Eminent historian and thinker Rajmohan Gandhi’s latest book, Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten will be launched on 18 September 2013 in Chandigarh. Researched in India, Pakistan and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the book narrates a 240-year story of what old-timers know as undivided Punjab, beginning with the 1707 death of Emperor Aurangzeb and ending with the 1947 division into West Punjab and East Punjab.
Post-1707 instability, invasions by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali, Afghan-Sikh clashes, half a century of Sikh rule, a century of British rule, the movements for independence and majority rule, the carnage of 1947, and the humanity that countered the carnage — all this and more is covered and interpreted. Rajmohan Gandhi spoke to D P Satish about his book and many other issues.
Can we say that we can’t understand the history of modern India and its problems without understanding the history of Punjab post Aurangazeb? Rajmohan Gandhi: Yes, I am trying to convey that. Neither modern Indian history, nor modern Pakistani history can be understood without understanding the last 300-350 years history of Punjab.
Do you really believe that the events that took place in Punjab between Aurangazeb and Mount Batten shaped the destiny of independent India? Rajmohan Gandhi: Yes. I would say it is a very strong statement. I would say that it is a correct statement. Enormous challenges we have today are connected to the upheavals of those times. Wars, tensions, extremism or terrorism, we are facing today are connected to partition.
They are connected to our relationship with the whole wide World. If the partition had to come, could it have come as a settlement, rather through trauma? If we could have avoided it, the whole story of Millions of people would have been completely different. People say Musims in Punjab or Sindh did not ask for Pakistan. It was the Muslims in UP and Bihar. But, when these Musims went to Pakistan, they realised that they were not welcome. The Punjabis and the Bengalis paid a heavy price for this. Do you agree with this? Rajmohan Gandhi: It is certainly true. The Pakistan call or cry was far stronger outside today’s Pakistan than it was in today’s Pakistan. But, in the late 1930s, the idea of Pakistan became very popular in Punjab and Sindh. To some extent even in Bengal. It does not mean that many people in present day Pakistan never wanted Pakistan.
There is also a feeling that the plight of Punjabis got disproportionate importance and publicity after partition? Rajmohan Gandhi: Many people in Bengal feel that. I think, every part of the sub-continent is very important. Even if we give 10 times more importance or attention to Bengal than what we have given to Punjab, it is not enough. Both, Punjab and Bengal suffered as a result of the partition. The history of India during the Moghuls was written by the Muslims, mainly courtiers.
Later the White people wrote it. Either they glorified the rule or demonized it. What we have today is not actually an authentic history? Is that correct? Rajmohan Gandhi: Every historian has his or her perspective. No history can be completely objective. It is not possible. What is necessary is, we must read all perspectives. Punjabi perspective, Bengali Perspective etc. In this book, I tried to compare various versions.
If at all possible to find the approximation of what has happened. There is a feeling that the history of South India is neglected. Particularly, it s role in the freedom struggle. Rajmohan Gandhi: That is absolutely correct. South Indian history is a neglected part. But, even the north Indian part has not been sufficiently studied. There is no limit to give extra attention; we should give to get to the bottom of it. In recent years, there is a demand for rewriting of history.
The people those who are demanding that claim that they are just correcting the history and not rewriting it. What do you have to say about it? Rajmohan Gandhi: Anybody, who says I am going to correct the history or I am the last word or I am going to correct the mistakes of the past is being quiet arrogant. Any one can say that, I want to give a new version. We must all realise that history is a very complex business. So many tendencies, so many actions are there at any given moment.
Do you think that polarisation of Hindus and Muslims happening in a big way these days? Don’t you think that the politics practiced by Modi and Mulayam type may lead to a huge clash of religions? Rajmohan Gandhi: In my book polarization is only one part of the story. One level there was a clash. But, at the ground level there was an amazing amount of co-operation and acceptance of one another. The elite often fought. British sowed the seeds of partition. Strictly speaking, not part of this book, certain statements that have come from him (Narendra Modi) are troubling to the say the least. On Indo-Pak relationship, I am not an astrologer to comment. If we want this region to thrive, reduce poverty, we must certainly come together.
Older generations may have bitter feelings. It also has memory of old connections. Younger generation does not have that. Are you working on any new book? Rajmohan Gandhi: Yes, my next book is about Gujarat. Not about today’s Gujarat or Modi’s Gujarat. It is about an important and interesting historical figure Durbar Gopal Desai who died in 1951. He is a lesser known personality. I will be writing about him.
You are Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. Do the people expect you to be like him? Does it affect your writing? Rajmohan Gandhi: I hope, nobody expects me to behave like him. I am an ordinary man. From my own thinking, I believe in certain values, which happen to be very similar to Mahatma’s values. I am not concerned about what the people expect from me. I won’t be swayed by such expectations. Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten by Rajmohan Gandhi; Category: History Publisher: Aleph Book Company, New Delhi
Originally Published By: CNN-IBN