresolved dilemma. Swerving from one extreme to the other according to the personal whims of the various emperors, it was never able to make up its mind and failed to lay down consistent, long term policy.
From the early eighteenth century onwards weak Mughal rulers succeeded one another. This fact, coupled with constant wars of succession, significantly weakened the central authority. Nadir Shah invaded India from the North. The demoralised troops of the Mughal were unable to withstand his onslaught. Nadir Shah set off for Delhi where he spent two months, organized a massive slaughter of Muslims. The usurping of king of Persia, which led to the spoliation of the palace of Shah Jahan, the massacre of 100,000 of the population of Delhi, and the pillage of India in money alone to the amount of above eighty millions of pounds sterling, besides untold wealth in jewellery and live-stock.
The Afghans never elongated under Persian rule, and after Nadir Shah had been assassinated in 1747 they set up an independent state ruled over by Ahmed Shah Abdali. Ahmed Shah had been in Delhi with Nadir Shah’s army. Having seen how weak the Mughals were, he decided to conquer the whole of India. He invaded India five times: in 1748, 1750, 1752, 1756, 1757 and 1758. The main resistance which he encountered was not that of the Mughals, but that of the Sikhs. After Ahmed Shah’s armies, had withdrawn from India, the Sikhs immediately proceeded to drive about the Afghan garrisons from the Punjab.
Into this bloodied landscape of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, the only son of Mahan Singh Shukerchakia & Raj Kaur, was born on 13 November 1780. After uniting all the warring Sikh misals under his leadership he came to be celebrated by Sikhs as the ideal ruler. The 19th century began with 40 years of Sikh sovereignty, the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799 to 1839). This period of Sikh sovereignty is a source of collective Sikh pride.
Ranjit Singh paid particular attention to the administration of Punjab. The good governance was promoted as for managing the affairs of the state, merits of a person were considered. Muslims and Sikhs were all given equal opportunities. The city of Lahore was divided into MohallÃ¢s (Segments or Avenues) and a Chaudhary (Person incharge) was appointed for every MohallÃ¢. Muslims discords were settled according to Sharah. Qaazi NizÃ¢m-ud-Din was appointed the principal Qazi of Lahore. Saadulla Chishti and Mohammad Shah Mufti were appointed as magistrates under him. A charitable hospital was opened in the city. This was placed under the care of Fakir Noor-ud-Din, brother of Fakir Aziz-ud-Din.
In order to maintain peace in the city and provide protection to the assets of the people, police force was raised. Imam Baksh was appointed as Kotwal of the city. Schools, temples and mosques were given liberal donations. Panchayats were established in the villages who were entrusted with the responsibilities of resolving disputes as well as administer the local affairs. Separate code of conduct was framed for the officials. It was a directive issued to the officials that they will keep the welfare of the people as their primary concern. Thus Maharaja Ranjit Singh established a common rule of Punjabis in the Punjab.
Although he was a devoted Sikh, he had great respect for the Hindu and Muslim faiths, never declaring a bias for his own faith, and thus ruling the empire with such a philosophy. Jean-Marie Loftan has rightly observed, “As Maharaja of the Punjab and head of a state with so much ethnic and religious diversity, he showed a remarkable interest in preserving the religious and cultural freedom of his subjects, showing a respect, a curiosity of mind and a sympathetic approach to the feelings and beliefs of others”.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh summed up his philosophy best when asked why he spent Rs. 10,000 for a copy of the Quran, declaring “God intended me to look at all religions with one eye”.
Ranjit Singh was not born in a famous or rich family but by virtue of his wisdom, capabilities and courage he became a king of a vast empire that extended from river Satluj to Peshawar in the West and from Ladakh to Sind in the South. Its area was 1.45 lakh square miles and its annual revenue earnings were nearly three crores. At the time of his death, his treasury had 8 crores. His army proved victorious at every front. The history of Mahraja Ranjit Singh can be relevant & inspiring for today’s rulers to gain valuable insight and direction.