By Anmol Singh Hundal | OPINION |
This day marks the 180th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the emperor of all Panjab. To commemorate this, a life sized statue of the Panjabi sovereign was unveiled in Lahore, West Punjab, Pakistan. In addition, there are a host of articles in major Indian publications variously describing Ranjit Singh as a “great conqueror”, “master strategist”, “skilled tactician”, “courageous fighter”, a “benevolent sovereign” and altogether an “outstanding Indian ruler”.
He was a conqueror for sure, his government put together the fragmented kingships of Panjab into a modern State able to stand head to head against the mighty British East India Company itself.
The “master strategist” part is an exaggeration. In truth, he had no strategy and the best evidence of that is the ruin that Panjab faced after he passed away. I don’t have any evidence of him being a tactician either; sure he won a few battles early on to win Lahore but the most decisive battles for Panjab were fought by his excellent Generals and not by Ranjit Singh himself. He was courageous and benevolent; after all Panjabis would never accept a ruler who did not possess those characteristics.
However, the one description that I find egregious and unfair is that he was an “Indian ruler”, or that he was an “Indian”.
All Nations and States are man-made, and the same goes for India (and Pakistan). India is a western name given to an empire put together by the British piece-by-piece by conquering the smaller principalities and sovereign empires and kingdoms that made up the subcontinent. In other words, there was no India before the British created one. When thinking of a native concept of a unified subcontinent, one might come up with “Hindostan” — which as opposed to India is a term that was not introduced by the British and is often used as an equivalent of India — but “Hindostan” had no defined boundaries at any point in history and its unclear what exactly it constituted.
The process of creation of India was savage in the least and it involved deception and mass-murder on the part of the British. Panjab was one of the last major conquests into the growing British Company and like other regions in the Subcontinent, it became part of “India” only after it was conquered. The people of Panjab used the word Panjab (ਪੰਜਾਬ) to refer to their land and mulkh (country); the vast majority of them probably never even heard the word India. Shah Muhammad uses the term “Company” to refer to what is now called the “East India Company” in his Jangnama Hind-Panjab (An account of the first war between Hindostan and Panjab).
So, during the time Ranjit Singh lived, the land he was born in and ruled was called Panjab. Is it fair that after his death, we describe him using a nationality that is attached to the State that: waged war on and annexed his empire when it was weak, kidnapped his descendant Duleep Singh and shipped him off to England, and continues to rule Panjabis while depriving them of their democratic and human rights and without giving them a legitimate opportunity for self-determination?
In any case, should the present political map of the world guide our description of pre-modern people? If by any chance Panjabis are able to regain their sovereignty in the next 50 years, and they decide to name their new State Khalistan, would it be fair to retrospectively call Ranjit Singh a Khalistani?
And a little caveat, Ranjit Singh was born in Gujranwala, a city that today falls in the Western side of Panjab which is in Pakistan. So even if we are to label people using the modern political boundaries, he was a Pakistani and not an Indian.
I would like to end by asking whether changing Ranjit Singh’s identity posthumously does justice and due honor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh? What right do we have to label Ranjit Singh as an Indian when he himself never used that description for himself (as evident from his title which is Sher-e-Panjab meaning the Lion of Panjab)?
To view Maharaja Ranjit Singh painting used above, go here.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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