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Islam Leaf From History: Makers Of Modern Punjab (Review)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Sunday, August 8, 2010

Leaf from history
Reviewed by J. S. Grewal

The Makers of Modern Punjab
By Kirpal Singh and Prithipal Singh Kapur.
Singh Brothers, Amritsar.
Pages xvi + 174. Rs 225.

IN a recent international seminar on "History and Memory" organised by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla, two basic points emerged very forcefully: one, that memory plays an important part in our responses to social situations and two, that oral evidence is a valuable source of history. This book illuminates the second point. It contains oral evidence collected by Kirpal Singh and Prithipal Singh Kapur on interviews with political leaders, Sikh intellectuals, "Prime Ministers", a Ghadarite leader, and three Army officers, with a close bearing on the history of the Punjab.

It is interesting to read that, contrary to the general belief, Master Tara Singh did not tear the Muslim League flag on March 2, 1947, when the Hindu and Sikh Legislators were despondent over Khirzar Hayat Khan’s resignation, but he did oppose the installation of a Muslim League Government in the Punjab. At grave personal risk, he shouted "Pakistan murdabad" in the presence of a crowd of over 4,000 supporters of the League.

Baba Kharak Singh recalls that about two lakh people were present when the keys of the Toshakhana were delivered to him at Akal Takht by the government. He was opposed to untouchability as much as to the idea of Pakistan. Sardar Gurdial Singh Dhillon tells us that he was arrested for the first time in 1935 as a student for garlanding the statue of Lala Lajpat Rai. As "a nationalist" from the very beginning of his political career, he was opposed to the Akalis, the regional formula, and the Punjabi-speaking state.

Bawa Harkrishan Singh had the guts to tell the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar that the Babbar Akalis were surely misguided but "we cannot disown our brethren". He praises Giani Kartar Singh for his clear thinking on various issues. Principal Niranjan Singh tells us how Bawa Harkrishan Singh opposed the idea of honouring General Dyer at Khalsa College, Amritsar. Niranjan Singh himself was thoroughly opposed to British rule in India. He was closely associated with the Akali movement. He was active in the Guru ka Bagh morcha but behind the scenes; the real leader of the morcha was Teja Singh Samundari. Unlike Master Tara Singh and Bawa Harkrishan Singh, Niranjan Singh was not in favour of launching a morcha for the restoration of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha. He looked upon the Akali movement as "the mother" of the national movement in the Punjab, but his greater appreciation was for the Congress. He was opposed to Master Tara Singh’s fast, but he was opposed also to breaking fast after the pledge.

Malik Hardit Singh gives an interesting account of the meeting of Jinnah with Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh and the Maharaja of Patiala. Jinnah was prepared to give everything that the Sikhs wanted, but only after the creation of Pakistan. Master Tara Singh was not inclined to consider this dubious offer. Malik Hardit Singh talks of his role in persuading the Working Committee of the Akali Dal for breaking the fast of Master Tara Singh. However, Malik Hardit Singh did not like the idea of dividing the Punjab. Sir Khizar Hayat Khan was not in favour of Pakistan, nor did he like the partition of the Punjab. Having seen the Guru Ka Bagh morcha, he was convinced that no government "could do any harm to the Sikhs".

Parma Nand gives the interesting detail that Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha helped the Ghadarites to set up a bomb factory at Lohat Badi. We know that Sir Michael O’Dwyer accused the Maharaja of allowing the revolutionaries to work from Lohat Badi. In fact, he suggested to the Viceroy that there was enough evidence on the anti-British attitude of the Maharaja to remove him from the gaddi. But the Viceroy did not think that there was sufficient evidence to justify such a drastic action. Parma Nand’s evidence acquired crucial significance in this context. His case was defended by Subhash Chander Bose and the British MP Saklatwala (who knew Maharaja Ripudaman Singh).

Major J. M. Short was known to have good relations with Sikh soldiers and, consequently, with Sikh leaders. His informal services were used by the government after his retirement in 1931. He admits that in 1947, he was confused: those who were to succeed the British in power were complacent about the Sikh reaction and the Sikhs themselves trusted the British to save them from being unduly displaced. The British were expected to ensure a large degree of autonomy for the Sikhs within a large union of states, if not a Sikh state. However, they failed. Major General Mohinder Singh Chopra, as the Border Brigade Commander in 1947 carried the impression that whereas India fought, Pakistan fanned, religious hatred. He also observes that it was "not so much the British officers who were responsible for the communal riots as some of the leaders and politicians on both sides with vested interests".

The evidence we have cited is only illustrative of the significance of the oral evidence collected by Prof. Kirpal Singh and Prof. Kapur with perceptive perseverance. The general reader would find the book extremely interesting, while the social scientists interested in the history and politics of "modern" Punjab would find it useful for deeper insights.