Maharaja Ranjit Singh : Engagements with Shah Zaman
Main entrance to the Lahore Fort.
The moment Zaman Shah left, Ranjit singh pursued his forces and caught them unawares near Gujranwala. They were chased further up to Jhelum. Many Afghan were put to death and their war equipment was taken into possession and they were made to run for their lives. Shah Zaman was overthrown by his brother and was blinded. He became a helpless creature and 12 years later came to Punjab to seek refuge in Ranjit singh’s darbar, who was now the ruler of land. Destiny wished it like that.
“The character of Ranjit Singh”, says Cunningham,” seems to have impressed itself, not only on the other Sikh leader, but on the Duranni Shah. He coveted Lahore, which was associated in the minds of men with the passion of power, and as the king was unable to cross his heavy artillery over the flooded Jhelum, he made it known to the aspiring chief that their transmission would be an acceptable service. As many pieces of cannon as could be readily extricated were sent after the Shah, and Ranjit singh procured what he wanted, a royal investiture of the capital of Punjab.” “The task Ranjit singh readily undertook and partly performed, rescuing eight guns of the twelve and sending them to Peshawar; and Zaman Shah kept his promise of giving Lahore to Ranjit”(Cunningham J.D., History of Sikhs p.108).
These conclusions have no relevance which are neither feasible nor supported the facts. Zaman Shah did lose guns and Ranjit singh might have taken them out, but there is no proof about sending them to Peshawar. Nor is there any proof that Ranjit Singh had made overtures to the Afghan King prior to his occupation of Lahore, although it is said that Shah tried to win over Ranjit Singh by sending him ‘Khillat’. No friendly contacts were established between them. On the other hand Ranjit Singh treated the Shah’s demands for submission with contempt and challenged him that he would acquire the capital with sword. When Shah was holding his court in ‘Musamman burj’ in Lahore. Ranjit appeared surreptitiously and challenged the Shah “o grandson of Abdali, come down and measure swords with the grandson of Charat singh”.(Sohan Lal Suri, umdat-ut-twarikh II, p.39) Ultimately, the shah’s withdrawal gave a choice to the Sikhs to “obliterate all semblance of Afghan authority between Ravi and Jhelum. Ranjit singh combined with Sahib Singh of Gujrat (Punjab) and Milkha Singh of pindiwala and a large Sikh force, fell upon the Afghan garrison while Shah Zaman was still in vicinity of Khyber Pass. The Afghan forces fled towards north after having been routed by the Sikhs leaving behind at Gujrat their dead including the Afghan deputy.”(Bikramjit Hasrat, Life and times of Ranjit Singh, p.36).
Thus although guns were dug and returned to the Shah by Ranjit singh, he could never appoint Ranjit Singh as a Governor of Lahore, in lieu of this favor. A document dated April 1800 says: “Ranjit singh has lately delivered to Zaman Shah’s vakil 15 pieces of cannon which the Durrani prince lost last year in the retreat”.
This make it obvious that the guns were returned in 1800 and as such Ranjit singh could not be granted Lahore before that date. Ranjit Singh had occupied Lahore in July 1799. Thus there was no question of Ranjit Singh getting Lahore as a gift. He got the city by the might of his sword. Lahore was the most important and biggest city of Punjab. After Amristar, it was next in importance to Sikhs, as it was not only the capital of the province but also the birthplace of the fourth Guru Ram Das. Lahore at that time was ruled by the Bhangi sardars.(they were called bhangi because they use to drank Bhang all the time). It was captured earlier by them and remained under their control till it was reoccupied by Shah Zaman in 1797. After Shah Zaman left, Bhangi Sardars, Chet Singh, Sahib Singh and Mohar Singh reoccupied it. They had no talent and ability to rule. These incapable sardars did not take any interest in the welfare of the people and were inept and imbecile. They had no control over the people. They were “unscrupulous, drunken, profligate and tyrannical.”
The Muslims had a considerable influence in the town. Mian Ashak mohammad and Mian Mukkan Din were very powerful and exercised a lot of hold on the people. They were called chaudhries and were often consulted in most of the affairs of the city. Mian Ashak Mohammad daughter was married to Badr-ud-din. He was a very influential man. Due to some unknown reason, he had some dispute with khatries of the town. he quarreled and Khatries reported the matter to Chet Singh. some forged papers that badr-ud-din had links with Zaman Shah were also shown to Chet singh. Chet singh was convinced of matter and arrested Badr-ud-din.
A wave of resentment followed the arrest among the supporters of Badr-Ud-Din and Mian Ashak Mohammad. The formed a deputation of some leading chaudhries and pleaded on behalf of Badr-ud-din but they were humiliated and were made to lick ground.
By this time the people of the country had become aware of the rising strength of Ranjit singh, the rising star on the horizon. He was the most popular leader of the Punjab and was already yearning to enter Lahore. The people of Lahore being extremely oppressed raised their voices of wailing to the skies and were looking towards their liberator. Muslims joined Hindus and Sikh residents of Lahore in making an appeal to Ranjit Singh to free them from the tyrannical rule.
A petition was written and was signed by Mian Ashak Mohammad, Mian Mukkam Din, Mohammad Tahir, Mohammad Bakar, Hakim Rai, and Bhai Gurbaksh Singh. It was addressed to Ranjit singh to free them from Bhangi sardars. Ranjit singh was invited to liberate Lahore as early as possible. He mobilized a 25000 Army and marched towards Lahore on July 6, 1799.
It was a last day of Muharram when a big procession was to be taken out in the town in the memory of the two grandsons of Prophet Mohammad who were martyred in the battlefield without having a drop of water. It was expected that Bhangi sardars will also participate in procession and mourn with their Shia brethren. By the time procession was over Ranjit singh had reached outskirts of city.
Early morning on July 7 1799, Ranjit singh’s men had taken their positions. Guns glistened and the bugles were sounded. Rani Sada kaur stood outside Delhi gate and Ranjit singh proceeded towards Anarkali. Ranjit singh rode along the walls of the city and got the wall mined. A breach was blown. . It created panic and confusion. Mukkam Din, who was one of the signatories to the petition made a proclamation with the beat of drum that town had been taken over by him and he was now head. He ordered all the city gates to be opened. Ranjit singh entered the city with his troops through the Lahori gate. Sada kaur with a detachment of cavalry entered through Delhi gate. Before Bhangi sardars had any inkling of it, a part of the citadel was occupied without any resistance. Sahib singh and Mohar singh left the city and sought shelter at some safer place. Chet singh was left either to fight, defend the town or flee as he like. He shut himself in Hazuri Bagh with only 500 men. Ranjit singh’s cavalry surrounded Hazuri Bagh and Chet singh surrendered and he was given permission to leave the city along with his family.
Ranjit singh was well entrenched in the town now. Immediately after taking possession of the city, he paid visit to Badashahi mosque. This gesture increased his prestige and his status was in the eyes of people. He won the hearts of the subjects, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs alike. It was July 7, 1799 when victorious Ranjit Singh entered Lahore.