The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 28, 2000

Dons and don’ts of Oxbridge
Off the self by V. N. Dutta
Sai Baba: more books from devotees
Review by P.D. Shastri
Sketches in scintillating poems
Punjabi literature by Jaspal Singh
Sadly, sadly in verses
Review by R.P. Chaddah
Lopsided view of economy
Write view by Randeep Wadehra
A different type of job guide
Review by M.L. Sharma
A big book of enduring value
Review by Kuldip Kalia
When India’s first regional power was born
A book is for reading
Surjit Hans writes from Patiala

Dons and don’ts of Oxbridge
Of the shelf
by V. N. Dutta

NOEL Annan (1916-2000) was easily one of the brightest and most influential teachers of political theory at Cambridge in the early 50s of last century. His erudition, clarity of thought and lucidity of expression were widely admired. He firmly believed in the power of words, and said so. He possessed remarkable literary skills in putting things in a dramatic way. He regarded Edward Gibbon and Lord Macaulay as the greatest historians the world has produced despite their prejudices and sureness of touch. His classes were largely attended, and his personal contact with his pupils acted as a great intellectual stimulus on their life, and he remained closely in touch with some of them even after they left the university.

At 26 Noel Annan was a lieutanent-colonel in the army handling some sensitive issues of war. At 39 he became provost of the prestigious King’s College, Cambridge, and was later head of University, College, London, and Vice-Chancellor, London University. He was a trustee of the British Museum. His 1977 report proposing radical reforms in public broadcasting was greatly appreciated.

The book under review is his last work which appeared before his death: ‘‘The Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics and Geniuses" (University of Chicago, pages 358, $ 30). The brilliant and witty literary work of intellectual history which illuminates the contributions of Cambridge and Oxford dons is a sequel to his earlier work "Our Age: Portrait of a Generation".

Annan’s special field of interest was western political thought. His range was not as wide as Bertrand Russell’s. Nor was he scientillating like Carl Becker. He could not equal Michael Oakshott’s rigour of thought and incisiveness. He did write essay after essay like Isaiah Berlin. His works were distinguished for their exquisite lucidity and glittering prose but lacking G.M. Young’s depth of scholarship and sobriety of judgement.

Annan’s earliest work was a biography of Leslie Stephen, which he wrote when he was 37. This study had a mixed reception. His admirers thought it a literary tour de force and his critics panned it for focussing on the personality to the neglect of social and political forces that operated. His contribution by way of articles in prestigious journals was substantial. He produced two notable studies, "our Age", a comprehensive and entertaining survey of the intellectual aristocracy of his own generation and "Changing Enemies: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany" (1996), an account of his experiences during the war when he was very near the top of allied intelligence.

The book under review, "The Dons", ends with the inclusion of Annan’s celebrated essay. "The Intellectual Aristocracy", which had established him as one of the leading historians of social thought. This work had traced with remarkable ingenuity and tenacity the intermarriages and literary associations of the Macaulays, Darwins, Stephenians and Butlers over two centuries and more, which left a profond impact on the age. This work is a collection of historical and biographical essays on some of the outstanding dons at Oxford and Cambridge. The term don stands for a university teacher, especially a senior member of a college at Oxford and Cambridge.

According to Annan, a don was a scholar who conducted private tutorials for his pupils, had dinner in the common hall and identified his life with the tradition of, say, Balliol, King’s or Christ Church College. At their best, such figures cultivated, trained and exercised their own intellect as well as of their students. Annan’s gallery of colourful portraits of dons may have special interest for those who love learning for its own sake, but to many such types seem odd and outdated in the topsy-turvey world of today where material values reign supreme.

Annan cites several examples to emphasise that dons sought and valued knowledge and encouraged their students to do so. Annan quotes the famous Greek scholar and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, Benjaman Jowett, whose work on Plato is authoritative. Jowett insisted on the delight of hard work". Jowett himself was a solid scholar, of classical studies. He said, "The object of reading is not primarily to obtain a first class (degree) but to elevate and strengthen the character of life — the class matters nothing. What does matter is the sense of power which comes from steady working’’. Such an approach was part of literary education which Francis Bacan had advocated as a foundation for a free play of thought. It is by solid hard work and self-cultivation that great minds are formed.

This approximates to the utilitarian theory of education popularised by Bentham. No lesson is more important to a student in a university than working one’s own way through efforts and building internal resources through self-reliance and tenacity of purpose uninfluenced by external pressures. Annan writes, "The steady accretion of knowledge, the focussing of all one’s energies on some problem in history or science, the dogged pursuit of excellence — these are the right and proper scholarly ideals."

Annan shows that quite a number of dons immerse themselves in specialised studies of a narrow range which have a limited appeal in academic circles. On the other hand, glittering prizes go to the wordly-wise and the politically astute, the lucky and the charismatic. To this category belonged literature professor Maurice Bowra, political philosopher Isaiah Berlin and Shakespearean scholar George Rylands. J.J. Thompson, Henry Newman and James Harrison, however, dazzled because of their sparkling intelligence.

Annan gives an insightful account of some of the foibles and eccentricities of Maurice Bowra who was a man of strong likes and dislikes. Bowra pursued his enemies relentlessly. Annan writes, "When Bowra gave the oration at the memorial service for his old tutor Alec Smith, the air was so dark with the arrows he dispatched, like Apallo spreading the plague among the Grecian host before Troy, that you half-expected groans to arise from the congregation and the guilty to totter forth from St Mary’s and expire stricken on the steps of Redcliffe."

Annan writes little on Bertrand Russell. Of course, there was not much to write on him as a don because his stay at Cambridge was short due to his forced resignation as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, on account of his pacifist convictions during World War-I.

There were a number of dons who divided their time between their administrative responsibilities and academic interest. Such dons did not think that their divided loyalties would in any way diminish the quality of their academic contributions. Annan himself belonged to this type because he spent much of his time as a high-ranking university official, engaged in administrative work. For such persons Master of Trinity Richard Jebb, Regius Professor of Greek, Cambridge, quipped: "What time he can spare from the adornment of his person he devotes to the neglect of his duties."

There are several accounts in this book about the intrigues and petty jealousies among the dons who spurred by their vaulting ambitions and enormous personal vanity, used ignoble means to perpetuate their interests in academic and public life. Annan explores the cult of homosexuality and the new morality that some of the dons preached. He shows also how some of them during the days of appeasement and Munich became Marxists and handful of them Soviet spies.

According to Annan, despite some liberal historians, others were stout conservatives of Cambridge and Oxford. The history faculties were mostly a "nest of Tories and Christianity", out of which tumbled Herbert Butterfield, Trevor-Roper and Maurice Cowling. Michael Oakshott challenged the philosophical and political traditions, and the famous English don F.R. Levis launched a virtual crusade against the moral and literary traditions of the age.

Annan has showered much praise on Lord Keynes who had assembled what he called his circle in which the star performers were Richard Kahn, Joan and Austin Robinson, and Piero Sraffa. This group of luminous intellects was acknowledged as the most remarkable in the humanities faculty in Cambridge between the wars. Top


Sai Baba: more books from devotees
Review by P.D. Shastri

Shri Sai Baba — The Unique Prophet of Integration by Satya Pal Rohela. Pages 391. Rs 150.

A Solemn Pledge from True Tales of Shirdi Sai Baba by B.H. Briz Kishore. Pages 82. Price not mentioned.

THE first one is an authoritative work on Sai Baba of Shirdi. Its 41 chapters have been contributed by different devotees — Sai specialists all — though there are some repetitions. The editor, Prof Satya Pal Ruhela, who has already written 15 books on Shirdi Sai Baba, contributes six chapters, while Narasimha Swamiji, who has published "Life of Shirdi Baba" in four volumes, contributes four.

Shirdi Sai Baba was a Muslim saint though most of his massive following consists of Hindus. At Shirdi, their place of pilgrimage, some 25,000 persons visit every day and there is hardly any Muslim-looking person. Even B.V. Narasimha Swamiji, one of his chief disciples, concedes: "It was extremely difficult for this writer to find even one person (Muslim) who had got in spiritual touch with him."

He lived all his working life in a dilapidated mosque; he wore the dress of a Muslim faqir; his disciple Abdul read the Quran to him. He spoke of Allah and Allahu Akbar. Of the 41 contributors to this book, only one has a Muslim name.

When he died, he was buried in a grave like a Muslim, not cremated like a Hindu. He is every inch a Muslim. His followers quote him as a unique prophet of integration. He brought together the two major communities, the Hindus and the Muslims together (really?). In the 17th century Samarth Ramdas, the guru of Shivaji, had performed a similar feat, but after a few years, the effect of his preachings wore off. So God sent yet another prophet of integration. The Shirdi Baba’s chief mission was to weld the two major communities and cement their relations by setting a personal example. He worked for peace.

Of course, Muslims did not like his unorthodox ways. He was striking at the root of the orthodox Muslim tradition. They objected to his desecration of a Muslim masjid, with Hindu artis and other celebrations like Ram Navami. More than once, some Pathans came to murder him for his apostasy, but he was protected by his divine powers.

Even among his vast Hindu following, his Muslim way of life created confusion, even opposition. The Hindus had no end of avatars, prophets, apostles, sages, saints, gurus and what not? Why should they go out of that endless circle to become the disciple of a Muslim faqir?

A Brahman doctor from South Africa won’t bend before a Muslim faqir. When he did bend, he saw in Shirdi Baba the image of his Ram.

One Megha, a poor illiterate Brahman, had objection to bowing to a Muslim saint. When he saluted the Shirdi Baba, he saw in him the much worshipped incarnation of Shiva. He is placed along with Rama, Krishna, Hanuman, Christ and the Buddha (he is the incarnation of the millennium) but not Muhammad for Muslims would not take it.

And so on for other dissidents.

Scholars were busy mending the fences. Their researches (invention?) showed that the Shirdi Baba was born of Brahmin parents. His father’s name is given as Ganga Bhavadi and his mother’s Dev Giri. The father became a recluse and left home. His mother went in search of him (she died when her son was 12). A Muslim faqir adopted the orphan boy and thus the Baba’s Muslim way of life.

Another theory floated by such apologists is that the Baba spent one night in his mosque and the second night in a temple. There is hardly any proof of it. At any rate no temple is a second Shirdi mosque.

He claimed to be Kabir in one of his previous births. (Kabir was a Muslim weaver and poet who spread the cult of Ram Nam.) He named his masjid "Dvarika Mai", to give it a Hindu name. He also quoted from the Gita and other Hindu scriptures. He is the prophet of secularism.

He was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, but a divine messenger of humanity, above all narrow differences. He taught the universal religion of love. His mission was the atmic (spiritual) integration of the whole mankind.

Another event also helped his cause. Satya Sai Baba, a boy of 14 in 1940, threw away his school books and said, "I am Sai Baba come to save the world. Shirdi Sai Baba was the Muslim Sai, I am the Hindu Sai and eight years after my death will come Prema Sai, the Christian Sai. Thus the Sai movement represents Hindu, Muslim and Christian. This support of Satya Sai Baba greatly helped Shirdi Sai to find a place in the hearts of all.

Thus Shirdi Sai became a household deity in countless homes. Our book says, his disciples are growing in astronomical proportions. The Baba had come to Shirdi at the age of 16 and sat under a neem tree. He lived there for 60 years. His literature is growing in the USA, Canada and Australia. Sai temples are coming up all over India and abroad with the greatest number in Andhra Pradesh. One such temple in Mumbai (Panvel) has a bronze statue donated by foreign devotees. It is a 27-ft-high statue of the Shirdi Baba, claimed to be the tallest Sai statue in the world. There are 2000 Sai temples in India and 150 abroad. All rivers merge into the ocean, so salutations to all gods and gurus reach the Shirdi Baba.

This book presents the Shirdi Baba as a God incarnate. To give some quotations: he was never born, never died, an immortal saint. He is ever living.

The Shirdi Baba is purna avtar (perfect incarnation). He is the foremost avatar of the kali age. His name and fame surpass the popularity of any godman or mystic. He is presented as the creator, preserver, destroyer (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh).

"All great men in India and abroad have accepted Sai Baba as god incarnate." By his grace the life cycle of universe is running.

The words put in his mouth also proclaim him to be Lord God himself.

For instance, "I am present even before the creation.

"I am prime God.... I am the permanent soul of the whole universe.... I am present in all beings."

"He used to beg alms, but Goddess Lakshmi was his maid servant..."

"If a man utters my name, I shall fulfil all his desires."

In the last chapter, the Shirdi Baba is presented as omnipotent (33 points in support) and omnipresent (12 proofs), omniscient (21 points in support).

All godmen live on the strength of the miracles they have performed, which attested to their powers. Our Baba cured hopeless and incurable cases. A boy had polio. At his touch, the boy started walking.

The Baba took someone’s plague on himself and the patient was cured.

Childless couples got children, one couple got eight. Those in search of wealth were flooded with money and property. All their heart’s desires were fulfilled.

A devotee was going to Prayag for a holy dip. The Shirdi Baba produced waves of the Ganga and the Yamuna from his toes.

Most disciples come to godmen in search of these prizes of life. (In this age of miracles of science, technology, medicine, etc, a rationalist would say that such cures and miracles are a common place. But the devotees are sure that their guru caused them all.)

He lighted lamps with water, without oil — that is a popular miracle.

As you enter his shrine at Shirdi, you see a huge board with his 11 promises: The first is: "whosoever puts foot on Shirdi soil, all his sufferings would come to an end." The last one is: "There shall be no want in the house of my devotee."

Since there are 41 chapters on the some aspects of one godman, there is sure to be endless repetition and overlapping.

To the devout, these strengthen the faith, but to a common reader so much repetition tends to be boring. Also all these writers are men of deep faith, not men of letters. These writers have turned authors and hope to surely win all prizes of life, through the Shirdi Baba’s special favour.

The book is crammed with the names of a large number of nonentities who received the Baba’s favours. It is all due to Shirdi Sai Baba that they received his favours and so much publicity in Sai literature.

His guru gave him no guru, mantra and so he gives none to his disciples like other godmen. He taught the world by his personal example, not by delivering or writing sermons.

The book "Sai Sad Charita" is the bible and the Quran of the Sai sect. Intellectuals and rationalists feel bewildered by the phenomenon that defies scientific attitude and modernism. There has cropped up so many godmen on the world’s stage with a clientele running into millions, including some highly learned men and famous names. Former President V.V. Giri is one of our contributors and another is a High Court Judge. Foreign followers add special glory to the guru. The fact is that in the present "cruel" world, there is so much tension, frustration and heart-ache even for the top men. The guru promises peace, happiness, fulfilment of all desires in return for one’s surrender to him. And when self-interest develops faith rationalism and high sense of absolute truth go to sleep.

The second book "Solemn Pledge from Tales of Shirdi Sai Baba" covers the same ground, but on an humbler scale and with men of slighter build. The Baba’s miracles includes curing cases of TB, epilepsy, cholera, malaria, stomach ache and ear pain. He took a boy’s plague on himself and the boy was cured. The Baba blessed them with udi (ashes as Satya Sai Baba does). He could control the fury of storm, flood and fire. He lit earthen lamps without oil, only with water. He was present everywhere and in everyone. He knew the past, the present and the future.

He fulfills the wishes and desires of all; his treasure is inexhaustible. He gave mangoes and childless women became pregnant. Astrological predictions forecast troubles. The Baba saved his devotees from these predicted troubles.

This book has an effective page count of 82; which means 41 pages for opposite every small printed page, there is a page of a picture as illustration. Smaller men, lesser miracles — that is the story of this book. Call it a booklet or pamphlet, not worthy of being entitled a standard work. However, his love for the Shirdi Baba seems to be as great as of any other devotee.Top


Sketches in scintillating poems
Punjabi Literature
by Jaspal Singh

MOHANJIT is one of the finest poets of Punjabi though underrated by most critics. As a native of Majha, he ought to be dynamic and even manipulative in self-promotion. But by his way of life, he displays a different disposition. He is almost always calm and composed, lost in his creative meditation as if dreaming all the time.

His first collection of poems, "Sahikda Shaher" (the dying city) appeared in the early seventies. After that he has brought two more collections of poems, a book on stylistics and seven books of translation from various languages.

But the form that he brought to near perfection is the pen-portrait in verse of many modern Punjabi writers and artists. Three collections of such poetic sketches have appeared so far, starting with "Turde firde maskhare" in the mid-seventies. Then appeared "Gurhi likhat wala varka" and the latest "Dattan wale buhe" (Lok Sahit Parkashan, Amritsar).

The latest collection comprises 38 sketches. Rajinder Singh Bedi, a Urdu writer, Krishna Sobti, a Hindi writer, and Khushwant Singh, an English writer, have their share of spotlight in the galaxy of illustrious figures. A powerful Pakistani woman poet, Saara Shagufta, too is included to provide variety to the already over-spiced write-ups.

Some of the sketches have appeared in earlier collections as well. But to make the present one more representative, they again make a re-appearance.

Rajinder Singh Bedi is "an epic written on worn out palms", whom a whore visited every day with the words, "your beard is like a dog’s tail, old man". Towards his end he visited her brothel and said, "Every beard is not a dog’s tail, gentle lady". He was a writer whose touch could consecrate the obscene and make the reader cry even through his salacious accounts. He lived among the milling metropolitan crowd, as if eating fresh corncobs sitting in a secluded maize field.

The poet has an intense desire to have a meeting with Amrita Sher-Gill who died long ago, leaving behind some of the finest paintings of the epoch. He wants to have a feel of the ultimate fort of her egotism. But now he has imagination only to spin the dreams and emotions, body organs and lyrical sounds, that speak through the language of her artistic touches. Life for her was made of colours, both fast and fading, sometimes letting out a mournful cry. It was resplendent yet vacuous. she was vivacious yet sad. Her paintings were gloomy self-portraits.

Khushwant Singh, the poet says, rides an untamed "wind-horse". Once a friend, always a friend. He dares speak when none can open his mouth and there is turbulence all over. Rivers were full of blood and forests were in raging fire. One could speak only at the risk of his life and Khushwant Singh spoke at the highest pitch of his voice. Three cheers for the old man!

Krishna Sobti for Mohanjit is a merchant’s wife who lives in a mansion and who hurls virulent abuses at those who dare to cross her path. Her abuses are veiled but her actions are transparent. She does not fill her room with petit bourgeois kitsch, rather sweeps it off if there is any. She weaves and wears a pullover of brusque utterances to save herself from the numbing cold. She walks on the thorns of meanness, crushing them under her feet. Many of her virgins with coiffeured hair have become the adornment of the market place, yet she goes around in search of pearls in darkness with a lantern in hand

One of the best portraits is that of Saara Shagufta, an enigmatic Pakistani woman poet. She was a Quranic verse engraved on the sands of time. The poet says, "When you grow out of your clothes and the female body comes into itself eyes grow all over it." She descended on Delhi, with a heavy cloak around her, though nude in demeanour — wild, brusque in speech, furious, indifferent, careless, unused yet overused like a mud track. At times she would burst into laughter as if she would die of it. One had to constantly guard against her. All her symptoms were anti-life. Like a fish she flapped her tail, bouncing and jumping on the river bank. She drew pleasure from burning her fingers. She came with a smouldering womb and a flaming poem.

So was Puran Singh, whose rhyme had the openness of the sky. With Punjab ensconced in his heart, he galloped like the Guru’s horse. His eyes had both the Ganga and the Mansarovar hidden in them. His words were like thundering clouds. He was the indifferent rider of a wild horse who would blow in the wind the baloon of worldly trifles. He was the flow of the Sutlej, the expanse of the Attock, the landing place of the Chenab and the current of the Ravi. The Gangotri broke out from his "samadhi" (mystic trance). His freedom was his restraint. His rage was like a flashing sword and his patience like the Sukhmani. He was the hermitage of the "fakirs", knoll of the "yogis", congregation of the devotees and the conclave of the rebels.

Nanak Singh, according toMohanjit, was "sharbat" of jaggery and Devinder Satiarthi is the modern Gorakhnath. Sometime Satiarthi is a Brahmin and at others a cattle-breeder. All the seals of the Indus Valley civilisation have his figure on them. He is a horse at one place, an ox at another and a rhinoceros a little farther. The 11th head of Ravana is his forehead. He is in eternal exile; that is why he has not left his wooden sandals behind.

Amrita Pritam is a garland of flowers. Her look can make or mar one at the same time. Many vendors traversed her street with glass baskets on their heads. Somebody polished his shoes before hawking his wares. Some other applied antimony to his eyes to gather courage in them. Had somebody gone with the truth in his heart, she would not have called the dead Waris from the graves.

Sant Singh Sekhon was a bottle with a worn out label but which had the fragrance of all the essences of the world. He sizzled if heated and froze if cooled. "Sekhon" was his qualification; all else was opinion. Poem, for Mohan Singh, is a burning lamp in wilderness. The author says:"I have not seen him playing chess but in his poems I have seen pawns and knights drinking a rice-brew while sharing the same mat."

There is a very fine sketch of Bawa Balwant who died on the street in Delhi. The author says about him: "The manifest light of poetry is lying motionless on the road in the searing heat of summer and by his side lie his friends in exile — his cloth bag and his umbrella. The bag still carries the unrealised dream of a pearl necklace. The endless train of thoughts still goes on. The inner light still glows. The priest is dancing in trance. The wielder of the pen keeps on writing while sitting in his brooding attic. His shoes are worn out yet the tale to transform the world goes on endlessly."

Haribhajan Singh, according to Mohanjit, lies on a wooden cot with steel posts and his head lies on the pillow of nails and yet he is sound asleep. He now has stored his old portraits in the refrigerator and has pasted silver paper on the new ones. He sits under the shadow of the skirt worn by an old witch and asks his cohorts to shear her tangled locks. He has stolen Nero’s fiddle and the Romans have no inkling of it.

Kartar Singh Duggal is the Chenab of creativity and Dilip Kaur Tiwana a cascade of silence. Attar Singh is a coat of mail worn by a chair. Ajit Cour is the henna from the black orchards. Sukhbir, Prem Parkash, Gursharan Singh, Jagtar, Harnam, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Harbhajan Halwarvi, Parminderjit, Surjit Patar, Noor, Amarjit Chandan and quite a few other Punjabi writers are commented upon through these verse pieces.

Those who know something about them will immensely enjoy the verse since many metaphors and anecdotes associated with these acteurs are subtly sprinkled here and there. Only a gifted poet like Mohanjit could do justice to such complex personalities.Top


Sadly, sadly in verses
Review by R.P. Chaddah

The Aching Vision — Poems by Darshan Singh Maini. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. Pages 182. Rs 200.

THE book under review is Dr Maini’s third book of verses in the past 10 odd years. It contains about 150 gloomy bunch of poems which detail various manifestations of love, dreams, desolation, pains, suffering, voyage and vision. Memory, dream and pain are the time-tested triad of poets since they offer fancy flights; time out of mind provides the all-purpose glue to the poet to join his thoughts. The scent of senescence and the smells of old age is all too pervading.

"And I have to learn afresh/The grammar of grief,/And work out a primer of sorts/For my aged heart and tongue."


"Old age’s like a mongrel/Whim-pering on a wet day,/The imagination still seeks/The skies to soar./And thus I dangle each day/And night between a dream/And a nightmare."

In poem after poem he tries to be true to the title of the book and reminds the reader that he is reading "The Aching Vision."

"I should have worked out/The great sum of grief./And then a day came/A great grief ago."

Probing, the deep dungeons of his psyche, the poet finds only the presence of pain, suffering, grief and out comes another bunch of poems around the same thoughts again and again and yet again. A birthday poem starts with this line, "I wonder if a gift of tears/Could lift the cloud from your heart." Another poem ends with the words: "Yes, some pains are kingly/Generous in thought and words."

A sort of gloom envelops every poem.

Only once in a while the poet comes out of this harsh reality and harks back to dreams and memory. More than the pain-poems the present reviewer enjoyed reading the poems which revolve around hues and colours of dreams — ashen dreams, silken dreams, siren dreams, limping dreams, consoling dreams, misbegotten dreams, etc.

"Some dreams are killed/in the crib itself before/They crawl out of their confines/and some remain stricken in tracks/Pure dreams are born in a snake-pit/And carry the poison beyond the grave."

Even his optimism is tinged with sadness. That happens when one thinks only of I, me and myself.

"Carrying the carcass of memories.../I wake up into wonder/To see that life, withal,/was good still and that/I could cry and laugh."

The poems in the collection convey those moments of nostalgic recall in dense visual accuracy. Of course, there is fever and fret, but no delirium. Had there been delirium, how come the poet comes out with lines such as this one?

"There are other aperitifs of desire/There are other drinks of dream."


"Poems written in cold rage/soon freeze into icicles of pain."


"My nerves were abused for/So long, they turned into/A slut, and now revel/In a riot of abuse."

The poems in "The Aching Vision" linger longer than those in the poet’s previous collections.

"As I cast a backward glance/On the vast spaces of my life/I hear a pair of mocking birds/Still roosting in their ruined nest/And flapping their ruffled features/To set up a dynasty of dreams."Top


Lopsided view of economy
Write view
by Randeep Wadehra

Indian Industrial Development — The Post-Reform Scene edited by Vikram Chadha and G.S. Bhalla. Kalyani Publishers, Ludhiana. Pages 241. Rs 250.

FOR years one of the notable features of Indian industry has been the reliance on the machinery and management practices of the Industrial Revolution vintage. Strangely, obsolescence has coexisted with ultra-modern instruments of production and management. Obviously, the pre-reforms industrial scene did not seem to encourage modernisation.

It is difficult to dismiss state investments in capital-intensive enterprises as mere hype, as this volume would have us believe in the preface itself. Given the long gestation period of core sector industries and infrastructure, the private sector was reluctant to invest in these projects. The then government(s) rightly stepped in. Let us not forget that creating jobs was, and still is, an essential government responsibility. The state investment invariably has a multiplier effect in boosting the economy, thus leading to the creation of employment opportunities.

Heavy investments in steel, road building, railways and power generation needed and capacity commitment that only the public sector could give. Today one might scoff at such mega projects, but these were essential for India’s initial industrial progress. Privatisation of the core sector industries might be touted as the next logical step in our progress towards economic nirvana, but one cannot be too sure of its success. The rising unemployment might well become a curse if the ongoing reforms go awry.

And what about our small scale industries? Once upon a time, it used to be touted as a model for quick and certain economic growth. Now the protective umbrella, available to it till 1990, is being folded. The MNCs are taking over production of items which were once reserved for the SSIs. The downside is that this trend might obliterate the largest private sector employer, which is also a vital contributor to our GNP, making the already unstable economic situation more vulnerable. On the other hand, one might see the SSIs getting their act together by upgrading production technologies, using innovative management and distribution techniques, and enhancing product quality.

The authors rightly conclude that the entire liberalisation process faces numerous constraints. Foreign investors are still tentative in committing funds for capital-intensive projects. Infrastructure development is uneven and grossly inadequate to sustain a steady industrial growth. The Indian brand is still not very popular abroad, thus hampering exports.

There is a lot of suspicion and cynicism vis-a-vis liberalisation in powerful segments of economy. One has only to listen to the Bombay Club or trade union leaders to realise the sort of odds that the process faces.

Contrary to popular belief, the volume under review contends that the liberalisation process had actually begun in 1975. If one’s memory serves right those were the times when the "garibi hatao" incantation was at its loudest and cynical worst. The authors have divided the liberalisation process into four phases.

1. 1975-80: delicensing of industrial units, capacity expansion, liberalised import licensing, etc. were introduced.

2. 1980-85: It heralded the auto-expansion of licensed capacity, liberalised licensing of MRTP firms, among other things.

3.1985-90: The Indian economy was opening up and industrial expansion was quickening. The asset limit of the MRTP companies was raised. More FERA and MRTP companies were delicensed allowing wider foreign equity participation. NRIs were offered sops for setting up industrial units in specified areas.

4. Post-1991: This phase is still continuing and is under extensive as well as intensive scrutiny of various experts and prospective investors.

This volume consists of contributions from 26 academics specialising in economics, commerce and management. They teach in different universities in India.

The chapter "Industrial Sector: The Epicentre of Liberalisation Syndrome" deals with the effects of post-1991 economic policies in our economy. The authors observe that though positive results have yet to manifest themselves, there is still much to be done to make the liberalisation process effective.

One thing that a lay person cannot help asking is how would import of foreign consumer goods help strengthen the economy, especially if the inflow of foreign capital remains inadequate as compared to the outflows of profits and dividends?

This volume is a timely addition to the literature on new economic theory as practised these days. Chapters on "Industrial deregulation", "Rationale of structural economic and business policy changes in India", etc. can provide useful information to students of Indian economy.Top


A different type of job guide
Review by M.L. Sharma

The UBS Encyclopaedia of Careers by Jayanti Ghose. UBS Publishers’ Distributors, New Delhi. Pages 486. Rs 250.

THESE are days of encyclopaedias on all subjects and Jayanti Ghose has come out with one on careers. Ghose is well known in the media for her zeal to enlighten readers on various vocations and her guidance has benefited many readers. Her attempt has been to create awareness among graduates about various employment avenues and the relevant qualifications.

She feels that it is not paucity of employment avenues which is a problem but their multiplicity. It becomes a formidable task for a career-seeker to select one out of dozens of careers. Hence, Ghose has provided in the book guidance on all matters in the professional domain.

In her inimitable style, she guides those wanting to enter the legal profession in the following words: "A confidence-inspiring personality, intelligence of a discerning nature, perseverance, power of reasoning, patience, quick brain, a good voice, resilience, tremendous amount of self-confidence, some acting ability, and creativity are the personal qualities which can place one on the road to success in the legal profession. Last but not the least, every legal professional has to keep abreast of national and international developments, various procedures, etc. which are in the news so as to be able to view any problem/case in real life situations."

This tip will stand a law student in good stead. If one is only wishful of doing law and start practice in the absence of these qualities, one is likely to encounter hardships and even failure unless he or she has a father or godfather on the Bench.

In the chapter on MBA, she tells the aspirants about the "need to hone their time management skills in areas of verbal, analytical and mathematical ability. That is in essence what the management entrance tests evaluate. For the thousands vying for the few seats at select management schools it is a matter of getting selected, but the schools focus on eliminating all but they very best."

Brevity is the hall-mark of this book, and her style is lucid and makes things crystal clear. Sometimes she uses the question- and-answer method to make matters clear.

With regard to the career of interior designer she observes: "An interior designer has good placement prospects with construction firms, firms of architects and also in design consultancies. Opportunities for gainful employment are innumerable if you have the talent/training, drive, persistence and good public relations capability, originality and ideas that hold appeal for the customer/client. Interior decorators could be employed by furniture-makers, stores selling fabric/furnishings or manufacturers of fabric, paint/wallpaper, etc. or those dealing in lighting equipment and techniques." She also distinguishes the scope of interior decorator from interior designer.

About a career in home science she says: "Among the more popular services in demand are: interior design and decoration, cooking and catering, childcare, garden designing, beauty therapy, contract cleaning, providing domestic and security installation, etc. While venturing into the area of freelance work, the primary idea should be to keep the activity (that is) provided clear and simple."

The preferred skills and aptitudes for the one who wants to enter the field of tourism are, according to her, an enthusiastic, communicative spirit with the ability to interact with a large variety of people, an interest in and liking for history, art and culture of the country. Love for the country and interest in travelling are essential qualities for aspirants to tourism profession." She has given details about work profiles too. The form of training and the names of the specialist institutions providing training besides career prospects are given in the book.

There is a complete chapter devoted to multi-media careers like multi-media developers, visual artists, graphic designers sound/recording specialists or engineers, interface designers, video programmers and editors. She has also given details about the type of courses available and the likely expenses. Further her information on work environment along with work areas in all important careers and courses enhances the value of the book.

There are as many as 96 chapters dealing with as many careers. In each chapter, Ghose has provided necessary information about the job, requisite qualification, age, physical standards and other conditions. Significantly, she has provided ample guidance to job-seekers so that they can realise whether they are fit or not. The names of institutions and universities in India as well as abroad providing courses in various fields are listed. The careers dealt include that of air traffic controller, commercial pilot, biotechnologist, genetics and genetic engineer, cosmetologist/beautician, social worker, plastic engineer and technologist.

The book, neatly printed and written in simple, clear and lucid style, is of immense use to young job aspirants. Ghose is a prolific writer on careers and has been contributing articles to national dailies and corporate journals. Her other book which UBS has published are: "Career Guide" and "How to Plan your Career." Actually, this book is a revised edition of "Career Guide".Top


A big book of enduring value
Review by Kuldip Kalia

The Little Book of Buddhism by His Holiness the Dalai Lama compiled and edited by Renuka Singh. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 142. Rs 75.

LOVE and compassion, and feeling for the sufferings and happiness of others reveal the conscience and wisdom of the mind,but an indifferent attitude, unscrupulous act and unruly behaviour reflect a sick state of the mind. But whatever the state of the mind a person may be in, his response ultimately lies in his or her faith in God which is firm and universal.

The book under review presents selected teachings of Buddhism by the Dalai Lama. His thoughts are about the importance of love and compassion, amplify the multiplicity of responsibilities and elaborate ancient wisdom. Above all, it creates awareness of the problems of modern life. Thus his preachings help us adopt a spiritual line and realise the truth without any ambiguity.

Undoubtedly, the common enemy of all religious disciplines is "selfishness of the mind". This causes "ignorance, anger and passions which are at the root of all troubles of the world", he warns. Moreover, the foundation of spiritualism is "love". So, "if there is love, there is hope that one may have real family, real brotherhood, real equanimity and real peace", the spiritual leader says. But if this feeling is gone, others will appear and be "enemies". In such a situation, knowledge, education and material comfort will not matter much and "only suffering and sufferings will ensue".

Anyway, the human being is bound to commit wrongs or mistakes and whenever such a deed is done, it is essential not to do it again. Such a resolve "diminishes the force of all deeds". Therefore the Dalai Lama advises: "Better to behave well, take the responsibility for one’s action and lead a positive life."

He says one must learn the art of forgiveness because, "Learning to forgive is infinitely more useful than merely picking up a stone and throwing it at the object of one’s anger, especially when the provocation is extreme." So in all situations and circumstances, we must remain "humble, modest and without pride." Mind you, "Discipline is a supreme ornament."

Here are some tips for achieving success in life. "Determination, courage and self-confidence" are key factors for success. Moreover, "cultivate closeness and warmth for others". It will help to put the mind at case which is the "ultimate source of success in life". He warns those who observe that "good people suffer and evil people enjoy success and recognition". Such observation is "shortsighted".

It appears strange but the harsh method for developing patience or practising tolerance has been suggested. The spiritual leader opines, "To develop patience, you need someone who wilfully hurts you. Such people give us a real opportunity to practise tolerance."

In every case, disciplining the mind is a must. The teachings of the Buddha comprise three categories for this purpose. "Shila" (training in higher conduct); "samsadhi" (training in higher meditation); "prajna" (training in higher wisdom). However to understand his teachings, one must have qualities such as, "objectivity — which means an open mind; intelligence — which is the critical faculty to discern the real meaning; interests and commitment — which means enthusiasm".

So best suited to individuals for the "practice of dharma" are those who are not only "intellectually gifted" but also have single-minded faith and dedication". The holy man says, "Faith reduces your pride and is the root of veneration. With faith, you can traverse from one stage of the spiritual to another." Further he adds, "Faith dispels doubt and hesitation, it liberates you from sufferings and delivers you to the city of peace and happiness."

There is a caution for you. In the beginning, practice is not easy; you need to develop a "constant, persistent approach based on long term commitment". At the same time, meditation is also key to the spiritual growth because, "mere prayer or wish will not effect inner spiritual change; the only way for development is by constant effort through meditation".

Then comes the motivation. "One should practise spirituality with a motivation similar to that of a child absorbed in play." But the real essence of spiritual life is your attitude towards others. "Once you have a pure and sincere motive, all the rest follows." And always remember, "Every noble work is bound to encounter problems and obstacles". Maybe, laziness too. In his opinion, "One can be deceived by three kinds of laziness — laziness of indolence which is a wish to procrastinate, laziness of inferiority, which is doubting your capabilities, and laziness that is attachment to negative actions or putting great effort into non-virtue."

Never be afraid of suffering. The holyman observes, "Suffering increases your inner strength. Also, wishing for suffering makes suffering disappear". Moreover, "For discovering one’s true inner nature, I think one should try to take sometimes quiet relaxation, to think inwardly and to investigate the inner world." Ask yourself: what is attachment? What is anger? So, "Do your best and do it according to your own inner standard, call it conscience."

The Dalai Lama has summed up life when he says,"Beautiful changes into ugliness, youth into old age, and fault into virtue. Things do not remain the same and nothing really exists. Thus, appearances and emptiness exist simultaneously." Moreover, "Whether we believe in God or karma, everyone can pursue moral ethics."Top


When India’s first regional power was born

This is an extract from "History and Ideology" and titled "The Punjab under Sikh rule" by Indu Banga. The book is jointly edited by Prof J.S. Grewal and Prof Indu Banga.

REGIONAL geography, regional economics, regional planning and regional politics are becoming features of our everyday life. By now, we have reached a state of development in historical studies when, through deliberate pursuit of regional history, it may be possible to concentrate on themes recurring in different regions of the country. This may enable us to see a pattern in diversity and get an integrated view of the socio-political history of India even in periods seemingly of decline and disintegration. The regional approach, if I may use this expression, may also help us extricate ourselves from an empire-centred view of history in which the Mauryan, the Mughal and the colonial British empires are regarded as the norm. An obvious "legacy" of British historiography, it continues to have an appeal in our country even after independence. However, the cause of national integration today can perhaps be served more effectively by a better understanding of the phases of "disintegration" which were marked by the emergence of small local polities or by their unification into regional states.

I have chosen to discuss here the creation of a large state in Punjab by the followers of Guru Gobind Singh in the late 18th and early 19th century. The term "Punjab" came into currency during the Mughal times, although Punjabi as a literary language for both religious and secular purposes had been in use at least since the 13th century. As the land of the "five rivers" Punjab was already seen as a distinct geographical region when Akbar constituted the province of Lahore, largely encompassing a homogeneous terrain, with its doabs or interfluvial sub-regions forming the sub-divisions of the suba. The historical and literary works of the 17th and the 18th centuries, written in and outside Punjab, also reflect the consciousness of Punjab as a region on the part of the ruling class and the common people. Spatial and cultural facets of the regional identity were reinforced when a somewhat distinctive structure of power brought into effect by the Khalsa emerged during the 18th century. The numerous local polities under dozens of Sikh Sardars as well as some Rajputs and Pathans were unified later in the centralised polity of Lahore under Ranjit Singh, which was the mst powerful regional state known to the entire history of north-western India.

This state originated in the hectic political activity in the wake of the decline of the Mughal power in Punjab in the middle of the 18th century. While the Mughal governors of Lahore were fightimg a losing battle against the Afghans at the top, new foci of power were emerging at the intermediate and lower levels in the province of Lahore. The vassals in the hills and the plains had begun withholding tribute and contingents and making encroachments upon their neighbours. The zamindars and jagirdars also withheld revenues and began to establish territorial strongholds. However, there was no cohesion or unity of purpose among them. The only political activity which could be said to have had a mass base and cohesion was that of the Sikhs. Among the Sikhs, even the zamindars and chaudharis joined the peasant, artisan and menial converts to the Khalsa Panth more as their coreligionists and less as their social leaders, and still less as erstwhile functionaries of the government.

The struggle of the Khalsa against the Mughal empire had in fact started with the activities of Banda Bahadur during 1709-15. Both in his success and fall, Banda had provided the Sikhs with a goal and a pattern of action. In his selection of a capital, striking of a new coin, use of a new seal and a new calendar, and in the appointment of his own "governors" and other subordinate officers, one can see an attempt to supplant the existing government in its major details. Banda had created a sense of shared goals and strengthened the unity of faith which came to be embodied in due course in the idea of "raj karega khalsa". His fall underlined the numerical disadvantage, tactical mistakes and organisational limitations of the Khalsa which they subsequently manged to overcome.

In their struggle against the Mughal governors of Lahore the followers of Guru Gobind Singh adopted new organisational devices during the second quarter of the 18th century when new military bands called jathas and new leaders appeared on the scene. They collectively decided matters of offence and defence and combined the forces of different leaders under the general direction of one among themselves. In their periodic gatherings at Amritsar (sarbat khalsa) they took collective decisions (gurmatas) to combine their fighting units into a single force (dal khalsa). The preoccupations of the Mughal administrators with the Afghans enabled the Khalsa to occupy pockets of territories in the early 1750s. By the time Ahmad Shah Abdali turned his full attention on them in the early 1760s, it was too late. As reported by an eyewitness, they now raged round all the territory between the Indus and the Sutlej and took possession of it. By 1765, they had defeated all the nominees and allies of Ahmad Shah in Punjab. An associate of Abdali, who had accompanied him in his abortive expedition of 1765, regretfully observed that the Sikhs were "fearlessly enjoying the territory from Sarhind to the Derajat, including Multan and Lahore." They occupied Lahore in 1765, and struck a coin bearing the inscription that had been used by Banda Bahadur on his seal. In this inscription, they derived their sovereignty and political power from God, through Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh.

The Sikhs had conquered territory largely on the basis of the misl, and they parcelled it out among all those who had contributed towards its conquest. The shares thus divided ranged from entire parganas and tappas to groups or even fractions of villages. Those who had led a misl or a group of misls continued in their pre-eminence by receiving a larger share of the conquered territory. "Their possessions could develop into sovereign states because of territorial contiguity over an area that was economically viable and politically capable of defence." Recruitment of personal armies (khas fauj) and hereditary succession along with individual initiative led to the emergence of nearly three scores of small or large centres of power under minor or major rulers, each jealously guarding his independence and possessions and trying to encroach upon his neighbours and old associates.

Ranjit Singh emerged as the pre-eminent ruler of Punjab out of this struggle for territories and power. During the first two decades of the 19th century, the small states largely under the Sikhs and spread over the upper doabs came under Ranjit Singh’s control. His dominion vastly expanded with the conquest of the Afghan strongholds of Multan and Kashmir, and the subjugation of the Rajput principalities in Punjab hills. The tribal territories across the river Indus were subjugated in the 1820s and annexed in the 1830s. Ranjit Singh died in 1839, and his successors lost the kingdom of Lahore to the British finally in 1849. The core of this state consisted of the upper doabs which had remained under sovereign Sikh rule for the longest period, from 1765 to 1845, and which had also formed the core of the Mughal province of Lahore. Besides his military reforms and diplomatic efforts, Ranjit Singh had been helped in the creation of a large state by the friendly indifference of the British who had reached the Sutlej at the beginning of his rule. However, in the organisation of the state, Ranjit Singh looked up to his Mughal predecessors, referring to them as shahan-i-qadim, and to Mughal rule as qarar-i-qadim and reviving its political and administrative institutions as far as possible. In this he followed his Sikh predecessors.

The political organisation of the new state was marked by accommodation and conciliation. The existence of numerous centres of power in the region, the tradition of autonomy in the hills and the north-west, and the limited resources of the new rulers obliged them to continue with the institution of vassalage. This arrangement enabled them to combine external political control with internal autonomy, and ensure, among other things, the payment of tribute. The rulers of the 18th century used vassalage in the limited area and on a smaller scale. Under Ranjit Singh it encompassed the Sikh, the Rajput and the Pathan chiefs in all the major sub-regions of the kingdom of Lahore. This tradition was so strong in the hills that Ranjit Singh even created new rajas. The essential features of suzerain-vassal relationship under him were largely those that had been institutionalised by Akbar, but their application varied according to the local circumstances and distance from the seat of authority. At the same time, vassalage remained essentially a transitional arrangement, and by the end of his reign, Ranjit Singh had subverted more than half of the traditional tribute-paying areas, thus effecting on the whole greater intra-regional integration.

The territorial organisation of the new state was related to its political development. The possessions or talluqas of the early Sikh rulers and others were basic blocks of varying sizes that were incorporated later, either all at once or in parts, into the kingdom of Lahore.

Ranjit Singh tried gradually to integrate them into a broad pattern of territorial organisation, at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, corresponding to the suba, the talluqa and the tappa. New primary units were created through a process of piecemeal conquest and improvisation. The former Mughal province of Lahore was broken up into half a dozen primary divisions. Elsewhere also, with the exception of the province of Kashmir which was conquered all at one time, and partly of Multan, each province was "comparable to an average sarkar of the Mughal times." (Ranjit Singh retained the earlier fragmentation of the parganas and the talluqas of his predecessors, which now became the effective administrative sub-division next to the suba. The average size of his secondary division was much smaller than the size of an average Mughal parganas.) Thus, the number of secondary as well as primary units increased. At the level of the tertiary division of the tappa, however, the attempt on the whole was to revert to the long established local sub-divisions as they generally conformed to the clan composition in a locality.

The administrative arrangements evolved with time. An average ruler in the late 18th century had a diwan at the headquarters who maintained records of revenue collection and kept accounts. In the territorial sub-divisions of varying sizes, there was generally the kardar, occasionally called the amil or the tehsildar, who primarily supervised the collection of revenues and maintained peace and order in the area. The local hereditary officials—chaudharis and qanungos—continued to serve the state by assisting the kardars. In the village, the muqaddams and patwaris continued performing their traditional functions. The fort-towns were garrisoned by qiladars or thanadars who saw to the defence and expansion of the Sardar’s territories. They also helped in the maintenance of law and order. The state functionaries usually combined several functions. The kardar seems to have exercised some judicial authority but the core of the judicial arrangements of the new states consisted of the village, the caste or clan panchayats, in addition to the hereditary qazi whose office had been kept up by the new rulers.

In the kingdom of Lahore administration was organised on a much bigger scale. The nazim was appointed to the suba and the kardar to the talluqa, while the chaudhri looked after the tappa or its equivalent unit. All of them were concerned with the collection of revenues, promotion of cultivation, maintenance or order and suppression of crime. The qazis in towns and the adaltis or mobile judges in the countryside also administered justice. The degree of control over the administrative personnel varied with their distance from the seat of government and the local circumstances, according to which varying degrees of autonomy was permitted to them. The attempt on the whole was to make as little change as possible in the existing administrative structure and practices at the local level. The new state thus retained the sub-regional diversities coming down from the Mughal times. This was particularly true of the land revenue administration, with perhaps the difference that the "state favoured all those who were prepared to keep the land under cultivation and pay the revenues, irrespective of their right or caste or tribe."

Military organisation was the only sphere in which Ranjit Singh made a deliberate attempt to change and innovate. He was obviously aware of the importance of the western military system against traditional armies. Around 1800 AD he had a force of about 5,000 cavalrymen using matchlocks. By the end of his reign, he had a one lakh-strong army, a sizeable part of which consisted of trained artillery backed by infantry battalions. Area for area, this was probably the most powerful army known to Asia. By assimilating his military organisation to the European system and his administrative organisation to the Mughal, Ranjit Singh was probably trying to adjust to the contradictory pulls of the historical situation in which he was placed.

The extensive use of the institution of jagirdari in the new state reflected the force of historical circumstances. There was scarcely a Sikh who was not a jagirdar Nearly half the civic and military functionarties of the kingdom of Lahore were paid through jagirs. There was in fact a close relationship between the process of the creation of state and the institution of jagirdari. It became the means of maintaining an armed force and rewarding the partners in conquest. It freed the emergent ruler from the obligation of making large sums of cash available and also gave a stake to the assignee in defending his own jagir as well as the territories of the ruler. Moreover, the social prestige attached to the institution of jagirdari made it easier for the dispossessed ruling class to get reconciled to their loss of power in return for jagir for service or subsistence.

The new ruling class under Ranjit Singh consisted largely of Sikh Jats, Khatris and Brahmins, besides some Sayyids, Pathans and Europeans. Members of the ruling class "shared overwhelmingly in the distribution of the resources of the state" as ministers, courtiers, provincial governors and commanders. At the secondary level of the power structure, however, members of the local aristocracy, who were largely Muslim, continued receiving jagirs or revenue free land as chaudharis, muqaddams, qanungos and qazis. Many of them were also inducted into the government as kardars or as officers in the army. The new state thus sought to perpetuate itself by accommodating the existing vested interests, and by creating new ones.

Religious grantees represented an important category of vested interests that served the state as "social links with thr conquered territory." The general policy of Ranjit Singh, as also of his Sikh predecessors, was to confirm existing grants and make fresh ones to members of all faiths. Consequently, a large number of khanqahs, masjids, Vaishnava and Shaiva establishments as well as Brahmins, Sayyids, Shaikhs and pirzadas not only continued in their privileges coming down from the Mughal times, but also received fresh grants of revenues or cash. Individuals and institutions belonging to the Sikh faith—Udasis, Nirmalas, Bhais, Granthis, Ragis, and descendants of the Gurus as well as gurdwaras—received the largest amount of fresh dharmarth grants during this period, amounting nearly to half of the total revenues alienated in charity.

Charitable grants of Ranjit Singh and other Sikh rulers were an expression as much of their sense of piety and catholic outlook as of their awareness of their historical and regional context. The ideology of raj karega khalsa, which had pulled the Sikhs through a crisis and led to the establishment of their rule, was likely to be awkward and dangerous for its stability. By identifying themselves fully with the Khalsa Panth, and by liberally patrionising the religious groups representing Sikh orthodoxy, the Sikh rulers were in fact trying to contain the ideology of raj karega khalsa. Furthermore, placed in a region with an overwhelmingly non-sikh population, more than 90 per cent of the total, the Sikh rulers had to consciously secularise their rule by extending patronage to their non-sikh subjects, and by allowing them to share power and privileges with the Sikhs. However, the principle that underlay the functioning of the state under Ranjit Singh was that "no one, not even the princes and the collaterals or the most influential of the sardars or the most pious of the dharmarth grantees, could retain a piece of land or settle a dispute without reference to the sovereign."

Despite "structural and functional continuity" from the Mughal times, the new ruling class in Punjab came to have a sizeable component from amongst the social groups that were a relatively able component from amongst the social groups that were relatively low in the social hierarchy in the early 18th century. Historical developments of the period had been affected by the Sikh movement which did not normatively recognise any hereditary barriers to upward mobility and even encouraged individual achievement. An environment conducive to greater openness of society was also conducive to secularisation of politics. The factional alignments of the members of the ruling class under Ranjit Singh and his successors cut across communal and racial affiliations. They fought for power and wealth as individuals and against the British as Punjabis.

In fact, increased identification with the state and heightened consciousness of a Punjab identity are evident during this period. The regional identity had been evolving for quite some time. The ruling classes of Punjab had developed this consciousness before the establishment of Sikh rule; the people at large developed it under Ranjit Singh. Besides the ties of language and culture among an overwhelming majority of the ruling class, the presence of hostile neighbours virtually throughout the period of Sikh rule dictated solidarity between the nobility and the rulers in the self-interest of both. Thus, as reflected in the contemporary Punjabi literature, a popular movement and the interests of the ruling class had coalesced into a well-articulated regional sentiment by the end of Ranjit Singh’s reign. This regional sentiment tended to transcend communal differences, making for cultural coexistence. After the subversion of this regional kingdom, the poet Shah Muhammad regretfully referred to the British as "third community" to enter the region where the Hindus and the Muslims had long lived in peace and prosperity.Top


A book is for reading
Surjit Hans writes from Patiala

I THANK Prof Bhupinder Singh for the courtesy of going through my review of "Terrorism in Punjab" by Puri, Judge and Sekhon. I wish he had extended a similar courtesy to the authors of the book by having a first-hand knowledge of their work. To depend on second hand information — that is, a review — however reliable or unreliable, is excusable in an undergraduate but it is not the done thing among reputable scholars.

His citing of Guru Hargobind enlisting the rejects of society is regrettable. Religion makes saints of sinners, it does not stop at enlisting them.

I am sure Prof Bhupinder Singh would not think it uncomplimentary if I say that he has avidly demonstrated in his write-up that he is a huge consumer of knowledge, not its producer like Puri, Judge and Sekhon. The loss is ours more than his.