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Heritage What Punjab Has Done & What It Has Never Done


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
What Punjab can do and what it has never done

Ayaz Amir

from the Islamabad Diary


Mystics and divines, poets and singers, men of enterprise and of daring, of quality and base instinct, the best dancing girls in the entire sub-continent, Punjab has given birth to them all. What, through some quirk of geography or history, it has never been able to produce is the able ruler.

Except of course for a single exception: for over 2000 years, from Alexander’s invasion to the Partition of British India in 1947, only one ruler of ability and distinction in its turbulent history, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Apart from him, governors and vassals in plenty but no independent ruler, principally because Punjab was never an independent kingdom except when Ranjit Singh raised it to that status.

Afghan kings, kings of Turkish origin, Mughal emperors but only one Punjabi king. So while Punjab had other strong traditions, in agriculture, music, poetry, dancing, and, I daresay, the sycophantic arts which come so readily to subjugated people, the one tradition its superior classes lacked was that of leadership.

They knew best how to scrape and bow before authority. They were good at carrying out orders. But in 1947 history placed upon their shoulders the task of creating a nation and giving that nation a sense of direction. And they were not up to it, because nothing in their past had prepared them for this. True, Punjab’s elite classes, in alliance with the Urdu-speaking elites who had crossed over from India, managed to create order out of the chaos of Partition, a remarkable feat in itself. A country was thus born but something else as important proved elusive: the quest for nationhood.

Small wonder, misgiving arose from the very start, not everyone feeling that they were equal citizens of the new state, certainly not the people of East Pakistan who despite being in a majority felt excluded from decision-making. Baloch nationalists were unhappy, Pakhtun nationalists aggrieved, they who had been in the forefront of the struggle against the British. And winds of religiosity beat down upon the land, making what were still called minorities uneasy.

Jinnah had said that religion had no place in politics, the gist of his famous address to the Constituent Assembly just a few days before independence. But here something else was happening, religious rhetoric becoming more powerful even as political and economic performance lagged far behind.

Paranoia as regards India, an insecurity which sought relief in military alliances with the United States, an obsession with religious chest-thumping, truly bizarre in a Muslim majority country where Islam should have been the last thing in danger, or the least in need of artificial props – of such humours was concocted the doctrine that came to be hailed, and indeed flaunted, as the ideology of Pakistan.

The Baloch had no fear of India. For them Kashmir was a distant proposition. In Sindh where there was a large Hindu population, the people had no problem with India or Hinduism. Neither did the Pakhtuns have any mental problems with India, despite being very religious in their everyday outlook. In the tribal areas and in places like Swat there were Sikh and Hindu communities which felt safe and co-existed happily with their Muslim neighbours.

But it was altogether different with the official Punjabi mind and that of the Urdu-speaking elites where flourished the demons of fear and insecurity, more as a political tactic than a psychological necessity because it was a good way to keep the rest of the population in line. And because these classes dominated the upper echelons of the armed forces, the ethos of the services came also to be imbued by the same fears and compulsions.

Paradoxically, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who should have been the most enlightened man of his generation fanned the flames of this anti-Indianism more than anyone else, perhaps calculating (although there can be other theories on this score) that beating the anti-India drum would best appeal to the Punjab masses. But when the wheel came full circle the movement against him in 1977 received its most powerful impetus in Punjab, and it was the Punjab bazaar and trading classes which bayed the loudest for his blood.

When Gen Zia went looking for allies against Bhutto he found the fiercest in Punjab. When President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the ISI sought to contain Benazir Bhutto in her first prime ministership they groomed a champion in the form of one Mian Nawaz Sharif, a scion of Punjab. The fateful enterprises promoted in the name of ‘jihad’ found some of their first votaries and loudest advocates in Punjab.

Land of the five rivers – what hast thou not wrought? From thy bosom arising Guru Nanak and Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain and Waris Shah, Iqbal and Faiz and Munir Niazi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Kundan Lal Saigal, Rafi and Noor Jahan, not to forget the great Sir Ganga Ram who had no equal when it came to giving, and Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his companions who had no equals when it came to laying down their lives in the cause of freedom. At the same time, land of our fathers, home to so much nonsense at the altar of faith and righteousness.

Pakistan today is largely what Punjab, for good or ill, has made it. Indian Punjab is a small part of India. Pakistani Punjab encompasses the best and worst of Pakistan. The social conservatism on display in our midst, the mental backwardness, the narrowness of outlook, the triumph of hypocrisy, the destruction of national education, the muddling up of national priorities, the temples erected to the false gods of national security – so much of this, alas, can be traced to the incapacities of Punjab.

Perhaps Ranjit Singh was an aberration, a historic anomaly – out of the mould and thus one of a kind.

Our Punjab certainly has nothing in common with his kingdom. In his army found service men of all races and religions. There were Mussalman battalions in his army and his head of artillery was Mian Ghausa, just as his principal wazir was from the Faqirkhana family of Lahore. And his favourite wife was a Muslim, Bibi Gulbahar Begam.

The PML-N has been in power in Islamabad twice before but in different circumstances, Nawaz Sharif not quite his own man in his first incarnation and, despite his huge majority, an unsure man in his second. He now comes as someone who has seen and experienced a great deal. So can he make a difference? Disavowing his past, does he have it in him to write a fresh history of Punjab?

Another thing to remember about the Lion of Punjab (the only lion, others all fake and imitations) is that he knew how to handle his Afghan problem. He defeated the Afghans and took Peshawar from them. Peshawar was part of the Sikh dominions annexed by the British. So if Peshawar and its environs are a part of Pakistan today it is because of that earlier Sikh conquest, half-forgotten in the mists of time. As Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan go prattling about talking to the Taliban they could do worse than study the Maharajah’s approach to the Afghans.

So can we get our historical compasses right? For over 2000 years on the soil of what is Pakistan today no independent realm or kingdom existed except two: the kingdom of Lahore and the state of Pakistan. The first was a success, a well-run entity, at least as long as the Maharajah was alive; the second is the shambles that we have made over the last 65 years.

Now there comes an opportunity to redeem our past. Question is, can the new rulers of Pakistan be half as good as their most illustrious predecessor, the one and only King of Punjab?


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Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
Re: What Punjab Has Done & What It Has Never Done

well written and fair..PUNJAB holds the DESTINIES of BOTH India and Pakistan..the PUNJAB is the HEAD of the South Asian Continent..has been and will always be..thats what SCARES the powers to be in DELHI....and has made them have sleepness nights since Nehru to today...

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Re: What Punjab Has Done & What It Has Never Done

The environment of that time consisted many people who wanted to destroy Sikhi, the same mentality that the Brits had, it was carried over by Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah- who was only interested in the Muslims- Mahants,Nirmales and many other people who looked like Sikhs and pretended to be such.

One can make a tree with the twigs that may just look like a tree but it is rootless hence useless. The same thing happened with the Sikhs then. To be a Sikh at that time was not a political thing but it had a behaviorally devotional aspect. That was the reason, the first son of a Hindu family used to be a Sikh which gave the Hindu family a positive centre to gravitate towards, psychologically speaking.

Master Tara Singh, the Sikh "leader" at that time was born a Hindu. The martial side of Sikhi had dissipated from the main stream Sikhi and was taken over by the Nihangs who had no role in any Sikhi decisions then, and also very cleverly by the Brits be recruiting thousands of them in the armed forces who were trained to follow orders of the Goras commanders. The percentage of Sikhs who were in the armed forces and died in the wars not for India or by defending it but with the Sikhi value of fighting against injustice, its core value which was exploited by the Brits to its apex; was many times higher than its population.

This is the reason, Sikhi was absent of any leadership skills of Sikhs like Banda Singh Bahadur and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. All the Sikh Maharajas of the Princedoms in Punjab were there to please the White English Men and the Brits knew how to pump them with false pomposity to make them feel good. Many of them could have made great leaders when Sikhi needed them but sadly they were on the other side because they were promised to keep their titles.

Mastar Tara Singh, although a very religious man did not have the savvy that the times required. That is why he had cold feet when he was offered a Sikh Country with Lahore as its capital by the Brits. He was given false promises by Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah to reject the offer but they were quite cunning to be able to sway the Brits about the partition by taking Master Tara Singh out of the equation.

The Jatt Sikhs that stayed in Pakistan side of Punjab converted themselves to Islam and became influential power brokers with time and wealth whereas Punjab on India side was cut by its limbs and divided into Himachal Pradesh and much later Haryana who were given funds to develop themselves, a lesson learned by the Congress of India from the Brits.

Despite all these handicaps, Punjab flourished, became the bread basket of India. But again due to lack of the centre leadership, the industrial complex were all grabbed by the Southern States. Many Punjabis had to leave Punjab and be successful in other states. The case in point is that Bollywood is reigned by the Punjabi transplants as are many other places in different parts of India.

Punjab may be weak but the Punjabi Spirit all over India is the wind that makes the Indian ship sail, especially in the rough seas.

Tejwant Singh
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Harry Haller

Panga Master
Jan 31, 2011
Re: What Punjab Has Done & What It Has Never Done

Maybe Punjab is weak thanks to what amounts to a huge brain drain, good news for the rest of the world, but not so much for Punjab. That Punjab spirit has been exported all over the world, Punjabi spirit exists globally, just not in Punjab



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