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Page:Provincial geographies of India (Volume 1).djvu/201

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I764-1849 A.D.

Rise of Ranjit Singh.— The Bhangis held Lahore with brief intervals for 25 years. In 1799, Ranjit Singh, basing his claim on a grant from Shah Zaman, the grandson of Ahmad Shah, drove them out, and inaugurated the remarkable career which ended with his death in 1839. When he took Lahore the future Maharaja was only nineteen years of age. He was the head of the Sukarchakia mi si, which had its headquarters at Gujranwala. Mean in appearance, his face marked and one eye closed by the ravages of smallpox, he was the one man of genius the Jat tribe has produced. A splendid horse- man, a bold leader, a cool thinker untroubled with scruples, an unerring judge of character, he was bound to rise in such times. He set himself to put down every Sikh rival and to profit by the waning of the Durani power to make himself master of their possessions in the Panjab. Pluck, patience, and guile broke down all opposition among the Manjha Sikhs. The Sikh chiefs to the south of the Sutlej were only saved from the same fate by throwing themselves in 1808 on the protection of the English, who six years earlier had occupied Delhi, and by taking under their protection the blind old Emperor, Shah Alam, had virtually proclaimed themselves the paramount power in India. For 44 years he had been only a piece in the game played by Mahrattas,