Was Maharaja Ranjit Singh an Indian or a Panjabi?

During the time Ranjit Singh lived, the land he was born in and ruled was called Panjab.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh painting by Sarabjit Singh, uploaded on 12 August 2015.
By Anmol Singh Hundal | OPINION |

This day marks the 180th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the emperor of all Panjab. To commemorate this, a life sized statue of the Panjabi sovereign was unveiled in Lahore, West Punjab, Pakistan. In addition, there are a host of articles in major Indian publications variously describing Ranjit Singh as a “great conqueror”, “master strategist”, “skilled tactician”, “courageous fighter”, a “benevolent sovereign” and altogether an “outstanding Indian ruler”.

He was a conqueror for sure, his government put together the fragmented kingships of Panjab into a modern State able to stand head to head against the mighty British East India Company itself.

The “master strategist” part is an exaggeration. In truth, he had no strategy and the best evidence of that is the ruin that Panjab faced after he passed away. I don’t have any evidence of him being a tactician either; sure he won a few battles early on to win Lahore but the most decisive battles for Panjab were fought by his excellent Generals and not by Ranjit Singh himself. He was courageous and benevolent; after all Panjabis would never accept a ruler who did not possess those characteristics.

However, the one description that I find egregious and unfair is that he was an “Indian ruler”, or that he was an “Indian”.

All Nations and States are man-made, and the same goes for India (and Pakistan). India is a western name given to an empire put together by the British piece-by-piece by conquering the smaller principalities and sovereign empires and kingdoms that made up the subcontinent. In other words, there was no India before the British created one. When thinking of a native concept of a unified subcontinent, one might come up with “Hindostan” — which as opposed to India is a term that was not introduced by the British and is often used as an equivalent of India — but “Hindostan” had no defined boundaries at any point in history and its unclear what exactly it constituted.

The process of creation of India was savage in the least and it involved deception and mass-murder on the part of the British. Panjab was one of the last major conquests into the growing British Company and like other regions in the Subcontinent, it became part of “India” only after it was conquered. The people of Panjab used the word Panjab (ਪੰਜਾਬ) to refer to their land and mulkh (country); the vast majority of them probably never even heard the word India. Shah Muhammad uses the term “Company” to refer to what is now called the “East India Company” in his Jangnama Hind-Panjab (An account of the first war between Hindostan and Panjab).

So, during the time Ranjit Singh lived, the land he was born in and ruled was called Panjab. Is it fair that after his death, we describe him using a nationality that is attached to the State that: waged war on and annexed his empire when it was weak, kidnapped his descendant Duleep Singh and shipped him off to England, and continues to rule Panjabis while depriving them of their democratic and human rights and without giving them a legitimate opportunity for self-determination?

In any case, should the present political map of the world guide our description of pre-modern people? If by any chance Panjabis are able to regain their sovereignty in the next 50 years, and they decide to name their new State Khalistan, would it be fair to retrospectively call Ranjit Singh a Khalistani?

And a little caveat, Ranjit Singh was born in Gujranwala, a city that today falls in the Western side of Panjab which is in Pakistan. So even if we are to label people using the modern political boundaries, he was a Pakistani and not an Indian.

I would like to end by asking whether changing Ranjit Singh’s identity posthumously does justice and due honor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh? What right do we have to label Ranjit Singh as an Indian when he himself never used that description for himself (as evident from his title which is Sher-e-Panjab meaning the Lion of Panjab)?

To view Maharaja Ranjit Singh painting used above, go here.

Anmol Singh Hundal is a US-based software engineer at Quora and author of The Constitution of India Simplified

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



Will the BJP rewrite the Constitution of India now that it has won the 2019 elections? (Asia Samachar, 30 May 2019)


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  1. Lets get real,hows does this topic affect us in any way?
    This man enjoyed life,enjoyed his 10 wives then dropped dead like everyone else.
    Lets focus on our own lives now and that of our race and religion at the moment.
    If all Sikhs in Malaysia start focusing on the present instead of the past all our problems and shortcomings would be non existent.


    Karam Singh Rai Aren’t both the same? Indian and punjabi.. It it is

    Jespal Singh Brar: Majority of Punjabis are in Pakistan. So Punjabis can be of any nationality.

    JD Singh: There was no india than sikh empire was built on punjabi nationalism rather bharat mata or anything.
    Hindus have played near zero role in khalsa e sarkar even being 2nd largest population in empire. So it was based on punjabi nationalism movement.
    In lahore nobles themselves wrote ketter to Ranjit singh to annexed it and release them from terrorism of bhangis (Sikh-Hindu misl of jat) and Afgans.


    Nims Machiavelli: This writer is either very ill inform or ignorant at the highest level, what an utter nonsense he wrote, bloody hell:
    The “master strategist” part is an exaggeration. In truth, he had no strategy and the best evidence of that is the ruin that Panjab faced after he passed away. I don’t have any evidence of him being a tactician either; sure he won a few battles early on to win Lahore but the most decisive battles for Panjab were fought by his excellent Generals and not by Ranjit Singh himself. He was courageous and benevolent; after all Panjabis would never accept a ruler who did not possess those characteristics.

    Anmol Singh: Nims Machiavelli Sir. Sorry, I think you did not understand what I was saying.
    I said he was courageous and benevolent and this is pretty uncontroversial.…See more

    Nims Machiavelli: Anmol Singh I think you need to widen your understanding of strategy and frankly I am pretty lazy to debate you on social media because this will take paragraphs and waste both of our time but I will point you to the source of what is a well research and reference book on Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Empire.
    You must accept one thing that one does not become a Maharaja of a Sikh Empire without ‘strategy’.
    So, here is my reference, enjoy them because it have widen my scope on our own history:
    4) (Personally I havent read this one, but its in my wishlist)

    Anmol Singh: Nims Machiavelli Sir. I have read the books by Madra and Khushwant Singh and I also understand that discussing on facebook would take time our of your busy life. But please know that, I would truly appreciate if you you can teach me something.
    Those books cover a lot of topics that go outside the scope of this Article. Also, we don’t need to read volumes upon volumes of books to know strategy. You can describe the strategy to me in a few sentences.

    Nims Machiavelli: Anmol Singh the simplest I can think of is the consolidation of the twelve Sikh confederacies (Misls) into a unified force.
    Thats a political as well as a military strategy.

    Anmol Singh: Nims Machiavelli It seems that the source of our disagreement is in how we define “strategy”.
    I agree that Ranjit Singh is to be credited for unifying Panjab, but what comes after that? How was Panjab to survive and achieve dominance in South Asia? What was the solid plan to repel British aggression and contain the Company? That is what I would call strategy.

    Nims Machiavelli: Anmol Singh that is not strategy, you cant pin that on Maharaja Ranjit Singh? He already provided a proper Durbar filled with ministers , generals and his son as a successor, what they did after his death isnt his fault.
    This is not an app system where the app still works after you reboot it, its a Kingdom which self destruct from within post the Maharaja death.
    The treaty with the British were part of the solid plan to repel the British as the Sikh Empire were still expanding towards Afghanistan, you cant be blind to that fact?
    The modernization of the Sikh Military were another strategy as well to repel the British as well as on the route to be dominant in South Asia, what else do you need?

    Anmol Singh Nims: Machiavelli Sir. Good point about the modernization of the military, that could be counted as part of strategy.
    However, the treaties with the British did not prove helpful at the end, and Afghan expansion actually was contained by British treaties. The succession plan was also not in place and that is why the empire fell into chaos afterwards.


    Mohit Seth: I don’t think it’s matter of any discussion at the end maharaja Ranjit Singh was great warrior and greatest king in history.

    SindyKaur Dhaliwal: 🤔🤥 Bigger question is, tomato or tamater 🤣😂


    Jit Singh: It was Sikh Nation. Punjab had been called by many names in the past. The Chinese called them Indu Ren meaning people of Indus-land. Persian called it Punj Ab. Greeks-Romans called or Pentapotamia.
    As for Ranjit Singh he was a true Sikh. HAMRI JAT PAT GUR SATGUR HAM VECIO SIR GUR KE – my race and nationality is that of the Guru; I have sold my head to the Real Guru.
    It has been plundered and looted many a times, to reduce it to rubble and poverty. Babar Shah came fully sponsored by the Rajputs – specifically the Maharajah of Mewar. The cruelty and the destruction was witnessed by Guru Nanak and Mardana.
    All the states outside were xXxXpradesh. That’s India. Very clear on the word Desh and Pradesh.

    Chris Tiberius: Jit Singh I would beg the differ on the true Sikh. He is a Sikh by religion, but not by practice. A true Sikh-is one who practice it.

    Jit Singh: Chris Tiberius I have not found anything untowards on Ranjit Singh as a true Sikh. It is subjective matter on understanding gurbani. Gurbani is the highest spiritual experience. You just have to know IT. NANAK JANE SACA SOE. Not SOCE SOC and LAKH SIANPA.
    The problem is we are trying to understand it through our thinking and with a collation of concepts from old fossilized religions. Ranjit Singhs understanding was a realisation of the higher order. Proven science and spirituality has synergy where else religions are blind faith and commercial rituals that have fear as its base.
    The objection I have is he giving in to the fake Dogra Sikhs on the saffron Nishan Sahib. He had default nawabi succession plan where the dogras killed the successor one after another. If he had a Council of Guardians comprised of True Sikhs the Sikh Nation would have survived the British and the Indians.
    Noble man like Hari Singh should have been in the council instead of leaving it to be scavenged by the Dogras and the incompetence of maharani Jindal.