Sharing heritage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Shaheed Bhagat Singh across Radcliffe line


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, September 28: Today is the birth anniversary of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh. A Pakaistani lawyer filed a petition in Lahore High Courtlast year  seeking retrial of the common icon of the freedom struggle. Now functions are held in the village across the border where Bhagat Singh was born. People across the Radcliffe line share a common history, language and culture and of late, the region is witnessing nostalgia about the common heritage. This might seem odd to the hate mongers, jingoist TV anchors, Jihadists and Shiv Seniks who have been raising the war cry since the terrorist attack on army establishment at Uri near the Line of Control killing 18 army men.

Shiv Sena in Maharashtra  have given an ultimatum to the Pakistani artists in Bollywood to leave the country. Strangely, the Shiv Sena has not issued diktats to Bombay Port Trust to stop shipments to Karachi in Pakistan. Perhaps this  does not suits the ‘patriotic’ Seniks. They would rather like trade across Wagha land route to stop. In case free trade is allowed across Attari-Wagha border, even European markets would be accessible from Punjab across the land route and it is the Mumbai and Karachi ports  that would be directly affected. One of the reasons for raising tensions is the vested interests in keeping the tension alive by certain groups on both the sides. People in general want peace and this has been established repeatedly during the last more than a decade that has witnessed increased people-to-people contact.

The World Punjabi conferences held in Lahore and Chandigarh in the last decade adopted resolutions to own up common icons of freedom struggle and common heritage. Shaheed Bhagat Singh is the common icon of freedom struggle. During a visit to Lahore way back in 2004, one could hear references to Maharaja Ranjit Singh as the only Punjabi emperor since Porus. Now both of them are being talked about publicly that had never happened earlier in Pakistani Punjab.

A debate on a Pakistan TV channel on Maharaja Ranjit Singh doing the rounds on social media is an eye opener for hate mongers. Maharaja Ranjit Singh has never been discussed by any Indian TV channel in this way bringing about the finer qualities of his rule. It was his brave General Hari Singh Nalwa who conquered Peshawar, then part of Afghanistan. He too is remembered and owned as a Punjabi warrior.

Then there is the separate recording of a talk on the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The person throwing light on various aspect of Maharaja Ranjit Singh  is from the sixth generation of the family that served maharaja Ranjit Singh. This Sayyed family was the first to start printing and publishing of books in Lahore. The family maintains a private museum, besides a rich library.

Here are certain interesting revelations made by yet another speaker during talk on Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore. Lahore, the capital of the Sikh Empire, perhaps was the most literate city in the world during the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Himself an illiterate, the Maharaja launched massive literacy campaign. The literacy rate in Lahore during the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was 87 per cent while it was 78 per cent in Punjab. The empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh extended from Satluj to Khyber Pass and included Kashmir. Kashmir was purchased by the Dogra rulers from the Sikh empire in 1846 after the Sikhs lost the first Anglo-Sikh war.

The language that was taught was Persian. The Maharaja got prepared 5,000 primers of Persian language to be distributed among village lambardars who were further ordered to get five copies made for further distribution. It was a three month course.

There is yet another important aspect relating to that regime. It was Maharaja Ranjit Singh who got Quran translated in Punjabi in both Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts.

Fed up with the rule of Bhangi Misl, the elite of Lahore invited 19 years old Maharaja Ranjit Singh to take over Lahore. He was based at Gujranwala at that time. The letter was signed by 17 eminent persons of whom 15 were Muslims and two Hindus.

The Punjabis in Pakistan now talk about Mohenjo-Daro and Emperor Porus.

The anti-thesis to hate is people to people interaction and free trade. The road to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir from Uri was closed only for a day. Trucks and passenger bus continue to ply. Why should a trader in Amritsar ship his goods to Lahore via Mumbai and Karachi ports when the distance between Amritsar and Lahore is just about 40 km? Perhaps this is what worries the Shiv Sena people in Mumbai who have vested interest in Mumbai port who continue to spread venom.

The attack in Uri is a serious issue but then it is the two Punjabs that would be hit in case of war, not Maharashtra.



Jagtar Singh


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