Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reflections on ‘PEPSU’ versus Punjab

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 119 Vol V, September 15, 2010

Nawab of Malerkotla, Iftikhar Ali Khan
Nawab of Malerkotla, Iftikhar Ali Khan
THE title of this column might indeed bamboozle many readers except the senior citizens - more particularly, the pensioners of the government of Punjab. To decode the puzzle, PEPSU was the abbreviation of the newly carved out state - Patiala and the East Punjab States Union - in the wake of the independence of India. The ‘native’ - Princely - states which merged into the Pepsu included the four ruled by (Jatt) Sikh Rajas - Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot - while the rulers of Kapurthala were the descendants of the formidable warrior, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783). The Malerkotla Nawabs, Sherwani Afghans, traced their descent to Sheikh Sadruddin (1449-1508) who had received a gift of 68 villages to the south of the fast developing commercial and strategic city of Ludhiana, from Bahlol Lodhi, ruler of Delhi. Kapurthala State (with majority of population being Muslims) had two enclaves in Jalandhar district. The outlying districts of Narnaul, Dadri and Bawal lay in southern districts of East Punjab. There were islands of Patiala in the present Himachal Pradesh. The two non-salute States, Kalsia and Nalagarh, administratively affiliated with Patiala, were also incorporated into the new Union. The covenant of merger was signed on May 5, 1948 by rulers of all the eight states.

The PEPSU was formally inaugurated on July 15, 1948 by swearing in only the Rajparmukh, Maharaja Yadavendra Singh of Patiala, because the two newly emerged political groupings, Prajamandal turned Congress and the Akali Dal had failed to form a ministry. The confusion and disorder caused by terrible communal riots leading to departure / influx of Muslims/Hindus reigned supreme. The administrative culture of newly born state of Pepsu - with an area of 10,099 sq miles / 26,146 sq Km, population of 34,24,060 and annual revenue of 5 crores - was historically steeped in repressive feudal traditions. The people had been suffering from the ‘double slavery’, under idiosyncratic and pervert rulers who were themselves under the slavish subservience of the British. The caretaker government with Sardar Gyan Singh Rarewala, a high official of Patiala State and close relation of the Maharaja, as the Premier was installed under a stop-gap arrangement in August 1948. I have a vague but disturbing memory of bloody popular upsurge in Malerkotla against police repression in the wake of murder by angry mob on June 14, 1948 of Thanedar Kuldip Singh who had raped a girl when she was in his custody. This wave of lawlessness and dacoities led to the dismissal of Rarewala ministry and imposition of President’s rule.

The sharply communal overtones became pronounced rather early in the politics of Pepsu with the Akali Dal encouraged to entertain the notion that the Pepsu was the promised niche in India with the Sikh majority which must reflect their aspirations. The Congress, comprising of old Prajamandalites, did not have Sikh leaders of stature in its ranks. The Congress won 26 seats in the Assembly of 60 in the General Elections in January 1952 and Rarewala maneuvered to be CM again in April with the support of independents. The Rarewala Ministry was dismissed in March 1953 invoking for the first time provision of the failure of the Constitutional Machinery. The mid-term poll returned Congress with Majority with Col. Raghbir Singh forming ministry in March 1954. He died in Jan,’55 and was succeeded by Brish Bhan who remained in office till the reorganization of states when Pepsu was consigned to history with its merger into the new Punjab created on November 1,1956.

Having spent my early life, first in a small village at 6km from Malerkotla and then the family shifting to nearby town of Ahmedgarh, I have the most vivid memories of the regime of Pepsu - the five letters, as if, got engraved into my consciousness long before I learnt the English alphabet! The family records now confirm that my father, then 27, a scholar of classical Vedantic studies and rigorously trained to be an Ayurved practitioner - Vaidya - had embraced the order of Khalsa on July 26, 1947 with the Amritpaan ceremony costing Rs 7 and four annas.

His words, quoting Maharaja Patiala’s speech in Hindustani during public meeting in Ahmedgarh soon after, still ring in my ears - translated loosely in English, Maharaja had said, "Now India and Pakistan have become two different and independent countries … those Muslims who would opt to live in India would be provided full security of life and property … Nawab Sahib and his forefathers have enjoyed fraternal relations with us … due arrangements will be made for those who want to migrate to Pakistan … ". The Maharaja, however, warned that the Muslims staying back in India must be completely loyal to India without any secret love for Pakistan. He also criticized the Sikh leaders who raised the alarm of, ’Panth in danger’ saying, ’danger could only be to their pockets – to make fast bucks’ adding that Guru’s Panth would always march forward.

The question of my elementary school came up in 1949. I was going to be the first ever child to be sent for formal schooling in the long line of family of traditional scholars who were all taught at home. The District Board (soon to be called Goverment) Primary School in village Sohian, at a distance of about four km, but falling in the Angrezi Ilaqa was preferred over the lower middle school, Bhogiwal, about three kilometres away, located closer to Malerkotla. The widely prevailing impression was that the teaching was more systematic and effective in the schools of British territory in comparison to the Riyasati - princely state - schools. The school had two Kutcha rooms with a mud boundary wall but the classes were mostly held under the near by trees.

Pandit Lachhman Dass of nearby village Ram Pur, the senior of the two teachers, had been posted there for more than 17 years and was well known in the neighboring villages. The name of other teacher was Partap Singh, a Sikh with white beard, who also belonged to close by village, Rorian (near Malaud) - how did we children come to know that he was of Naee-barber- caste? The caste enumerators in 2011 can draw some conclusions for our Mahan Bharat! A palatial white building with tall trees around was visible from the school. We came to know that it belonged the Sardar –feudal landlord-of Sohian, called Kaka Ji who had been inducted as DSP in the Punjab Police; knew years later that his full name was Narinder Singh Phulka. On way to school amidst the fields, I remember how flocks of colorful deer and beautiful cows, called ‘Ram Gaooan’ used to roam about freely-those were the days!

It was 7th of May 1951. Leaving village in the morning, my grandfather and I waited for hours at Kup Bus stand to catch a bus for Ahmedgarh; a few buses that passed by did not stop, being too full. So we decided to walk under the hot sun to the Kup railway station at a distance of 3km.It was my first railway journey that I remember. Within a week, I joined the MGMN High School in the third class and Pepsu, Punjab, Bharat; Sansar started getting unfolded before me in my studies. My first visit to Malerkotla was as late as in Feb 1957 when I had to appear in a special middle school scholarship examination. After the last paper, I stayed back to listen to Congress President UN Dhebar. Giyani Zail Singh, dressed in black Sherwani, introduced in his eloquently impressive Punjabi the frail looking Gandhian leader, Uchhang Rao Navalshanka Dhebhar!

Ahmedgarh, though comparatively closer to Ludhiana and linked more to it for trade and other activities, has remained tied to the district of Sangrur and inter alia with the old Pepsu, I have strongly mixed emotions of love and hate with my Pepsu identity. The two years of studies, during ’59-61, in Government College, Malerkotla and the two years as a college lecturer in Bathinda in ’67-69 provided me with a wealth of contrasting experiences with my studies in DAV College, Jalandhar for graduation and Post Graduation in Government College, Ludhiana. To me, Pepsu seemed personification of feudal depravities and, rampant corruption, in its myriad hues. The peon of the Principal and the clerks in Malerkotla college; the clerical staff and even lecturers and Principals in Bathinda, I am very sorry to say, remind me of the most viciously corrupt and intriguing persons in contrast to many inspiring and most helpful functionaries I came across as student/lecturer in Jalandhar and Ludhiana.

When the Pepsu was merged into the Punjab, many like me, had hoped and prayed that values and work culture of Punjab will have a salutary influence on the Riyasati - Pepsu people. But, alas! the wheel seems to have turned the other way round: The ‘Pepsu–ization’ of Punjab seems to be full and complete; the theory of economics, ’bad money drives out good money’ rings loudly true in my beloved present Punjab. The ‘cash and carry job Super Bazaar’ going by in the name of Public Service Commission, Patiala run by some Super Sidhu should make an easy entry into the Guinness Book!

For many years, I had a mysteriously eerie feeling of journeying into ‘darkness’ when travelling towards Malerkotla and going towards ‘light’ when heading towards Ludhiana! It is now more a disturbingly depressing sense in undertaking journey in both directions - signs of slipping towards senility, sagacity or mere nostalgic non-sense … other should know better!!