A Sikh tops greatest leaders in world history poll. Guess who?

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, leader of the Sikh empire in the early 19th century, has topped a BBC history magazine poll of the greatest leaders in world history.

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The statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on the evening of its inauguration at Lahore Fort on 27 June 2019.—Photo via Press Information Department on Twitter
By Asia Samachar | BRITAIN |

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, leader of the Sikh empire in the early 19th century, has topped a BBC history magazine poll of the greatest leaders in world history.

The Sikh leader, founder of the Sikh empire who forged a modern empire of toleration and who famously owned the Koh-i-Noor diamond, topped the poll by BBC World Histories Magazine.

Dubbed the Lion of Punjab, Ranjit (1780–1839) was described by his nominator historian as a modernising and uniting force, whose reign “marked a golden age for Punjab and north-west India”.

At the beginning of this year, BBC World Histories Magazine asked historians to nominate their ‘greatest leader’ – someone who exercised power and had a positive impact on humanity – and to explore their achievements and legacy. The list was voted on by more than 5,000 readers, with Ranjit named as the history’s greatest leader.

Taking more than 38% of the vote, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was described by nominating historian Matthew Lockwood as a modernising and uniting force, whose reign “marked a golden age for Punjab and north-west India”, according to an entry at the magazine’s website. See here. writes Lockwood is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama.

In second place, with 25% of the vote, is African independence fighter Amílcar Cabral (nominated by Hakim Adi), who united more than one million Guineans to free themselves from Portuguese occupation and in turn propelled many other colonised African countries to rise and fight for independence. British prime minister Winston Churchill (nominated by Andrew Roberts) is in third position with 7% of the vote for his sharp political manoeuvring that kept Britain in the war.

Further down the list, according to the entry, American president Abraham Lincoln (nominated by Adam I P Smith) is in fourth place and British monarch Elizabeth I (nominated by Tracy Borman) is the highest ranked female leader in fifth position, with 4% of the vote.

On 27 June 2019, Pakistan’s Lahore Fort saw the unveiling of an equestrian sculpture to mark the 180th anniversary of the death of one of Lahore’s most famous and significant historical figures.

“But even more than that, in a region riven by ethnic and religious strife, in an era scarred by rising religious fundamentalism and growing tension between India and Pakistan, the statue was intended to be a symbol of a previous age of toleration and stability, and the near-mythical ruler who presided over it: Maharaja Ranjit Singh,” writes Lockwood.

Even his physical impairments were transformed into strengths, he adds.

When a curious Lord Auckland, Governor-General of British India, enquired about Ranjit’s blind eye – his left eye was blinded and his face scarred by smallpox – his foreign minister countered that the Maharaja was like the sun, which also only had one eye, continuing that “the splendour and luminosity of his single eye is so great that I have never dared to look at his other eye”.

Ranjit Singh had become a Sikh Napoleon, a Punjabi sun king. Sikhs, however, did not have to reach to European history to find comparisons; Ranjit Singh was simply the most dazzling in a long line of Sikh warrior-chiefs and soldier-saints stretching back to the 17th century, writes Lockwood.

You can read his full entry, ‘Who was Maharaja Ranjit Singh?’, here.

 

RELATED STORY:

Maharaja Ranjit Singh named 20 world’s greatest leaders (Asia Samachar, 3 Jan 2020)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

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