Malerkotla, Punjab’s newest neighborhood, has no room for religious fanaticism


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Chandigarh: For Professor Mohammad Rafi, 63, who has taught Urdu for more than three decades at Government College in Malerkotla, Punjab, Eid has brought both happiness and anger.

Rafi had been elated because on May 14, Eid-ul-Fitr, Malerkotla had officially become the 23rd district of Punjab, responding to a demand that residents of the predominantly Muslim city had been making for more than two decades.

However, on May 15, he was angered by a tweet posted by Yogi Adityanath in which the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh accused the Congress-led government of Punjab of deepening religious divisions by making distinctions on the basis of religion.

The residents of Malerkotla, a town in the Sangrur district of Punjab, have long wanted their town to be a full-fledged neighborhood as the seat of the Sagrur district is 50 km away, making it difficult for them to access administrative services. , Rafi explained.

“We now have easy access to government services and, of course, better police services and separate courts,” Rafi said. “So how can Yogi say that making Malerkotla a neighborhood is a step of division? Just because the majority of city dwellers are Muslims doesn’t mean that religion has been the motivation for making the city a neighborhood in itself.

Sufi syncretism

Malerkotla has a population of over 1.35 lakh according to the 2011 census. About 30-35% of this population is made up of Hindus and Sikhs, who were equally inconvenienced by the distance between the city and the headquarters of the district than Muslims.

In addition, the new district of Malerkotla does not include the city on its own. The government of Punjab has incorporated the non-Muslim areas of the Ahmedgarh and Amargarh mandi subdivision into its 23rd district, which helps people in those areas to easily access their headquarters.

But since Yogi Adityanath’s tweet, there has been great interest in Malerkotla’s rich history of religious coexistence, interfaith dialogue, peace and non-violence. Many people believe the city serves as a lesson in this time of heightened religious strife.

The city owes its foundation in the 15th century to the Sufi saint Sheikh Sadruddin-i-Jahan, alias Haider Sheikh. His tomb in the center of town is a living example of interfaith faith. Passers-by can see large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs paying homage at the tomb as they firmly believe in the divine powers of the Sufi saint.

In fact, it is common in many Hindu and Sikh homes to light earthen pots every Thursday in the name of Haider Sheikh.

The descendants of Haidar later became the rulers of Malerkotla and, according to popular history, ruled the city wisely.

The story of Haidar’s descendant Sher Mohammad Khan, who was the Nawab of Malerkotla in the early 18th century, has been prominently featured in media reports and even in state government press releases over the past two years. days.

Sher Mohammad Khan had strongly opposed an anti-Sikh decision by Sirhind’s Subedar, Wazir Khan, in 1705. Wazir Khan had wanted to suffocate to death two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, by bringing them back to a small space without air. Sher Mohammad Khan not only opposed Wazir Khan, but appealed to the court of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb to spare the lives of the Guru’s sons.

Upon hearing this, Guru Gobind Singh blessed the Nawab and the people of Malerkotla with eternal peace.

The Punjabi psyche

“It is widely believed that the guru’s blessing maintains the city’s secular ties between all communities,” said Harjeshwar Pal Singh, Chandigarh history teacher.

While Hindu-Muslim tensions have often erupted in India, Malerkotla has always remained peaceful, the professor added. “When the whole Punjab burned down at the time of the partition, Muslims in Malerkotla were safe,” Harjeshwar said. “When the Babri Masjid was demolished, people of all faiths came together to keep the peace. Malerkotla serves as an example for the rest of the country. “

The decision of the Punjab government to name the new Malerkotla medical college after Nawab Mohammad Khan is a testament to the role Muslim rulers in Malerkotla had played in maintaining community friendship, local journalist Anwar Mehboob said.

Mehboob added that the city wears many other badges with pride. It is the center of vegetable production in Punjab. Its artisans produce regimental badges for the defense forces and souvenirs for the best universities. It is also the homeland of renowned poets and lyricists, including Irshad Kamil.

Political analyst Parmod Kumar, director of the Chandigarh-based Institute for Development and Communication, said Yogi Adityanath’s tweet did not matter in Punjab.

“The Punjabi Hindu is not of the Hindutva type,” Kumar said. “He goes to gurudwaras and even majars and masjids. Therefore, anyone who tries to interpret Punjab on the basis of religion may not be successful. The Punjab is largely a religio-cultural society. People here are not afraid to visit each other’s place of worship.

Even after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Kumar added, the riots occurred in Delhi, not the Punjab, as Punjabi culture continues to remain the dominant mode of social interaction.

“This is why Yogi’s statement was criticized, as it should have been,” he added.

Many people believe Yogi Adityanath’s tweet was a political attack on the Congress Party, which the BJP accuses of Muslim appeasement.

But in Punjab, which is currently ruled by Congress and will hold Assembly elections with UP early next year, the Muslim population is too small to change the outcome of the elections, unlike other states. According to the 2011 census, the Muslim population of Punjab is only half a million, or just over 2% of the total population of Punjab.

Declaring a predominantly Muslim town as a district can influence the outcome of the elections only in the town of Malerkotla itself. And the city is already a stronghold of the ruling party in Congress.

CM vs. CM

In his May 14 statement, the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, said that the establishment of the Malerkot district was part of the Punjab’s Congress election platform in 2017.

Besides a medical school, the chief minister also announced the establishment of a government college for girls, new bus stops and a mahila thana (police station for women), managed exclusively by women.

Iftikhar Ali Khan from Malerkotla. Photo: Subhanmia / CC BY-SA 4.0

To promote the cultural heritage of Malerkotla, the Chief Minister said he wrote to the Aga Khan Foundation in the UK to undertake the conservation and restoration of the Mubarak Manzil Palace, which was last occupied by Begum Sahiba Munawwar ul Nisa, wife of Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan, the last ruler of Malerkotla.

The government of Punjab acquired the Mubarak Manzil Palace and its restoration and maintenance would be a fitting tribute to the nawabs of Malerkotla and continue the rich legacy of the historic city, the chief minister said on May 14.

In response to the tweet from the UP Chief Minister on May 15, Amarinder Singh said, “What is he doing? [Yogi Adityanath] Do you know the Punjab ethos or the story of Malerkotla, whose relationship with Sikhism and its gurus is known to all Punjabi? And what does he understand about the Indian constitution, which is brazenly flouted every day by his own government within the UP?

The Chief Minister of Punjab highlighted the “wave of name changes” of various cities in Uttar Pradesh, such as Mughal Sarai in Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Nagar, Allahabad in Prayagraj and Faizabad in Ayodhya and said he ‘was an “attempt by the Yogi government.” rewrite history ”, which the peace-loving Indian people would never tolerate.

Quoting media reports, Singh said the UP was the first state in the country to approve Yogi Adiyanath’s “love jihad” and “open hatred” laws for the Taj Mahal (which he considers as a legacy of the Mughals) has been the subject of criticism in the international press.

In fact, the chief minister of the Punjab said, the chief minister of the UP is believed to be the founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organization that initiated cow vigilance, which led to the lynching of Muslims in his own state.

The BJP reacts

Many leaders of the Punjab BJP followed Yogi Adityanath’s tweet with their own statements. Former Punjab BJP President Manoranjan Kalia released a statement describing the Punjab government’s decision to make Malerkotla a new district as “communal”, even as the city symbolized secularism and coexistence.

“Many new districts were created to streamline administration in independent India and were never created on a community basis. But it is clearly evident that Malerkotla was carved out on a community basis. For this reason, UP CM Yogi Adityanath Yogi opposed its creation, ”Kalia said in his statement.

The current leader of the Punjab BJP, Ashwani Sharma, has also accused Congress of engaging in the politics of religion.

“The new district announced by the chief congressional minister smacks of ‘politics of religion’. Congress has always made decisions that destroy the harmonious democratic fabric of our society, ”Ashwani Sharma wrote in a statement to the media.

However, Union Minister Som Prakash, a BJP MP, welcomed Captain Amarinder Singh’s decision to declare Malerkotla district. In a series of tweets on May 16, Prakash said: “I congratulate the people of Malerkotla and thank Chief Minister @capt_amarinder ji for declaring #Malerkotla as a district. It is a rich tribute to the Nawab of Malerkotla Sher Mohammad Khan who protested against the execution of the two Sahibzades.

Prakash, who is from Phagwara in Punjab, added in the same set of tweets: “I ask @capt_amarinderji to declare Phagwara as a district. This is a long-standing claim of the people of Phagwara and all parties. “

Vivek Gupta is a Chandigarh-based journalist who has worked for several media including The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The gallery.

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