Ranjit Singh : The Quintessential Indus Man

mahaeajitledBy Yasser Latif Hamdani

Today (29th June) is the 170th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Bismarck of Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa,  whose great Indus state was the forerunner of Pakistan.

Narrowminded ideologues – writing in the aftermath of bitter communal bloodletting accompanying the birth of  Pakistan-  have not been able to fully appreciate the significance of this great statesman to the state of Pakistan.   If they were to apply their minds to the history of the Punjab from late 18th to mid 19th century theywould find in support of the legal arguments employed by Jinnah a hundred years later. The great tragedy ofcourse was that Sikh leadership could  not come to terms with Jinnah in 1947 even though the latter had given them a blank cheque.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh literally cobbled together a number of principalities to forge an independent state from Kashmir to NWFP consisting of  Punjabis and Pakhtuns,  Muslims and Hindus.   This state had its own foreign relations and foreign policy.  It also showed that India was never one country but a continent which was to become  the basic premise upon which Muslim League was t0 build its case for Pakistan.   More importantly, however,  Ranjit Singh laid the foundations for the Punjabi parochialism that was to create such a huge problem for both Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League,  forcing the latter to search for a slogan that sought to tame this parochialism.   It was this powerful parochialism that Jinnah referred to when he told Mountbatten that “A Punjabi is a Punjabi before he is a Muslim or Hindu ” while arguing against the partition of the province.   This identity was given to the Punjabis by Ranjit Singh.

How did this one-eyed Sikh warrior manage to bring together Punjabi Musalmans, Sikhs, Hindus and Pushtun Musalmans together in this one great Sikh-dominated state remains a mystery.   It is said that a calligrapher tried to sell a beautifully copy of the Quran to Ranjit Singh’s Foreign Minister Fakir Azizuddin who wouldn’t buy it.    Ranjit Singh  overheard the argument, took the Holy Quran, kissed it and bought it for a price in excess of what is being asked.  When asked why he replied “God gave me one eye – so that I could see all religions with the same eye”.   Our historians would have us believe that this man defiled the Badshahi Mosque.

Perhaps the most poignant lessons that the Pakistani state can learn from the Maharaja is the way he brought the Wahabi-led Islamist insurgency against the state in form of Syed Ahmad and Shah Abdul Aziz.  These forerunners of the modern day Taliban and Al Qaeda had taken refuge in NWFP and had used the Pathan tribesmen to wage a “Jehad” against Ranjit Singh and his state which was in any event Muslim majority.    Ranjit Singh and the Army of the Indus crushed this earliest insurgency of the Taliban, pushing back Afghans who had occupied Peshawar since Mahmud Ghaznavi’s time, thus establishing  what was to become the permanent border of British India later and consequently Pakistan’s border.   It is often said that the British and Russians failed to subdue insurgencies in the tribal area.  It is suggested that the US might lose the war as well.  However, Ranjit Singh proved that the Army of Indus could defeat this insurgency.  Today another Army of the Indus is fighting yet another war in the same region to safeguard another Muslim majority state against a “Jehad”.  Inshallah the Army of the Indus will overcome.

This is no call for Punjabi parochialism lest I be mistaken- I believe in Punjab being divided up into several provinces. My interest in Ranjit Singh is purely from a Pakistani angle.  Just as we admire Tipu Sultan but do not become Mysore Nationalists,  we don’t become Punjabi nationalists by admiring Ranjit Singh.  This is however an attempt to honor one of the greatest sons of this soil from whom the Pakistani nation state can learn a thing or two in state-craft.

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40 responses to “Ranjit Singh : The Quintessential Indus Man

  1. hayyer48

    “Ranjit Singh laid the foundations for the Punjabi parochialism that was to create such a huge problem for both Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League, forcing the latter to search for a slogan that sought to tame this parochialism. It was this powerful parochialism that Jinnah referred to when he told Mountbatten that “A Punjabi is a Punjabi before he is a Muslim or Hindu ” while arguing against the partition of the province. This identity was given to the Punjabis by Ranjit Singh.”

    Ranjit Singh may have created a sense of Punjabi nationalism for the first time in the history of the Punjab, and a Punjabi identity of sorts, but would you call that ‘parochial’? The term is pejorative in the context of ‘national’. During Ranjit Singh’s time there was no India, the Mughal empire having broken up, the sub-continent was reverting to its usual state of contending sovereign states with the difference that by the time Ranjit Singh’s state built up the British had moved in place of the Mogul as the sovereign power.
    For Nehru as for Jinnah and other ‘Indian nationalists’ the Punjabis were parochial. Ranjit Singh himself and Faqir Azizuddin never knew the term, and if they had known it, it would meant nothing. The British certainly did not call Ranjit Singh a parochial ruler. Regional loyalties persist in both countries and no uber identity is going to remove the characteristics that lead to it.

  2. ylh

    Well I used the term parochialism from the angle of Indian Nationalists and other All India politicians …

    I don’t think parochialism is a bad word…parochialism has its place in a democratic system.

  3. Majumdar

    Indus Man…..Ranjit Singh….Jinnah…..Aitzaaz Ahsaan….Pakistan….. sigh. Only Porus was missing in this chain.

    Regards

  4. yasserlatifhamdani

    Interestingly … Fakir Azizuddin’s direct descendant is none other than Fakir S. Aijazuddin, the art historian, author and former minister of the federal government.

  5. Gorki

    This is an extraordinary post even for the eclectic PTH, for two reasons, first the subject of the post; Ranjit Singh and second, the author of the post YLH.

    Before I write anything about Ranjit Singh I must mention that the post was a surprise, that caught me completley off guard.
    The idea of a Muslim Pakistani scholar (even a liberal one) not only writing an article about this Sikh ruler but in effect actively co-opting him into a Pakistani-Indus narrative is an act sheer chutzpah that would be hard to beat any time soon. ;-).

    I would give anything to see the red faces of the Sangh Parivar leaders like say Advani or Modi or their equally communal partner Akalis; if they ever read this post declaring Ranjit Singh a Pakistani. 😉

    Yet it gets even better.
    Yesterday YLH was dueling with the Pakistani rightwing neo-fascists who had a hard time accepting an Ahmadi martyr as a Pakistani hero. Now with this post about a ‘Kafir’ as a forerunner of Pakistan he not only drove a stake through the heart of their ultra orthodox beliefs but also gave it a twist or two!

    Then there was this little business of the Indus-man theory doubters (including me till today).
    The icing on the cake was the way he has out flanked the usually skeptical purist historians crowd.
    Under the normal circumstances there are howls of protest from this learned group when ever the theory of Indus as a nation is mentioned and it appears to have the same effect on them as that of a nail on a chalkboard sound has on the ears. 😉

    Yet all of them were suddenly rendered speechless.
    A wide open mouthed silence….
    Even the always witty Majumdar could only manage to mumble a few somewhat random words. 😉

    YLH, I admire you for this stroke of genius. 😉

    On a serious note I can say this without any sarcasm or any irony that only a truly inspired yet a secular to the core person would write this particular post in the present circumstances.

    People have been talking of an identity (or lack of it) when they talk of Pakistan. After reading the above post, I have started to look at this issue differently. All Pakistan has to do is to acknowledge its glorious past, its heroes of the land and there is no identity crisis.

    This land and this people have always existed; yes indeed starting from King Porus, to the scholars of Taxila and the sculptors of Gandhara to the saints like Nanak and Kings like Ranjit Singh there is a rich national culture right there that would be the envy of any other river valley civilization.

    It is immaterial whether they borrowed something from India and the Ganges people or the other way around. The fact remains that there were people here. Always were and always will be. The current generation is the cultural inheritors of all of the above. No questions asked no explanations needed.

    The post is also extraordinary from another aspect; the subject.
    Ranjit Singh is remembered mostly by the lay Sikhs, who unfortunately have elevated him to a stature that is higher than that of a Saladin and Suleiman the magnificent combined.
    Unfortunately that mythic version short changes this truly remarkable man that he was and who can stand very tall on his own merits if an objective scholar were to research his legacy.

    Ranjit Singh the person often reminds me of another remarkable man Akbar the great. Both were precocious children; losing their fathers in their teens which required them to grow up fast in the shadow of danger.
    Both remained unlettered but highly inquisitive, encouraging scholars and patronizing artists.
    Both were great soldiers and statesmen, yet liberal in outlook, unbelievably secular and humane for their ages; with ample personal charm, empathy and warmth.

    Akbar is celebrated by many Indians, both Muslims and non Muslims as one of the greatest sons of India. Ranjit Singh would be a strong contender for that title in Pakistan.

    YLH by writing this post has converted me from being a confident and an amused skeptic of the Indus man theory to a self doubter of my own judgement.

    Well Done.

  6. bonobashi

    @Gorki

    …..”is half begun.”

    The battle of the Hydaspes seems to be won. Let us grant it so. There is a step more. Twenty thousand elephants await your pleasure. Will it please Your Mercies to cross the Ganges? We shall strive to entertain you as best as we can! 😀

    Seriously, it was well argued, though not completely sound. Not for the usual reasons; like you, I find this sweet music to my ears, and the direction and nature of the attack on conventional wisdom is nothing short of genius. If battle is to be joined, and that is not certain, it will be joined on deep and important matters, not on trivialities. Those deep and important matters lie beyond what YLH has argued in this present, and it would be churlish to extend his arguments artificially to cover those matters.

    We should concede him the honours for a brilliant essay and a brilliant extension of an argument, and hold back our own counter-arguments for a less daunting moment. That is my personal inclination. This, today, is his victory, out and out.

  7. Majumdar

    Gorki,

    Ranjit Singh would be a strong contender for that title in Pakistan.

    That would be possible only if Pakistan stops seeing itself as the Fort of Islam.

    Btw, is the story of the Badshahi Mosque being used as a stable true?

    Regards

  8. On the 14th of August 2002, I wrote a long piece in OpenDemocracy on the subject: Past in the Present -India,Pakistan & History. I quote the relevant part in support of Yasser Hamdani’s beautifully reasoned argument. Here it is:
    “Long after he had retired from government but not too long after the crushing of the Sikh Independence movement by Indira Gandhi and her sons, her erstwhile foreign minister, Swaran Singh, passed through a foreign airport where he was cornered by a posse of prowling journalists. Until then, Swaran had managed to conceal any public display of his anguish at the way successive Indian governments, including those he had served, had treated Sikh aspirations.

    This time he opened up a little, revealing his perception that, under a courageous, far-sighted leadership, the future of the subcontinent as a whole could have been a confederal one. Eventually, the national aspirations of the individual ethnic groups that make up the population would have to be recognised, he believed. This would not need to result in the disintegration of either India or Pakistan. But power would have to be devolved. The confederal units would need to be empowered. If this happened in both countries, the borders and divisions between them would become irrelevant.

    Singh also dwelt at length on the mechanics of devolution itself. Indian (and Pakistani) provinces are too big and unwieldy, this being one reason why they are so difficult to rule. They would need to be subdivided into smaller entities. As he saw it, the result would be a more effective democracy.

    Members of Parliament (MPs) who now represent constituencies of over a million would represent a tenth or less of that population. Since all levels of governments would come down several notches, the rulers (or representatives) would be more accessible to their constituents. No unit would want to break away because the centre would have only the barest minimum of subjects – echoes of Mujibur Rahman’s Six Points Programme, which the then ruler of Pakistan and almost all the major politicians of the Western Wing refused. The raising of revenues would be the domain of the federating units, and since no unit’s residual powers would be encroached none would feel threatened or insecure.

    Devolution: against the political grain
    hapappa
    Who knows if Swaran Singh had lived or had propagated his new beliefs with the tenacity with which he had served centre-focused Prime Ministers, some practical politicians might have relayed the baton to a victorious finish. But Singh’s pipe dream, as far as can be ascertained, died with him. There is no one of stature in either country to take it forward.

    The difficulty with selling such an idea to the current generation of myopic, self-serving and utterly unscrupulous politicians is that, apart from their obvious shortcomings, they are too cowardly and unimaginative to take a radical approach. They are prisoners of the genies they themselves released. The media is either too timid, too hidebound or too much under the control of regimes, or those with a vested interest in so-called strong governments, to take up the challenge. “

  9. Long after he had retired from government but not too long after the crushing of the Sikh Independence movement by Indira Gandhi and her sons, her erstwhile foreign minister, Swaran Singh, passed through a foreign airport where he was cornered by a posse of prowling journalists. Until then, Swaran had managed to conceal any public display of his anguish at the way successive Indian governments, including those he had served, had treated Sikh aspirations.

    This time he opened up a little, revealing his perception that, under a courageous, far-sighted leadership, the future of the subcontinent as a whole could have been a confederal one. Eventually, the national aspirations of the individual ethnic groups that make up the population would have to be recognised, he believed. This would not need to result in the disintegration of either India or Pakistan. But power would have to be devolved. The confederal units would need to be empowered. If this happened in both countries, the borders and divisions between them would become irrelevant.

    Singh also dwelt at length on the mechanics of devolution itself. Indian (and Pakistani) provinces are too big and unwieldy, this being one reason why they are so difficult to rule. They would need to be subdivided into smaller entities. As he saw it, the result would be a more effective democracy.

    Members of Parliament (MPs) who now represent constituencies of over a million would represent a tenth or less of that population. Since all levels of governments would come down several notches, the rulers (or representatives) would be more accessible to their constituents. No unit would want to break away because the centre would have only the barest minimum of subjects – echoes of Mujibur Rahman’s Six Points Programme, which the then ruler of Pakistan and almost all the major politicians of the Western Wing refused. The raising of revenues would be the domain of the federating units, and since no unit’s residual powers would be encroached none would feel threatened or insecure.

    Devolution: against the political grain
    hapappa
    Who knows if Swaran Singh had lived or had propagated his new beliefs with the tenacity with which he had served centre-focused Prime Ministers, some practical politicians might have relayed the baton to a victorious finish. But Singh’s pipe dream, as far as can be ascertained, died with him. There is no one of stature in either country to take it forward.

    The difficulty with selling such an idea to the current generation of myopic, self-serving and utterly unscrupulous politicians is that, apart from their obvious shortcomings, they are too cowardly and unimaginative to take a radical approach. They are prisoners of the genies they themselves released. The media is either too timid, too hidebound or too much under the control of regimes, or those with a vested interest in so-called strong governments, to take up the challenge.

  10. ylh

    Gorki sb,

    Thanks for the kind words. It is too much praise for me to take. I am a mere medium…I owe it to this land in which my father sleeps to keep telling its story…so that we don’t forget.

    Porus, Dullah bhatti, Bhagat Singh, bullay shah, waris shah and above all the revered Gurunanak…this is our identity, ideology, ethos and culture…this fusion alone makes us uniquely Pakistan. We are nothing if not this,

    It is a magnificent heritage…we can’t foresake it just because we are Muslims.

  11. bonobashi

    @YLH

    After reading your demurring response to Gorki, I can only conclude that you are a hopeless judge of your own work. That article showed the inner vision of an outstanding mind, a mind bordering on genius (I hesitate to use the word only because something more substantial is now rapidly becoming overdue).

    It will be interesting to re-visit this article after another twenty years and see how it is regarded then; unfortunately, others may have to do that on my behalf. 😉 I would then be close to a thousand moons.

  12. Gorki

    YLH :
    Porus, Dullah bhatti, Bhagat Singh, bullay shah, waris shah and above all the revered Gurunanak…
    …..Kanishka… Mian Meer…Faiz A. Faiz…Faraz….Dr. Abdus Salam…A. Ahsan…Rana Bhagwan Das….YL Hamdani…U. Sadozai… the list is way too long but the point is clear.

    Majumdar:
    1. Ranjit Singh would be a strong contender for that title in Pakistan.
    That would be possible only if Pakistan stops seeing itself as the Fort of Islam.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    You are absolutely right.
    A Pakistan with a truly secular constitution is needed first before that happens.
    Morover it is needed urgently; not so much to restore the legacy of bygone heroes but to restore the dignity of today’s citizens such as the persecuted Ahmadis.

    It is for this reason that YLH’s words below are so welcome:

    “ this fusion alone makes us uniquely Pakistan. We are nothing if not this. It is a magnificent heritage…we can’t foresake it just because we are Muslims”.

    2. Btw, is the story of the Badshahi Mosque being used as a stable true?
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    I have read the same on the wikipedia but so far have not been able to find the time to look up the reference for it or to the contrary.

    I must say taht it sounds unlike Ranjit Singh to deliberately do something like this though. Khushwant Singh wrote in his two volume ‘History of the Sikhs’ about the entry of Ranjit Singh in to Lahore and he quoted the historian Sohan Lal saying that one of the first acts of Ranjit Singh was to pray at the Badshahi Mosque.
    He also wrote that Ranjit Singh actively snubbed a suggestion by Akali fanatics to convert another mosque into a Gurdwara.
    Moreover Ranjit Singh who had occupied Lahore after being invited to do so by its Muslim population to rid them of the misrule of other Sikh chieftains was acutely aware of the fact that his fellow Sikhs were a minority not only in Lahore but the entire Punjab (less than 20% of the population by one account) thus he had made every attempt to go out of the way to establish himself as a Punjabi ruler rather than a Sikh one.

    It is more likely that the Badshahi Mosque was misused by the previous Sikh chieftains of Lahore (The Bhangis) who by every account were terrible overlords. (The term ‘Sikka Shahi’ meaning despotism was coined about them).
    Also remember that from 1740 onwards till 1801, Punjab and Lahore were hotly contested battlegrounds and exchanged hands many times and were looted and plundered in the process. Most cities and monuments suffered terribly during this period.

    Good sources about Ranjit Singh may be books from non Sikh sources.
    A biography was written by the descendants of his prime minister Faqir Azizuddin called the ‘Real Ranjit Singh’. I do not have a copy but have only read passages from it.
    Another Muslim source about the Punjabi kingdom is the ‘Jang Nama’ by Shah Mohammed a poem of epic dimensions in terms of length and romantic style. It is about the courage of the Punjabi army in the Anglo Sikh wars.

    Both these accounts show Ranjit Singh in a very favorable light. Other than this, I can not say much but would be very interested if any other PTH reader\historian has something to add.

    Bonobashi:

    The battle of the Hydaspes seems to be won. Let us grant it so. There is a step more. Twenty thousand elephants await your pleasure. Will it please Your Mercies to cross the Ganges? We shall strive to entertain you as best as we can.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Thanks for the offer old Chap; the Army of Indus has deflated the Macedonian’s phalanxes and his ego enough on the banks of Hydaspes so that you can sleep in peace on the ghats of Benares. 😉

    On a serious note, the Indus people can take pride in the prowess of their ancestors.
    Of all the battles that Alexander fought, the battles on the Indus river were by all accounts the hardest by far.

    He probably died as a result of complications of the arrow wound inflicted on him by an unknown Indus soldier.

  13. Bloody Civilian

    restore the dignity of today’s citizens such as the persecuted Ahmadis. and the humanity of the non-ahmadis. we can be nothing if we cannot even be human.

  14. bonobashi

    @Gorki

    As you very well know, matters historical are an open invitation to battle for me.

    Some forty years ago, in presenting a paper to a select academic audience, a researcher found to his astonishment that there was circumstantial evidence that the battle of Hydaspes may not have been the total Alexandrine victory that is depicted after all. It seems from the evidence, and especially from the evidence of the dog that did not bark, to have been more in the nature of a draw! There are distinct indications that Porus was not treated like a defeated king by Alexander, but like a formidable, unsolved military problem that had to be neutralised quickly, which the Macedonian did with his customary, decisive sense of the occasion.

    While this is not the forum nor the occasion for analysing this battle, which will risk the remaining readership of PTH taking to their heels and vowing never to return, your response to me may now read differently, with a heavier timbre of voice and a deeper meaning than ever before.

    A last academic quibble: the arrow wound that Alexander suffered was not at this battle. Be aware, however, that during his Indus campaign, Alexander put himself in harm’s way successfully a number of times: on one occasion, in his berserk fury, he managed to put himself in the midst of the enemy, on the wrong side of a still-defended city wall, yards away from the Companions. These frights finally wore down the increasingly fragile nerves of the superb core battle apparatus that Philip had designed and deployed.

  15. bonobashi

    A last thought, directed at YLH and our Pakistani, not Indus, friends: Western propaganda was active and effective against the denizens of the Indus basin as early as 2,300 years ago.

    Take heart; they’ve had a lot of practice.

  16. hayyer48

    Gorki:
    Unlike you I am still unconvinced about the Indus man; as much as I was in my rather long post many moons ago.

  17. bonobashi

    @hayyer48

    Neither am I convinced about the Indus Man, for slightly different reasons. It is just that I felt that within the boundaries of that argument, the example of Ranjit Singh was brilliant, and a powerful one to use, which disarms any suspicion of parochial sympathy or leaning.

    There will be other occasions.

  18. Gorki

    Hayyer, Bonobashi:

    I am not entirely sold on the idea either but I do admit that YLH has penetrated my smug confidence which I had before (against the Indus man theory).

    I am now more open to atleast read the alternative explanation of history that this theory provides.

  19. aps gill

    yasser veer,
    punjab is the land where, as u have said, our fathers and their fathers sleep now. jinnah was right, a punjabi is a punnjabi first, and its later tht he calls to being a mussalman, sikh or a hindu. ur article on ranjit singh is great and in my view, he was the only true native ruler tht we punjabis had since i think porus back in alexanders time.
    regarding ranjit singhs demolishing a mosque, i dont believe it. he had fanatical nihangs in his army but he was a punjabi ruler, not a sikh ruler. i have read many books and he always prayed at badshahi masjid whenever her entered lahore. also, he went to shrines of madho hussian lal on every basant.
    it was in his times tht punjabi nationalism evolved to wht it is today. whwtever happened in 47 was insanity but its gone now, it never stayed in punjabi hearts. i often talk to my father and he still speaks about the mussalmans who left india and he always calls them as chacha basheera, taya sikka, bebe nassebo. i m sure the same true on ur side. its one of the legacies of ranjit singh.
    aps gill

  20. Chathan Vemuri

    Ranjit Singh was a forerunner of Punjabi unity and strength in the northwestern section of the Indian subcontinent, covering much if not most of what is today Pakistan. He clearly counts as a major historical figure or respect for contemporary Pakistanis. It is good that a new generation of Pakistanis are embracing him.

    However, I’m not exactly sure he made the same impact on the Pashtuns or can be considered as phenomenal for Pashtuns as he is for the people in the Punjab or Sindh. Not to stir up ethnic feelings here, but the Afghans/Pashtuns were in direct conflict with him several times throughout history and viewed him as an enemy encroaching on their lands in Peshawar, Swat, Charsadda, etc.
    I don’t think he can be considered a Pashtun hero or role model lol.

    It should also be kept in mind that Ranjit Singh was not looking to become a political unifier among the peoples of the northwest. He was a conqueror, first and foremost, and his desire was sovereignty over the rest of the Punjab and surrounding lands. I don’t think a realist-based Punjabi empire can count as a predecessor for the ideals of the contemporary Pakistani state. Nor can the similarly formed Pashtun empire of Ahmed Shah Durrani (which actually covered all of Pakistan, and Afghanistan) be considered a forerunner either.

    Just some thoughts, though.

  21. Suv

    I don’t agree with the conclusions of the post. While Ranjit Singh had an empire which had independent foreign policy it cannot be said India was never one country. Mauryans and Mughals had almost all of India. Even if India was not united politically it was united culturally.

    Also I find Jinnah’s stance on Punjab a bit disingenuous. If he said “Punjabi is a Punjabi before he is a Hindu or a Muslim” then why did not extend the argument to say “Indian is an Indian before he is Hindu or Muslim”. I wonder if he really meant it or just wanted more territory for Pakistan.

    Also why did Sikhs not trust Muslim League despite “blank cheque” given to them. It seems that they trusted secular India more although there was no blank cheque. It is sad that India let them down in 1984 but they have prospered in India by dint of their hard work and entreprenurial spirit.

  22. YLH

    Suv,

    What Jinnah said was quite logical but you would have to break through the established fixed ideas of Indian and Pakistani nationalisms to understand it…. I do not say that it amounts to imagining Time as a flowing river …. but it certainly requires looking at things in their proper legal perspective.

    South Asia always existed in multi-layered identity framework… that was its strength. Any individual belonged to several spheres of identity simultaneously … British rule built upon these parochial identities.

    When Jinnah spoke of sub-national identities he was merely suggesting that linguistic identity was the smallest building unit in this multi-layered identity framework. The Hindu-Muslim divide was interim and the sense of Indianness was above it.

    He had come to this conclusion rightly or wrongly after having struggled with his own conception of “Indian first second and last” for over 33 years give or take in nationalist politics.

    Since Jinnah promised a secular state as well as autonomy from Nankana sahib to the rest of each Punjab during his negotiations with the Sikh leadership … the choice before Sikhs was either accepting a Muslim majority state or a Hindu majority state… and some would argue they chose wisely…. but then that begs a what if… that is both futile and useless.

  23. Milind Kher

    Despite Sikhism being a monotheistic faith, the Sikhs have always felt a greater affinity towards the Hindus.

    The martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev, of Guru Teg Bahadur and thereafter that of Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh (sons of Guru Gobind Singh) created a dislike in Sikh minds for Muslims.

    Therefore, the Sikhs must have opted to be part of East Punjab.

    However, now a time has come when we have to set aside all these differences and work together as equal members of the human race

  24. Chathan Vemuri

    Suv,
    There was never one nation or cultural entity across all of India. You’re again quoting cliched national histories on “timeless, ancient, spiritual India”, originated by the West and its Orientalist scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries.

    India was much more like Europe. A cultural region or sphere of diverse peoples, languages and customs, bound by common trends but interpreted differently.
    But it is not homogenous and it is not a ‘cultural unity’ as Germany, England or European Russia is.
    A Telegu (what I am) has as much in common with a UP Brahmin as a Spanish bullfighter has with a Polish butcher.

  25. Chathan Vemuri

    “Why did he say “Punjab is a Punjabi, Hindu or Muslim and not an Indian is an Indian”?
    Simple, there was no India!
    Punjabi perceptions of “one-ness” predate any pan-Subcontinent sense of national oneness.
    The Subcontinent is a cultural region but its not a national-cultural unity.
    In many ways, its ironic. European colonists were able to give India the idea of itself as a unified cultural nation to maintain its unity, thus the impetus behind the modern Indian Independence movement of the 1870’s onwards (not the older ones of the Mutiny, etc).
    But Europeans are still struggling to unite their own turf under a common political organization of independent nations. Although much progress has been made on that since the 90’s to be sure.

  26. Chathan Vemuri

    Its funny how many Pakistanis and Indians today view the partition as the departure of South Asian Muslims of (Persian-Arab-Afghan) origin from Hindu India.
    Back in 1947, it wasn’t viewed that way. Jinnah never discarded the identity of Pakistan as part of a region called “India”. He still saw himself as an Indian. Thus why he protested when the Congress Republic took up the name “India” as opposed to “Hindustan”. Not so much because of any shock at the Congress state wanting to be secular but because he saw that tactic as depriving Pakistan of its rightful share of that heritage, of being part of the Subcontinent, of that region. He didn’t think of a Pakistan seceding from India so much as a India being shared between two nations.
    Even so, at first he didn’t conceive of a politically divided India to begin with. He conceded a united India to the Congress on several occasions during the 30’s and 40’s, right up to the pragmatic (yet flawed, imo) 1945 Cabinet Mission Plan of a de-centralized India with many powers going to federated units of provinces and only communications, defense and foreign relations remaining with the Center.
    Which is not to say he didn’t make mistakes or errors of judgment, which he did. He was not infallible. Neither was Gandhi. None of those people were.

  27. Chathan Vemuri

    Actually not ‘conceded’.
    That’s what he wanted all along I think.
    Just not the Fabian Congressite utopia of Nehru.

  28. Milind Kher

    In the Mahabharata, Sindhu Desh, Avanti, Kalinga etc have been referred to as separate nations. During the time of Ashoka, it did come under one umbrella, but even then it was a matter of suzerainty rather than sovereignty.

    In later years, Aurangzeb achieved something similar.

    Even in the above cases, there were parts of the Dravidian kingdom and tribal areas which were unconquered.

  29. Chathan Vemuri

    I don’t deny that?

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  32. Ganpat Ram

    GORKI:

    I have heard that Ranjit Singh was more a Hindu than anything else.

    What is the vtruth of that?

  33. Gorki

    Ganpat:

    Ranjit Singh was a Jat Sikh of the Sukerchakia Misl (clan). His father Maha Singh and grandfather Charat Singh were chieftains of this clan before him. While he has no direct descendants left, his closest kinsmen are the Sandhawalias; recognized as Sikh nobility under the British and several of whom have served in the Indian administrative positions and in the Indian army. They are all practicing Sikhs.

    The Jats of Punjab though are a rather ubiquitous group, and present in large numbers among the Hindus and the Muslims as well.

    On a personal level, Ranjit Singh’s life shared some uncanny features with another Indian monarch; Emperor Akbar. Both lost their fathers early in life (while teenagers) and therefore were asked to lead more or less independently early in life. Perhaps because of that, they never received any formal education; religious or otherwise.
    Like Akbar, Ranjit Singh ruled a kingdom in which own faith was a minority faith. Thus it made good politics to appear secular. However there is evidence that both men were sincerely very open minded and non dogmatic in their personal beliefs.

    Besides both were born leaders; and as such good judge of men who recognized men of ability regardless of faith and employed them in senior positions in the administeration. Because of all this, it is reported that both of them were genuinely liked by their subjects.

    Ranjit Singh did indeed perform acts of piety; (The major renovation of the Golden Temple was undertaken during his reign) but it is reported that he took care to appear even handed; thus similar repairs were undertaken for some Masjids and he was a big donor to temples across north India including in Benaras.
    Also as an act of piety, his coins were stamped in the name of Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Nanak and did not carry his personal image (I think the later was also good politics because he had ended the unruly Sikh Misl System which had earlier been organized as a brotherhood of equals and established a monarchy instead, but he claimed it in the name of the ‘Khalsa’ rather than in his personal capacity).

    In the Lahore court, he was careful to observe Hindu and Muslim festivals besides those of the Sikhs. All this made his task easier.

    In his personal life, he had Sikh, Hindu and Muslim women in his harem (which was rather modest at 37; given the custom of the royalty of the day.) Regarding his core beliefs; I think he was again like Emperor Akbar, and did not really care much oneway or the other.
    Regards.

  34. Ganpat Ram

    GORKI:

    Thanks a lot. That throws a lot of light on things.

    (I am becoming a great flatterer too, it seems. Just like I said poor old Vajra was ! Wonder why he is quiet these days?)

    At any rate, Ranjit Singh was one of the few effective rulers in Indian history.

    Maybe, too, the Sikhs of those times did not see themselves very distintive from Hindus.

  35. Dear Ganpat:
    I know from my sources that Vajra is otherwise occupied (with personal affairs) otherwise by now he would have come back with more historical information about the jats, their customs; the origins of those customs; and trivia about the courts of that times than we would care to know. 😉

    I think he has learnt and forgotten more history about the Indian Sub continent; ancient Greece and ancient Rome than most people even suspect exists.

    I hope he jumps in at some point to correct any inaccuraries in my account above (which I quickly wrote down from memory).

    Regards.

  36. Vajra

    @Gorki

    otherwise by now he would have come back with more historical information about the jats, their customs; the origins of those customs; and trivia about the courts of that times than we would care to know.

    “Never trouble trouble unless trouble troubles you.”

    Enjoy the peace and quiet. I am free from personal ordeals by April end.

  37. PMA

    Gorki (March 29, 2010 at 9:57 am):

    “Ranjit Singh did indeed perform acts of piety; (The major renovation of the Golden Temple was undertaken during his reign) but it is reported that he took care to appear even handed; thus similar repairs were undertaken for some Masjids and he was a big donor to temples across north India including in Benaras.”

    Sir, you have previously identified yourself as a Punjabi Sikh from India and now in the defence of your co-religionists you are trying to paint a picture which is not true.

    You will know that marble and red sandstone, two decorative materials of construction favored by the Mughals and later on re-used to decorate Sikh Temples are not local to Amritsar or Lahore. There is enough recorded evidence, thanks to European artists and historians, that upon ascension to throne at Lahore, Ranjeet Singh striped off all of the Mughal monuments and took the marble to Amritsar to decorate the Sikh Golden Temple.

    The marble domes and copulas of the historic Badshahi Masjad were removed and materials transported to the Golden Temple.

    The the most significant mosque of the Mughal period was converted into a military warehouse and a stable for the Sikh Army. The Mausoleums of Emperor Jahangir, Empress Noor Jahan, Grand Vazir Asif Jah were equally desecrated and ruined by the Sikhs of Punjab. These historic building were only later on saved from complete destruction by the Brits.

    From your postings here at PTH we have learned that you a fair and decent man. Please do not loose your sense of fairness. Please try to see the forty years of the Sikh rule of the Punjab for what it was and not what you wish it to be.

    And about Mr. Yasser Lateef Hamadani. Well, in search of ‘secularism’ he has entered into the dens of thieves, robbers and murderers. When comes to Ranjeet Singh and his Sikh gangs of the nineteenth century he knows not for what he speaks. Please forgive him.

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  39. Shaleen Mathur

    Why do people of Indus & people of Ganges have to see other only in competition. Combined & together we can be a global superpower. Today’s desperate poverty & social backwardness is because of this competition. Whatever Ranjit Singh was he was a North Indian (Indus+Gangetic) hero. If Induswalla & Gangawalla’s compete then Kabul, Kaveri, Hoogliwalla’s beat & dominate us.

  40. @Shaleen Mathur

    Did you mean in military terms, in economic terms or any other?

    In military terms, Kaveri-wallas or their near kin, and Hoogliwallas and their near kin have not dominated Induswallas and Gangawallas except during the Tripartite Rivalry (Rastrakutas vs. Rajputs vs. Palas) and under the British, when they formed the bulk of the Sepoy Armies when the British took on the Lahore Kingdom, thereafter the Afghans.

    In economic terms, these were both dominant because of their access to the sea and to foreign trade, through much of Indian history, although the details are slowly being brought to light by dedicated scholars like Ashin DasGupta.

    In other terms? Perhaps education had a role to play. You might like to look up the record of British destruction of educational systems, and the sudden deterioration of educational standards in the Punjab after the British took over. I am not sure about what happened in other parts of the Indus hinterland.