What is common between two Punjabs

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza


Dawn: June 19, 2007

THE unusually warm relationship between the two Punjabs had started to lose its warmth much before the fall of the Congress government in East Punjab. On our part sharp criticism came from Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Husain, a partner in the government who had called the contacts between the two Punjabs a part of a greater Punjab strategy. Then the chief of National Language Authority (NLA) condemned the move to teach Punjabi in the Pakistani Punjab in articles one of which was titled, ‘Punjab ki maadri zaban Urdu hey’ (Urdu is the mother tongue of Punjab). It was published in a prestigious Urdu daily of Lahore and later on projected in an English daily of Karachi by a columnist. Before its publication, the article was read in the first session of Nifaz-i-Urdu conference held at the Quaid-i-Azam Library in April last.

Altaf Husain and the NLA chief may have been concerned about the 50-year-old demand that Punjabi should be introduced in the province as a compulsory medium of instruction, meaning a replacement of Urdu with Punjabi. This replacement is bound to hit some of the economic vested interests of Urdu writers and publishers of books in Urdu who must ignore the national interest of broadening the base of education in Punjab. Mother tongue is universally accepted as the most effective and natural medium of instruction at the primary level. Application of this rule here would lead to Punjabi having a share in the power enjoyed by Urdu.

This is one aspect of the issue. The question is as to why both Islamabad and Delhi ignored the exchange of people between the two Punjabs after 2004? Earlier Pakistan and India had indicated allowing citizens above 60 years of age from Punjab and elsewhere to cross over easily. These citizens were to be given permits for border-crossing and were to be allowed to cross over on foot. Nothing of the sort has come about. Instead more restrictions have been imposed, and even an organisation like South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) had to cancel two of its meetings of these limitations.

Away from the officialdom, however, literary and cultural organisations have continued their agenda with more vigour and determination. As its latest venture, the Academy of the Punjab in North America (APNA) is publishing a quarterly literary magazine, Saanjh, simultaneously from Sahiwal and Ludhiana in b o t h Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi. Its first issue has been distributed in Pakistan by the Sahiwal office (417-V, Farid Town). Mr Safir Rammah is Saanjh’s managing editor. Mr Rammah is a well-known figure among the readers of English-language newspapers in Pakistan. APNA was previously managed in Pakistan by Sufi Mushtaq who had published, among other works of known Punjabi writers, a 1000-page diwan of Baba Nanak in Shahmukhi script. In Pakistan, Muhammad Asif Raza and Sajid Nadeem will serve as assistants to Safir Rammah.

The Shahmukhi version has been published and printed by a Lahore press while the Gurmukhi magazine has been printed and published from Ludhiana.The cover of the magazine carries a painting by Sabir Nazar. The Pakistani version has 184 pages and the price is Rs100. The Indian version comprises 116 pages and is priced at Rs75 (Indian). It bears a line from Bulleh Shah; Bulleh Shah asaan marna naheen, near the masthead, which indicates determination and that the Saanjh’s stress will be on cultural and literary commonalities between the two Punjabs.

The first issue (April-June) carries an article on the development of relations between the two Punjabs by Alisa Ayers, deputy director of the Centre for Advanced Study of India at the Pennsylvania University. She is also the managing director of the university’s India review. In her piece, she surveys the nature and dimensions of the relationship between the two Punjabs. Apart from her reference to the cultural, literary and political commonali ties, she delineates the importance of the two Punjabs in the power structure of India and Pakistan. She thinks that in Pakistan Punjabis are wellplaced in administration and the army while in India they are holding three most important portfolios: The prime minister is a Punjabi, the army chief is a Punjabi and the planning commission deputy chairman, (next to the prime minister in importance) is also a Punjabi. In her view, East Punjab may be small in size but it is more important than provinces much larger than it on area and population. The fact is that two Punjabi prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Inder Kumar Gujral did not play the positive role they were capable of in improving ties.

Hostilities against Punjab is not something new. Many forces were hostile to Punjab even during the freedom movement. During the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi, the great grandson of Pandit Nehru, give Nehru credit for the failure of the two-nation theory in 1971.

If this utterance reminds the Muslims of India and Pakistan of the negative effects of the Moti Lal Nehru’s Report, it should not be considered out of place. The Nehru regime did its best to keep those Punjabi soldiers away from the government who had played a role in the Azad Hind Fauj. It was Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru who had rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan without consulting the Executive Committee of the Congress, an act Maulana Abul Kalam Azad has criticised in his autobiography.

The Cabinet Mission Plan was meant to keep India united for at least ten years. But Nehru was in a hurry and bloodbath and largescale migration followed. The Indian attitudes after partition are to some extent is responsible for the army’s domination of power structure in Pakistan. The heavy defence budgets of the two countries hamper economic progress that can change the lot of the poor.

It is all the more unfortunate that the three major wars between the two neighbours have been fought in the Punjabi-speaking areas and the Punjabis have had to face the consequences.

APNA’s Saanjh and Dyal Singh Research and Cultural Forum, Lahore’s quarterly Punjab Rang are very significant in the context of ties between the two Punjabs. Saanjh is an independent venture while the Pakistan government sponsors Punjab Rang. Let us wish both these ventures success.

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