The Tale Of Two Punjabs
Viewed from outside, images of India and Pakistan seem closely intertwined, though not always coming across aptly or beautifully. It is hardly surprising that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly confused the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India with some India-Pakistan clash causing tensions.
Thankfully, his confusion did not spell with ‘K’ (for Kashmir) unlike a former British Foreign Minister David Miliband (2007-2010), who read ‘K’ dispute as the ‘Kause’ for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. Perceptions formed from a distance can be horribly wrong.
Images get mixed when it comes to the Punjab that straddles India and Pakistan. Canada’s Justine Trudeau who leads a government with several ministers and lawmakers hailing from either Punjab, has felt politically compelled to comment on the farmers’ cause and has drawn flak from the Government of India. He has stood his ground.
Johnson, in spite of a significant population in UK with roots in Punjab, has not taken sides on the farmers’ stir, so far. But he has another task on hand – an SOS from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to send back his bête noire, thrice-elected – and thrice-ousted – former premier Nawaz Sharif. The Islamabad High Court has declared Nawaz an ‘absconder’.
Khan wants Sharif back since he is misusing, Khan says, the court-granted leave for medical treatment in London. He is upset that Nawaz has been taking on, via video links, the country’s all-powerful military brass for ‘selecting’ Khan to power.
Imran is edgy now that his battle with the opposition’s Pakistan Democratic movement has entered the key Punjab province, with a rally in Multan and another in Lahore on December 13. Clearly, Pakistan is headed for political and constitutional deadlock.
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It is unclear if Johnson will oblige Imran. Britain has hosted another fugitive Pakistani politician, Altaf Hussain, for long years. Come to think of it, the once-mighty colonial power cannot ignore happenings in countries it formerly ruled, even if at times confusion confounds the perceptions.
From far or near, it is tempting to draw at this juncture, even if cursorily, some comparisons and contrasts between the two Punjabs. I must begin with a humble disclaimer – I don’t belong to either. So, please forgive any faux pas.
Sharing the waters of five rivers, both the Panj-Nad or Punj-Abs feed their respective nations. Figures on the Pakistan side are staggering. Punjab covers about 69 percent of the total cropped area, contributing a major share in the agricultural economy of the country by providing about 83 percent of cotton, 80 percent of wheat, 97 percent of the fine aromatic rice, 63 percent of sugarcane and 51 percent of maize to the national food production.
The Indian Punjab is the second largest producer of wheat in the country and the third largest of rice. The state accounted for nearly 18 percent of India’s total wheat production and 11 percent of rice production in 2018-19. Haryana produced 12 percent of the country’s wheat output and 4 percent of rice. By contrast, the Indian Punjab is a medium-sized state compared to, say, Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra. But it remains the largest granary.
They share seasons, and the plentiful and shortages they yield. So despite everything, they share onion to salt, whatever one side falls short of. They could do more, and not just in farm produce. Both send significant numbers to their respective armed forces – that have clashed in at least three conflicts, numerous smaller ones and stand eye ball-to-eyeball.
The Indian Punjab along with Haryana that was carved out of it, sends the highest numbers to the armed forces. On the Pakistan side, the most populous and prosperous province is also militarily the most powerful. One is not being churlish in stating that the Indian soldier enjoys no political clout compared to his all-powerful Pakistani counterpart.
When they are not fighting on the border, sports are the arena for the Punjabis. In the last century when (field) hockey was essentially a South Asian game, India and Pakistan were the traditional rivals competing in the World Cup Hockey, Olympics and other arenas. The players were largely from the two Punjabs and Punjabis from both sides were clashing. Given the Partition background, it used to be life-and-death affair.
In 1960, Indian sprint legend Milkha Singh was persuaded by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to set aside his memories of the Partition era to race against Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan. That remains his “race of a lifetime,” dwarfing his other achievements. In his post-race comment the President Ayub Khan called him “the Flying Sikh.”
Its birthplaces shared by Sialkot and Gurdaspur, vigorous Bhangra is common to both the Punjabs and Punjabis anywhere. But one reads that Basant festival has become less exciting in the current times. Subjected to restrictions, one reads, Lahore does not have kite flying that goes with this festival.
Bhagat Singh is respected. K L Saigal and several artistes remain popular on both sides. Pakistan has just decided to renovate the havelis of Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in Peshawar. This is a matter of pride for Bollywood cinema lovers anywhere.
History, inevitably, has its complexities. Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled from Lahore. Installing his statue in Lahore Fort recently raised a debate why an Islamic Republic should eulogize a Sikh ruler who allegedly treated Muslims and Hindus unfairly. A few week after installation, one arm of the statue was amputated. The statue was vandalised for the second time on December 12. Sadly, shared history is ignored. Suspicions have only increased with the time. The Kartarpur shrine is the most glaring example.
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On the seamy side, both are on the trail that stretches from Afghanistan to Thailand and via Central Asia to Europe and thence, to the US. Naturally, not just the locals, old and young, anywhere, consume and the societies suffer.
Virtually ignored in the current turmoil, is the clash over Basmati, “the rice fit for kings”, to gain exclusive Geographical Indication (GI). It is big commerce, but also a matter of prestige. Turns out that India has a 65 percent share in the global Basmati market while Pakistan has the rest. But Pakistan’s exports to the European Union have almost doubled over three years since permissible levels of pesticides on imported agricultural products to the bloc were reduced in 2018, while India has repeatedly failed the tests.
Basmati is an export-oriented item for both India and Pakistan. In 2019-20, India produced 7.5 million tonnes, of which 61 percent cent was exported, earning the country Rs 31,025 crore, according to the Indian Ministry of Commerce. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the country exported 0.89 million tonnes of basmati in 2019-20.
This competition apart, it is said one of its earliest mentions of Basmati is found in the tragic romance of Heer-Ranjha by the Punjabi Sufi, Waris Shah, composed in 1766/1767. Punjab has separated territorially, but can Waris Shah, like Bulley Shah, or modern-day Mehdi Hasan or Sahir Ludhianvi, be separated?
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org