Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) was a ruler of the Punjab. His kingdom was so powerful that friendship with this "Lion of the Punjab" remained for 3 decades the sheet anchor of British policy in western India.
Ranjit Singh was heir to the Sukerchakia misl, one of the 12 misls which had been established by the warlike Sikhs during the 18th century and which ruled the greater part of the Punjab. Ranjit came into his own after the death of his widowed, dominating mother in 1796. Almost immediately he gathered a force of 10,000 to 12,000 horsemen.
At this time the Afghan king, Zaman Shah, was campaigning in the Punjab. The Afghans occupied but soon lost Lahore, traditionally the capital of a unified Punjab. Apparently acting in Zaman Shah's name but actually for himself, Ranjit captured Lahore in 1799. Soon he subju-gated Jammu and Kasur, won the friendship of the strong Ahluwalia misl, the important Kanheya misl being already linked with him by marriage, and started on a career of expansion which by 1810 made him the supreme ruler of the Punjab north of the Sutlej.
To the south, Ranjit was checked by a treaty of mutual noninterference across the Sutlej with the British; the agreement, however, allowed Ranjit to consolidate his territories in the Punjab and systematically absorb Kashmir and much of the Punjab hills. In spite of fierce opposition from the Afghans, he also occupied areas beyond the Indus extending as far as the boundaries of Afghanistan proper, thus reversing a centuries-old pattern of military conquest in northwestern India.
Ranjit's success was primarily based on a large, loyal, well-drilled, excellently equipped, superbly led, and amazingly mobile standing army. He also pursued a wise civilian policy. He was genuinely motivated by the desire to unify the Sikhs in a Sikh state but one that would give equal participation and benefits to Sikhs and non-Sikhs. He gave his people a government under which living conditions improved noticeably. His dedication to the cause of good government won over most of the victims of his policy of absorption, and they served him loyally.
In his foreign policy, Ranjit was extremely cautious, never alienating a neighbor unless it involved certain improvement of his own position. Perhaps he practiced this policy to an excess, appeasing the English too long. Aware that war with the English was inevitable, he might have saved his kingdom from dissolving soon after his death had he risked a conflict.
Further Reading on Ranjit Singh
Narendra Krishna Sinha, Ranjit Singh (Calcutta, 2d ed. 1945), and Khushwant Singh, Ranjit Singh: Maharajah of the Punjab, 1780-1839 (1962), are the standard works on Ranjit. Older studies include William Godolphin Osborne, The Court and Camp of Runjeet Sing (1840), written by a contemporary of Ranjit, and Lepel Henry Griffin, Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Barrier between Our Growing Empire and Central Asia (1898). Extensive material on Ranjit is in Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. 1 (1963). A succinct profile of Ranjit is in Ramesh Chandra Majumdar and others, An Advanced History of India (1946; 3d ed. 1967).
Additional Biography Sources
Ahuja, Roshan Lal, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a man of destiny, New Delhi: Punjabi Writers Coop. Society, 1983.
Duggal, Kartar Singh, Ranjit Singh, a secular Sikh sovereign, New Delhi, India: Abhinav Publications, 1989.
Hasrat, Bikrama Jit, Life and times of Ranjit Singh: a saga of benevolent despotism, Nabha: Hasrat; Hoshiarpur: local stockists, V. V. Research Institute Book Agency, 1977.
Khullar, K. K., Maharaja Ranjit Singh, New Delhi: Hem Publishers, 1980.
Kirapala Singha, The historical study of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's times, Delhi: National Book Shop, 1994.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his times, Amritsar: Dept. of History, Guru Nanak Dev University, 1980.
Singh, Gulcharan., Ranjit Singh and his generals, Jullundur: Sujlana Publishers, pref. 1976.
Singh, Harbans, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, New Delhi: Sterling, 1980.