BBC’s History Extra conducted a survey among the world’s historians to discover who was the greatest emperor or leader in history. The results were no surprise and Maharaja Ranjit Singh was chosen in the top 5 in world history and number 1 in the last 500 years.
The University of Alabama Mathew Lockwood nominated Maharaja Ranjit Singh and wrote the following: Via: History Extra
“For most of the 18th century, India was a fractured and war-torn place. As the once-dominant Mughal empire entered its period of terminal decline, it left behind a power vacuum. Punjab was not exempt from this problem. By the time Ranjit Singh was born in 1780, Afghan raids, chronic infighting among Punjab’s various misls (sovereign states) and the looming presence of British expansion left the region politically fragile, economically weak and religiously splintered. All this changed with the rise of Singh, the ‘Lion of Punjab’.
Singh was, almost uniquely, a unifier – a force for stability, prosperity and tolerance
By the early decades of the 19th century, he had modernised the Sikh Khalsa army, embraced western innovations without abandoning local forms and institutions, unified the fractious misls, stabilised the frontier with Afghanistan, and reached a mutually beneficial detente with the British East India Company. Singh, however, was more than a mere conqueror. While the Indian subcontinent was riven with imperial competition, religious strife and wars of conquest, Singh was, almost uniquely, a unifier – a force for stability, prosperity and tolerance.
His reign marked a golden age for Punjab and north-west India. Though a devoted Sikh who embarked on a campaign to restore the great monuments of his religion – including the Harmandir Sahib or ‘Golden Temple’ at Amritsar – he also went to great lengths to ensure religious freedom within his lands. He patronised Hindu temples and Sufi shrines, attended Muslim and Hindu ceremonies, married Hindu and Muslim women, and even banned the slaughter of cows to protect the religious sensitivities of Hindus. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Europeans were all employed in the modernised army and administration of his empire. Under his leadership, infrastructure was improved, commerce opened and expanded, and the arts flourished.
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. Though certainly an imperialist, Ranjit Singh represented a different, more enlightened, more inclusive model of state-building, and a much-needed path towards unity and toleration. We could still benefit from his example.
Matthew Lockwood is assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama” Read the rest: History Extra