His book on Punjab seeks to recapture 240 years of history

No matter how outstanding leaders are, they cannot bring about a change unless they carry others along, said Rajmohan Gandhi, who released his new book, Punjab — A history from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, here on Thursday.

A packed hall at the Institute of Strategic Studies heard Mr. Gandhi’s talk on “Understanding Pakistan and India through the prism of undivided Punjab” and queued up afterwards for an impromptu book signing. While he was here, he had heard that the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan must be locked up in a room to find a solution to the tensions between the two countries, he said. But, even if they did find a solution, it could not be imposed on the people of the two countries. “We demand too much from our leaders — they cannot create a solution unless there is a wide enough consensus,” he said.

Even in 1947, which saw the worst killings, many in the Punjab protected one another, he said. In fact, people of both communities who had protected others were far more than those who killed. There were many brave and successful attempts — this was an under-reported story of 1947 with which he had dealt with in his book. The pressure for India and Pakistan to reconcile with each other should come from the grassroots, Mr. Gandhi said.

His sole aim was to recapture the 240 years of Punjab’s history and, as he was born and raised in Delhi, he could not help being influenced by the traumatic events of Partition, his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and the killing of thousands of people. . There were not many studies on Punjab history. Someone had to do it and he thought he should not be afraid to try it, he said. He also clarified that he did not intend to provide any judgment or prove or disprove beliefs. His study showed that when empires were in retreat, they focussed not so much on the people they ruled; withdrawal was their priority. The British had created a remarkable army and half of India’s soldiers were from the Punjab. However, while the British used the army to suppress the Naval revolt in Bombay, Karachi and other places in 1946, when it came to dealing with violence in 1947, they took the view that the Indians had asked them to quit and it was their responsibility to address it, he said.

Evidence had come to light that the demobilised soldiers of the army were involved in some of the killings. Punjab, which had become the most Empire-friendly, saw the maximum violence.

Going back in history, he said the British had faced their toughest fight in their sub-continental quest in the Punjab. But they had succeeded in turning the people they had defeated into their staunchest allies. Mr. Gandhi said future lessons could be learnt from this — “how is it that the people you defeated become your faithful allies. It was an important question for our times.”

Referring to the Radcliffe Award, he said there were two Muslim and two non-Muslim judges on the Punjab Boundary Commission. All of them were from the Punjab and yet they wrote opinions which cancelled each other. Radcliffe was in Delhi and did not come to Lahore. Mr. Gandhi regretted that not once did the four judges say that a consensus could have been evolved. “We can learn from this — the inability and failure of these eminent figures to even attempt a consensus,” he said.

More In: Books | News | National