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Diminishing Punjab

Punjab conundrum


Diminishing Punjab

Ashraf Rashid Siddiqi

Pity the nation divided into fragments. Each fragment deeming itself a nation-— Khalil Gibran

At the time of Partition, British India comprised 11 provinces, including Punjab. The natural routes for invaders from ancient times were across the great mountain ranges in the northwest. The brunt of the invasions was invariably borne by Punjab, which has remained a perpetual zone of conflict and been ruled by one foreign power or the other.

The capture of an Arab ship by pirates near Debal led to the invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 711 AD. But his early recall and execution checked further conquest. Indeed, it was not before the lapse of three centuries that our province faced the onslaught of Muslim armies. Mahmud Ghaznavi marched to the plains of Punjab through the Khyber Pass and invaded India 12 times between 1001 and 1023 AD. The honour of establishing Muslim rule in India, more than a-century-and-a-half later, however, belongs to Shahabuddin Ghori. After some initial setbacks he succeeded in annexing Punjab and Sindh.

Punjab has always remained on the boil, but the period encompassing a century from the rise of Afghan power (1748) till Punjab’s annexation by the British (1849) can be called the blackest chapter in the history of this province. The unceasing military contests between the four powers-the Mughals, the Marhatas, the Pathans and the Sikhs – caused immense misery to the people. Accounts of betrayal, fraud, intrigue and corruption on the one hand and destruction, pillaging, enslavement, plunder and desecration on the other, present a most obnoxious and revolting picture of the times.

In the meantime, India was faced with a new kind of invasion. The seafaring nations of Europe – Portugal, Holland, France and Britain – were competing with each other to monopolise the lucrative trade with India and the East Indies. The British prevailed over the other contenders and by 1800 were in full control of the three Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. Their conquest proceeded from the south to the north. In the Second Sikh War, Gen Gough destroyed the Sikh army at the battle of Gujrat, which led to the annexation of Punjab in 1849. This was the last province to be annexed. The British occupation proved a great blessing and the following 99 years were an era of peace and prosperity for Punjab.

Cartography was not unknown to the Mughals but the few extant maps of the period are unscientific and rudimentary. With the setting up of the Survey Department by the East India Company in 1767 at Calcutta, our knowledge about the boundaries of various parts of the country improves tremendously. The first Skeleton Map of the Punjab and Surrounding Countries compiled in the office of the surveyor general of India in September 1872 determines the boundaries of the province exactly. 

At this juncture the province consisted of 6 Divisions, namely Delhi, Jallandur, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and the Derajat. There were 31 districts in all, the largest number, seven, belonging to Delhi and the smallest, three, to Peshawar.

Lying on the cross-roads of history Punjab is inhabited by descendants of numerous invaders from the time of the Aryan migration some 5,000 years ago. In more recent history the province has seen rulers like Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Pathans, Sikhs and the British. The majority of the population, of course, comprised Muslim converts, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhist and Parsis. They all strived for power and pelf but no one left the territory or divided it.

The rapid expansion of the Russian Empire was viewed with consternation by the British and led to the adoption of Forward Policy. In 1900, the North West Frontier areas of Punjab were detached and put under the charge of a chief commissioner by Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, despite furious opposition by the lieutenant governor of the province. This was done purely on administrative grounds but unwittingly Lord Curzon not only fractured geography but opened the floodgates of ethnicity.

When the capital of India was moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912, Punjab lost not only the symbol of Muslim power in the subcontinent but also its multilingual and multiethnic character. In 1947 the province was divided on communal, basis which resulted in enormous loss of life and property and caused large-scale migration of populations.

To gain advantage, the so-called politicians are now intent on further mutilating the province by carving out Saraiki and Bahawalpur provinces. Administrative reconfiguration is different from political division; the former can unite the people but the latter has invariably resulted in acrimony and human suffering. The only gainers will be a few politicians and bureaucrats who will occupy the posts of governors, chief ministers, ministers, chief secretaries, inspectors general of police, etc. A diminished Punjab would in fact mean a diminished Pakistan.

The writer is a retired chief secretary.

Curtsey:The News: Friday, June 15, 2012 

Punjab conundrum

Ashraf Rashid Siddiqi

The birth of Bangladesh in 1971 was the case of the majority population of a country deciding to secede. The Bangladeshis complained of disparity in services and economic backwardness with special reference to Punjab. Today the three provinces of what remains nurse the same kind of grudge against Punjab. There is history behind this.

At the outbreak of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the East India Company had three Presidency Armies in India: the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army. Each army was independent, with its own commander-in-chief. The Bengal Army was the largest, but surprisingly did not have Bengali soldiers. Most of the recruits came from Bihar, Oudh and Rohilkhand. The issue of greased cartridges led to the outbreak of the Mutiny on May 10, 1857, at Meerut. The soldiers of the Third Cavalry were the first to stage an armed uprising. They were soon joined by the 11th and the 20th Native Infantry. 

The main centres of the Mutiny besides Meerut were Barrackpore, Delhi, Cawnpore and Lucknow. As soon as the mutineers from Meerut reached Delhi the native units posted there also revolted. The mutineers gathered around the aged Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was compelled to acquiesce in their dangerous undertaking. At this time the proportion of British to Indian troops was precarious – i.e., one to nine – but the impression that the majority of Indian soldiers rose against their British officers is incorrect. Less than half of the Bengal Army was disaffected. The Bombay Army and the Madras Army remained steadfast and loyal. It was expected that their loyalty would be rewarded by greater recruitment from the south but the services rendered by Punjab in those crucial days were exceptional.

For the last time Hindus and Muslims had come together to regain independence. Lacking in leadership, having no plan of action and a vast number of their compatriots remaining loyal to the British, the mutineers nevertheless posed an existential threat to British rule. Delhi, the capital of Muslim power, was the bastion of defiance and, unless dealt with quickly, the insurrectionary movement was likely to spread to other parts of the country. The British troops were too few, too committed and in some cases far away from the theatre of conflict. Col H C Wylly, C B, writes: “The strength of the besieging force was, however, desperately low for the task before it; for even as late as July 18, 1857-more than a fortnight, that is after the arrival of the 1st Punjab Infantry-Brigadier-General Wilson, then commanding the troops before Delhi, wrote that, our force comprises 2,200 Europeans and 1,500 Punjabis. The enemy is without number, having being reinforced from all points, well equipped and strongly entrenched. The siege is on their part, not on ours.” Through fortuitous circumstances the administrators of Punjab at this juncture were men of exceptional calibre and were serving under a formidable chief commissioner, John Lawrence.

They had recently raised the Punjab Irregular Force, including the famous Corps of Guides. This force was dispatched from Punjab under the command of Brig Gen John Nicholson. During the siege operation lasting more than 12 weeks, British forces suffered 3,837 causalities including Brig Gen Nicholson him. In the meanwhile, John Lawrence was able to raise a force of 80,000 Levies in Punjab, all of whom had remained loyal. In his letter to Lord Canning, the Viceroy, Lawrence wrote “There can be no fear that we shall not be able to raise native troops enough. The Punjabis say that God has sent this disturbance to give them a fair share of the Company’s employment.”

In the post-Mutiny period militarisation of Punjab kept growing. For about nine decades encompassing the period from 1857 to the creation of Pakistan, millions and millions of Punjabi Muslims, Pathans (the NWFP was part of Punjab till 1900), the Sikhs and the Hindu Jats served in the Indian army with distinction. Those classified as Punjabi Muslims comprised the Gakhhars, Janjuas, Awans and Rajput Tiwanas.

My late father (who was military accountant general) used to say that the prosperity of Punjab depended to a great extent on huge sums disbursed in military pays, pensions and rewards since 1857. After Partition the civil service also came to be dominated by Punjab.

In addition, the British made special efforts to develop infrastructure like roads, bridges and railways to bring Punjab at par with other developed provinces. An extensive network of canals was put in place to bring vast barren tracts under cultivation.

On the eve of independence, Punjab was a very prosperous province. On the other hand, East Pakistan was the backwater of Bengal. Sind and the NWFP were similarly backward, while Balochistan was about the poorest and least developed. Apart from other incongruities the societal lag between various provinces and other territories of present-day Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan) was seemingly unbridgeable. Pakistan inherited two universities: Punjab University was established in 1882 and Dacca University in 1920. 

Sind and the NWFP had a few colleges but Balochistan was blessed with only a high school (Sandeman High School, Quetta). The territories comprising Azad Kashmir also had a high school while Gilgit-Baltistan’s lone middle school was located in Gilgit. One evidence of educational disparity was that only Punjab’s Shakargarh Tehsil had five high schools in 1947. Murray College, Sialkot, had been established 123 years ago. Zamindara College, Gujrat, had similarly been set up a long time ago. The first inter college in Rawalpindi was established as early as 1893. That there can be no progress, political or economic, without education is axiomatic. Pakistan’s decline can rightly be attributed to the lack of investment in education by successive governments. In recent years the vacuum has been filled to some extent by the private sector, but not without harmful effects. How is it that our rulers do not understand a simple fact known universally; there can be no democracy without education? 

L F Rushbrook Williams, director of the Indian government’s Central Bureau of Information, had written the following prophetic words in a report for presentation to the British parliament in 1920: “India’s educational problems, framed as they are upon a Gargantuan scale, must find their solution writ proportionately large. Expenditure to a figure hitherto undreamed must be faced courageously and speedily. For without education, India will be confronted in no long time with that supreme peril of modern states, an uninformed democracy, omnipotent but irresponsible.”

The writer is a former chief secretary
The News: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 










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