Thursday, April 12, 2001, Chandigarh, India



M A I N   N E W S

Maharaja who sowed seeds of Punjabiyat
By Hari Jaisingh

History is not only a mirror to the past but also a live link between yesterday, today and tomorrow. Today we look at the bicentenary of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh not in isolation but in totality with a view to understanding that eventful period in the face of challenges confronting us. This should help us to objectively assess where we stand in terms of governance and liberal values that guided the Maharaja and his team.

Maharaja Ranjit SinghWinston Churchill once said: "The more we dig the past, the more we understand the present". Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not merely an outstanding personality, a sagacious statesman and the maker of modern Punjab, but an institution, a unique symbol of defiance, fortitude and prudence. In the annals of history he holds a distinguished position of a constructive genius, who during the darkest chapter of our history, brought peace and stability to Punjab.

Ranjit Singh's vision was crystal clear. His boundless curiosity was the most important part of his personality. He had a ceaseless quest to learn from all quarters and adopt new ideas to improve his administration. His intense urge to modernise his army under the guidance of French and Italian generals exemplifies this rare trait in his personality.

He never allowed himself to be bullied or intimidated by anyone, not even by the English colonial rulers whom he treated on equal terms and thereby brought dignity, status and a spirit of self-reliance to Punjab. When the British had established their control in the rest of the country, Maharaja Ranjit Singh succeeded in maintaining independence of Punjab. He also successfully slammed the door on the invaders from the north-west, who used to create chaos and havoc in the state.

The Maharaja actually sowed the seeds of Punjabi nationalist ethos (Punjabiyat) which might have been the earlier version of Indian nationalism. If this process of inter-community partnership by integrating three major religions which he fostered had continued, possibly the communal problem which destroyed the unity of Punjab might have been solved and partition avoided. It would have simplified the class problem by providing aristocratic leadership to a modernised state and united aristocracy, bourgeoisie and peasantry in common pursuit and patriotism. But alas! That was not to be!

The Maharaja's unworthy successors proved incompetent, reckless and opportunistic, animated by narrow selfish interests and they destroyed what he had built. When Sardars of rank threw down their weapons in 1849 in the last heroic battle, a grizzled warrior was heard saying, "Today Ranjit Singh is dead".

Maharaja Ranjit Singh symbolises for us boldness, courage, sagacity, foresight, magnanimity, endurance, common sense and inter-communal partnership of Punjabiyat. These values are a precious treasure of all advanced civilisations, and for advancement and progress these values have to be cherished, sustained, and diffused so as to serve as a beacon light in the sea of many oceans.

We paid our tribute to the genius of the Maharaja by bringing out a special issue of the Sunday Tribune's Spectrum (April 8, 2001) wherein prominent historians and other scholars evaluated his role and relevance amidst today's challenges. We, however, need to know more and more about him. It is necessary to promote historical research on the Maharaja and his times on which excellent studies have been produced outside Punjab. Persian and English source material in England lies buried in archives.

This rich treasure should be made available to scholars so that the Maharaja and his contributions are viewed in proper perspective. This is the minimum the Punjab Government needs to ensure. Over to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. 


Celebrations begin tomorrow
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 11
The bicentenary celebrations of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh will get under way with a state-level function at Patiala on April 13, the Baisakhi day. Though the bicentenary falls on April 12 the Celebration Committee decided to coincide it with the Baisakhi celebrations by laying the foundation stone of a complex to commemorate the memory of the Maharaja. Beside a French author, who did a prize winning book on Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s French connections, will also be felicitated at the April 13 function at Patiala. A national level function will be held at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on April 21. The Prime Minister will be the chief guest.

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