RANJIT SINGH: Lion of Punjab: Achievement and Legacy

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RODERICK
MATTHEWS

As British rule spread across the Indian
subcontinent in the first years of the nineteenth century, one area in the
north-west remained apart, independent and untroubled by the new empire
builders. In 1803 General Lake captured Delhi for the British, but he then
halted on the line of the Jamuna river, uncertain how to proceed. The Marathas
to the south and south-west were still unconquered, and the Punjab, lying
beyond the Jamuna, was an open territory containing a problematic geography of
hills and rivers, inhabited by a highly heterogeneous mix of peoples, all of
whom were inured to armed struggle. There were Sikhs, Rajputs and Pathans in
the centre, with hill tribes, Gurkhas, Sindis and Afghans all around its edges.
There was no good reason to push on, and the Punjab remained unmolested. In the
years immediately prior to the British arrival one man had arisen from the
religious and ethnic crucible of the Punjab. Ranjit Singh, a local petty
chieftain of Jat farming stock, had climbed steadily to a position of
unchallenged personal authority over the central area of the Punjab, setting
himself up in Lahore and declaring himself Maharaja in 1801. He was to go on,
over the next thirty-eight years, to build a dominion that abutted China,
Afghanistan, Sind (still then independent) and British India. This was a man
who truly filled a power vacuum, largely by his own merits as a campaigner,
diplomat and ruler. It was his instinctive ability to understand the currency
of power that first gave Ranjit Singh his hegemony and then allowed him to keep
it for four decades during some of the most turbulent times in South Asian
history, throughout which he remained sandwiched between the formidable and
acquisitive might of the British to his south and east, and the unstable and
deadly world of Afghan politics to his north and west.
This eBook examines how he came to build
such a successful state in such a dangerous corner of the world, and how his
successors proved unable to sustain his work, swiftly losing the autonomy he
had bequeathed to them.
  
RODERICK MATTHEWS,
Historian, Obtained a First from Balliol College, Oxford in Modern History.
Studied Medieval History under Maurice Keen. Studied Tudor and Stuart History
under Christopher Hill, Master of Balliol College. Studied European History
under Colin Lucas, later Master of Balliol College and Vice-Chancellor of
Oxford University. Studied Imperial History under Professor Paul Longford,
Rector of Lincoln College.

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