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Politics, Punjabiyat, Insaniyat

Anshu Malhotra

By Rajmohan Gandhi
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 432, Rs. 695.00


A chronological political history of Punjab—the title is self-explanatory—Rajmohan Gandhi began the journey of writing this book at the point of its denouement, Partition. It was the need to understand the painful birthing of two nations, of why the father of the Indian nation (the author’s grandfather) was left in painful isolation as the bloody events of 1946-7 unfolded, and make sense of the changing demographics of Delhi when Punjabi refugees began flooding its streets, as the young and slightly prejudiced Rajmohan observed first hand, that initiated this project. Additionally, the strength of the Punjabi and Sikh diaspora in the country of the author’s residence and work, the USA, along with the local prejudice against this community—whether seen in the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gurdwara incident of 2012, or the more recent Waris Ahluwalia Gap advertisement fracas over its vandalism—indicates both the global presence of the Punjabis, but also the problems that multicultural and multiethnic societies face. How can one look at the prejudices of today and understand them against the biases and hardships that defined life earlier? Turning to history to look for answers to these and many other questions, conundrums, and journeys, Rajmohan Gandhi presents us with a political history of Punjab, one attempted according to the author, after S.M. Latif’s 1889 History of the Punjab.   This is of course true only in a partial way. The sundering of the ‘greater’ Punjab in 1947, the polarization between the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in the twentieth century, and the further linguistic division of the Indian Punjab into the three states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal, have created rifts in the hearts and minds of the people. Unhappily this has also meant portioning out of the archives, with access to some archives virtually impossible for citizens of neighbouring countries. Also few do a straightforward political history anymore, scrutiny of shorter time periods, with varying perspectives, is the norm. Moreover, one of the most significant ways in which the history of Punjab is written today is through the lens of Sikh history, thanks both to the Sikh domination of Indian Punjab and its universities, and the resources made available by the Sikh diaspora for Sikh history in western academia. Gandhi’s political history of Punjab that takes in its sweep all peoples of Punjab, a political history that develops on the cultural node of Punjabiyat (Punjabiness explored ...

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