P.K. Nijhawan, a renowned scholar has chosen tp present rendition of this Jangnamah (Chronicle of the First Sikh - British war) both in English and Hindi because he thinks "it is particularly relevant to the trifurcated Punjabi society today, which brought about the partition of India". Nijhawan looks at Shah Mohammed as "a symbol of the true integration of all Punjabis into one society, all over again," because "this is the only piece of literature which is so full of Punjabi togetherness."
Shah Mohammed represents the ethos of post-Ranjit Singh Punjab and the impact of Ranjit Singh's rule on Punjabi society. No doubt, Shah Mohammed's Jangnamah describes the elan of the masses of the Punjab as a whole. The English and Hindi rendition of the Jangnamah by Nijhawan in a lucid style will go a long way in arousing the sense of Punjabi pride, cutting across communal considerations.
Full book is available here: https://archive.org/stream/TheFirstPunjabWar-ShahMohammedsJagnamah/TheFirstPunjabWar-ShahMohammedsJagnamah_djvu.txt
For me the uniqueness of this poem lies elsewhere. This is the only piece of literature or folk literature which is so full of Punjabi togetherness and even Punjabi nationalism. It appears that the poet and his audience had reached a stage of identification with the Khalsa Darbar to such an extent that his poetry seemed to completely reflect the aspirations of both the Hindus and the Muslims of the land of five rivers. Having been born in the late twenties and lived all my life in the communalised atmosphere cf the mid-twentieth century, I must confess I never came across this type of expression of Punjabi togetherness anywhere else. In my present mood, it is music to my ears. But then it raises some very important questions of contemporary reality.
For example, the amount of disinformation that our history books dish out on the communal question. Whatever be the degree of regret, it has been constantly droned into our ears that the Hindus and Muslims have always been hostile to each other which means that they were inveterate enemies and Panipat was perhaps the only possible meeting point. It is this that led to the 'two nation' theory which formed the basis of the Partition of India. Not just that, it is this kind of inexorable communal logic which is paving the way for the trifurcation of the Punjabi society in as much as the Hindus and the Sikhs of Punjab today are also in the process of becoming two separate nations with two separate destinies. For example, in the entire eighties, a virulent militant movement for creating a separate Sikh state of Khalistan in the Punjab on the lines of Pakistan, was fought with tears and blood. And if the tragedy has been averted for the time being, it is only because the silken bonds of shared Hindu-Sikh oneness have not yet been wholly snapped in spite of overt and covert machinations of several groups at several levels.
Anyway, it is the greatest tragedy that could have hit Punjab, at least for the men and women of my generation. I once had the occasion of partaking the wisdom of the late Dr. M.S. Randhawa on this point. He told me that somehow we ourselves had destroyed the human ecology of Punjab and, therefore must now pay for it. When I asked him to elaborate, he said that he could not conceive of a Punjab in which the Punjabis were divided communally. According to him, no picture of a developed and prosperous Punjab could emerge without the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims forming one homogeneous community. I was not too sure if such a state of togetherness ever existed until I read Shah Mohammed in 1995. I placed my entire Hindu identity on the anvil so as to understand how and why communalism appeared in this form. And my pet subject has since been that the process began with the increasing alienation of the Punjabi Hindu from the collectivity that Ranjit Singh had forged. It is he who moved away from his organic roots, setting into motion a whole range of communally surcharged chain reactions.
I wanted something more definite to prove myself correct. Going over the whole gamut of political, social, cultural, economic and linguistic alienation of the Punjabi Hindu from the rest of the Punjabi community, I found out that the Punjabi Hindu had done quite a bit to breed and promote communalism in Punjab. In fact, it made communal thinking among the other communities a more rational, and more fashionable way of projecting themselves. Yet, the third party which means the British, of course, contributed no less to this process. Hence, I blame the reform movements that first affected the Hindus for authoring this kind of tragedy. How? In my kind of analysis, it is the Bhadra Lokas, which means the Anglicised Hindus who found it a godsent opportunity to ape the white Sahibs in order to go up the ladder of life. On the part of the new rulers, there was also a clear reward and punishment policy set into motion.
Those who adopted the European model of the Renaissance and the Reformation as the basis of progress, soon came to dominate the society. On the contrary, those who resisted this change were relegated to much lower positions, socially as well as economically. Thus, the Anglicised Hindu immediately started reforming the Hindu religious tradition by making it into a competing religion. The churchlessness of the traditional Hindu now began to appear to him as a sign of backwardness. This however took away the cementing base of Hindu pluralism that had kept the Punjabi society together for so long in spite of the pulls and pressure of Islamic domination.
After coming across the picture of the society thrown up by Shah Mohammed, it does appear that the Punjabi society had achieved that homogeneity which could have made the emergence of a Punjabi nation possible. And to this nation, both the Hindus and the Muslims would have gravitated with almost equal zeal. I, therefore, regard the forces of the Renaissance and the Reformation unleashed both by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayanand as the main reasons for the trifurcation of the Punjabi society. The catholic Sanatanist ethos of the Hindus and Vaishnavism which was the religion of love, both came under attack from the reformed Hindus with unremitting fury. Instead, the new Hindus, whom I call Namasteji Hindus, wanted the Muslims and later on the Sikhs to reach out to them on their terms only. And the answer was a foregone conclusion. They, in turn, refused to oblige the pretenders, particularly when the British had started showing an olive-branch to them in preference to the Hindus. How sad that not a single Hindu in Punjab could read the writing on the wall. That is why I say that while the Punjabi Hindu threw up all kinds of professionals, he did not produce even one man from among them whom one could call a man of vision or destiny. It is this jilted Hindu who, as a reaction, became the first nationalist of India and filled the ranks of the Indian National Congress.
But by the same token, this alienated the Muslims and later on the Sikhs from embracing the Congress brand of nationalism.