Saturday, May 24, 2014

Manohar Singh Gill - Our twinned histories

“Awwal Allah Noor Upaya, Kudrat Ke Sab Bande. Ek Noor Te Sab Jag Upjaya, Kaun Bhale Te Kaun Mande.” 
 “Nanak naam chardi kala, tere bhaane sarbat da bhala"
I was born in Aldinpur village, Amritsar, 10 miles from the border with Pakistan. Lahore and Amritsar are the heart of the old Punjab. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s original village, Jati Umra, is five miles from mine. The two Punjabs are embedded in two countries but it cannot be forgotten that in history and culture, they are one people: same language, same food, same dress, same ceremonies and the same jokes.
Syed Babar Ali is the founder and chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, justly famous in Pakistan. Iqrar Ahmad Khan, an acclaimed agricultural scientist, is the vice chancellor of Faisalabad Agriculture University. Both had been pressing me for long to visit and speak to their students. In the last week of March, my wife and I decided to go.
We crossed the new Attari border. The process there is tedious and slow, and not conducive to expanding visitor numbers or trade. The trade trucks choke up the main road and there is utter confusion. There is an obvious need to park the trucks in a separate designated area, away from the road to Lahore. The Pakistani processing on the other side is easier and faster.
We stayed at the Lahore Gymkhana. We did not have any security guards and I have never felt the need for any, here or there. In our country, security guards have become a means to elevate a politician’s status. They cannot protect him, hemmed in as they are by the crowds pressing in.
In the afternoon, I went to LUMS and spoke to a big gathering of students from many faculties, and their staff. The vice chancellor and Syed Babar Ali — incidentally a school friend of our former chief minister, Harcharan Singh Brar — were present. They were most curious about our election system, electronic voting and the whole process of democracy going on in India. I noted that boys and girls were present in equal numbers, and they questioned me intensively.
They want to know more about India. I asked to be taken to the canteen and observed boys and girls sitting in happy groups. I was taken around the university; classes had ended and they were all gathered in an open courtyard. Boys and girls were talking to each other, as they might in Delhi University, with easy camaraderie. The images of Pakistan people promote here are not correct. They have their loonies, as we have ours. Like us, the large mass of people have good sense.
The next day I went to see Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister, who had invited me. He was fascinated with our talk on development and my explanation of the Punjab system of minimum support prices, full procurement of wheat and paddy and prompt payments in 1,500 regulated mandi board market yards. I laughingly said to him that our wheat would be procured after April 13 and the entire cabinet, with the chief minister, would travel to market yards to ensure farmer satisfaction. In my Punjab, I said, democracy gets rid of chief ministers who fail in this prime duty.
The officers sitting around and listening were shocked at my remarks. The CM took them well. Pakistan has no such system. I saw, later, driving around Sahiwal and Faisalabad districts, that out of 20 million tonnes of wheat coming in, they were only going to buy about 3 million, that too from big influential farmers. I saw no godowns. Only in one place did I see a small stack under tarpaulins — on the ground, not even on plinths.
The CM had recently been to our Punjab, but his time was spent in great political hospitality. No one explained to him how we do things. He was fascinated and continued the conversation. When I left, he urged me to keep in touch. I suppose he does not ever get my kind of irreverent views. After I came back to Delhi, friends rang me to say that the CM had taken note of what I said and directed his cabinet to move out to the districts to ensure service to small farmers, as I had urged.
The next day, we travelled to Pakpattan beyond Fazilka on the Sutlej. We wanted to pay homage at the Baba Farid dargah. It is in the middle of a small town and the crowds in the bazaar were surprised to see us. Baba Farid is in the Sikh Granth Sahib, and our favourite listening. He lived 200 years before Guru Nanak, who used to come to Pakpattan. I was taken to a village outside town, still called Nanak Tibba, where he used to stay. A small hospice has been cleaned up and is looked after by the archaeological department. In the middle, it had flowers and candles on a small platform in Guru Nanak’s memory... 
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