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RISE OF SIKH POWER (1784-1839)

After the death of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia in the year 1783 there was no successor who could have been unanimously accepted as the supreme commander of the Khalsa forces and Jathedar of the Khalsa Panth. In the absence of such a uniting force it was natural for the commanders of the Sikh Misals to assert themselves in order to enlarge their territories and areas of influence. This not only caused conflicts between various Misals, but also weakened the overall strength of the Khalsa forces. Under such conditions it would have been relatively easy task for the invading forces to defeat the Sikhs piecemeal and destroy them.

Shah Zaman, as soon as he succeeded his father Taimur, announced his intention of re-establishing the Afghan empire in India. He invaded India in 1793 and again in 1795 and 1796. By December 1796 he had occupied Punjab as far as Jhelum. Ranjit Singh decided to call a meeting of all Sikh chiefs for Sarbat Khalsa at Amritsar. While some chiefs were in favour of abandoning the plains and going into hills, the others felt that they should put up a united front under one supreme commander. Finally Ranjit Singh was chosen as the supreme commander of the Khalsa forces for the purpose of confronting Shal Zaman who had occupied Lahore by January 1797. The advancing Sikh forces drove the Afghans and their Indian supporters out of the countryside and Shah Zaman's force started retreating. The combined Sikh forces drove Shah Zaman all the way across the Jhelum and took away much of his war material

Rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Shah Zaman once again invaded India during the autumn of 1798. The Hindus and Sikhs began to leave their homes and seek safety in far off places. Sahib Singh Bhangi and Ranjit Singh Sukarchakia evacuated Gujrat and Gujjranwala respectively. Once again chiefs of all Misals were called at Amritsar and Ranjit Singh was chosen the commander of the combined Khalsa forces in order to defeat the forces of Shah Zaman. Once again Shah Zaman's forces were defeated. After this the Afghans never dared to attack Punjab.

Had there been a permanently chosen supreme commander of Khalsa panth, it would have been possible to gather the combined Khalsa forces on a short notice and defeat the invading enemy. But as such an arrangement did not exist, the delay always occured in calling the chiefs of the Misals and obtaining their approval and concurrence for a common supreme commander and gathering the forces under him. Consequently during the delay some of the Misals suffered defeat and losses at the hands of the invading forces. Realizing that it may not be possible to reach at an agreement everytime to place all the combined forces under one supreme commander and also realizing that he may not be permanently selected as the supreme commander of combined forces by all Sikh Misals, Ranjit singh on the advice of his mother-in-Iaw Sada Kaur decided to subdue the other Sikh Misals one by one and gradually annex their territories to make a united Punjab of which he would be the Maharaja.

Ranjit Singh Sukarchakia was married to the daughter of Sada Kaur, the widow of Gurbax Singh Kanhaiya, a sort of an alliance existed between the most powerful of the Sikh confederacies. That is : between Sukarchakia and Kanhaiya Misals. This alliance proved very fortunate for Ranjit Singh in his future conquests and consolidation of the Punjab under his standard of monarchy.

The first thing Ranjit Singh did in the direction of establishment of the kingdom of Punjab was to conquer Lahore. He encircled and occupied Lahore on 27th June 1799 from Sardars of Bhangi Misal who had liberated it from Afghans in 1765. As he was kind, just and a secular monarch the people of Lahore, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs welcomed him. There was no looting and no molestation and there was very little bloodshed in the process of conquering Lahore. During a coronation ceremony, Ranjit Singh assumed the formal title of the Maharaja of Punjab.

In the autumn of 1802 Ranjit Singh took possession of the city of Amritsar without much struggle. Akali Phula Singh helped Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the bloodles victory of Amritsar. Maharaja invited him to join his army. Akali Phula Singh agreed and joined the state army with his 3,000 Nihangs. Many of Maharaja Ranjit Singh' victories were due to the outstandinh bravery of Baba Phula Singh and his Nihang forces.

There were a number of independent principalities still existing in the Punjab. Some of them continued to declare their allegiance to Afghanistan. Ranjit Singh invited them to declare their allegiance to the Government of Punjab. Some of them complied while some othera like Jhang under Ahmad Khan, Kasur under Nizam-ud-din Khan and Multan under Nawa Muzaffar Khan refused to do so. Ranjit Singh's forces carried out military operations against Jhang, Kasur and Multa and annexed them to his kingdom.

Sansar Chand, ruler of Kangra was being harrassed by the Gurkhas under Ama Singh Thapa. He appealed to Maharaj Ranjit Singh to help him. Maharaja Ranjit Singh attacked the Gurkhas. They could not stand in front of the Sikh forces and took to their heels. Maharaja entered the fort of Kangra on 24th December 1809. The rulers of Kangra, Chamba, Noorpur, Kulu, Datarpur, Kotla, Jasrota, Basohli, Jaswan, Mandi and Suket came and paid homage to the Maharaja

Next Maharaja decided to take the fort of Attock in his hand. Without fighting a battle, the fort of Attock was taken by Maharaja in exchange of handsome Jagir through his minister Fakir Aziz-ud-din who negotiated with Jahandad Khan. As Attock fort was considered to be the gateway of India, Wazir Fateh Khan was furious when he came to know that it had passed into the hands of the Maharaja. He therefore came at the head of Afghan troops and surrounded the fort. The Maharaja sent a strong force under the charge of Diwan Mohkam Chand to meet the wazir. The Punjab forces crossed the river Attock and an intense battle ensued between Afghans and Sikhs in the month of July. At last the Afghans were exhausted. They broke their ranks and fled leaving their heavy guns and other war equipment to the victors. This was the first victory of the Punjabis against the Afghans. The capture of the fort of Attock meant the liberation of Northern India from Afghan menace.

The Maharaja was able to extend his kingdom in the north-west by capturing Peshawar. In October 1818 Maharaja along with two of his great Generals, Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phula singh marched out of Lahore at the head of his forces. After crossing the river Attock which was in flood, the Maharaja defeated the Khattaks and occupied the stronghold of Khairabad and Jahangiria. On hearing the defeat of the Khattaks, Muhammad Khan, the Afghan Governor of Peshawar, lost his heart. He ran away, leaving behind big guns, and other war materials in good condition.

The Maharaja captured Peshavar on November 19, 1818 and annexed it to Lahore. He appointed Yar Muhammad Khan as the Governor of Peshawar. On return from Peshawar, Maharaja made plans for taking Kashmir from the Afghan Governor Jabbar Khan who used to treat non-Muslims with utmost cruelty. The campaign against Kashmir started in April 1819. Jabbar Khan's forces were defeated by Akali Phula Singh and his Akalis. The Afghans could not stand the Nihangs and fled to the hills. Thus the boundaries of the United Punjab extended upto the boundaries of Tibet and China in September 1819

Thus Maharaja Ranjit Singh's kingdom extended from Kashmir in the north to Sind in the south, and from Sutlej in the east to Khaibar in the north-west. For centuries the Afghans and Pathans had become a source of terror to Indians, particularly to Punjabis. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had reversed the tide of repeated invasions, so that the Punjabis became a source of dread and terror to Pathans and Afghans. He ruled the United Punjab till his death in 1839. Through his secularism and kindness, he had so endeared himself to the people of Punjab irrespective of race, religion and creed that when he died in 1839, there was universal mourning in Punjab. Everybody felt that he had lost his guardian.

[Courtesy : Dr. Santokh Singh Ji]