History of undivided Punjab, Partition
Rajmohan gandhi’s new book narrates the 240 years old history of undivided Punjab
New Delhi: Even though Partition invokes an emotional upsurge of varied experiences in both India and Pakistan, yet it’s important to objectively recollect the role of both the colonizers and the colonized in the most pro-Raj province of Punjab, says historian-biographer Rajmohan Gandhi.
In his latest book, “Punjab: A history from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten”, Rajmohan narrates a 240-year-old story of the then undivided Punjab, beginning with the death of Aurangzeb till 1947, and looks at possible reasons which led to Partition.
Rajmohan, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, says he always wanted to recount the history of undivided Punjab province until Partition which resulted in the division of the province in two parts, East and West Punjab. Reasons were both personal and academic.
“I remember growing up as a child in Delhi when it was transformed into a ‘Punjabi’ city. There were Hindus, Muslims, Jats, Mathurs and Tiwaris and then suddenly Muslim boys left my school, we then had a Punjabi principal. So many Muslims left Delhi and people from across the border came to India. My grandfather (M K Gandhi) too was killed in that context. This was the motivating force,” Gandhi told PTI in an interview.
The need to revisit what led to the partition of Punjab, a province, which contributed the most to suppress the freedom struggle strictly made him focus on the need to look objectively at the avenue.
“The Punjab trio’s second recommendation was that a native regiment should contain potentially adversarial companies. Thus, a Punjab based regiment might have a ratio of say two companies of Sikh Jats to two of Punjabi Muslims, one of the Hindu Jats (or Dogras) and two of Pashtuns. This thinking also meant that at the all-India level the three armies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras should remain segregated and have little to do with one another,” reads an excerpt from the book.
What also drew the author’s attention to recount the British Raj’s divide and rule policy were some of its stark consequences.
“The British Raj played an instrumental role in sowing the seeds of divide and rule in the province. What’s ironical is that many of these organized killings were led by the demobilized soldiers of the army killing one another. Moreover, Punjab which was the most pro-British province saw the worst violence. Both the colonizers and we have a lot to learn here,” Rajmohan says.
Sharing one of his inferences, he says, “Had the Indian National Congress (INC) negotiated well with the Unionist party based in the Punjab province, Partition may not have happened. Agreed, the Unionist party was both feudalist and a pro-empire but it did have one virtue; it was a party comprising all Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs unlike the INC.”
“The Congress had very progressive leaders like Nehru who were opposed to the idea of feudalism and proud nationalists treated the Unionists with some understandable contempt because they were pro-empire. Yet, some kind of negotiation, a dialogue may have averted partition. Who knows?” he says.
During the process of writing the book, Rajmohan refers to many primary and secondary sources. Archival papers available in Lahore, British gazetteers dating to the 19th century were some of them.
“Many civil servants during the freedom struggle also wrote up the history of places where they had been posted. It was of immense help,” he says. Rajmohan, who has no immediate plans to work on a book based on the post 1947 Punjab, believes the younger generation must work more objectively on representing the post-Independence Punjab and not mere rely on hagiographical accounts.
“Many a times, we pass on, inherit very simplified explanations like the British divided us but we really do not know what really happened. Similar crisis may face anyone in the future, this history and detailed comprehensive accounts of what we have inherited need to be understood,” he says.