by Arnold Zeitlin 23 March 2020
Anonymous authors take the reader on a brisk 54-page journey focussed on the Punjab against the broader context from the Indus Valley or Harappan Civilization dating back to 3300 BCE to the region’s modern state divided between India and Pakistan. Along the way, we meet Alexander the Great who never quite penetrated the fullest Punjab, leaving behind Ghandara relics found in Taxila, the Maurya and Gupta empires, the arrival of Islam in the eighth century and the Moghul dynasties that followed it, the rise of the Sikhs and Sikhism and, finally, the appearance of the British. A great deal of space is given to the British East India Company, although its presence was more imposing in Bengal than the Punjab until the Company waged a successful invasion of the Punjab in 1846. The Sikhs are singled out for helping their British conquerors subdue the 1857-8 Sepoy Rebellion, which ended the rule of the East India Company and of what was then the pretense of the Moghul empire.
This account credits the British for putting the idea of separation into Muslim minds when the British viceroy, Lord Curzon, divided Bengal in 1905. Against this context, readers learn a great deal about Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi but not much about what Punjabis were up to during the lengthy march to Indian and Pakistan independence and the Partition that cost so many Punjabi lives, Moslem, Hindu and Sikh.
Neglected in this history is the immense importance of the Punjab to both Pakistan and India. A single paragraph explains the Punjab’s significance to India (“still a major supplier of wheat”) but not much else. There’s virtually nothing about Pakistan, where the Punjab is very much the heart of the country’s civil politics and of its military domination. After these 54 pages, the reader wants to know more about Punjab and Punjabis.