D.H.Kolff’s pioneering study Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy : The Ethno-History of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450-1850 (1990) has dealt with an unexplored aspect of medieval Indian economy. His aim is to investigate the contribution of manpower as a factor in the formation and upholding of the state. In order to understand the nature of medieval Indian economy, specifically its redistributive aspect, he has identified Rajputs as one of the major social groups in Eastern Hindustan or Purab who offered their soldiering services in the military labour market in North India. The soldiering tradition in this region (also known as Bhojpur) of North India yielded fighting men to Shershah Suri, the Mughal emperors and the British East India Company as well as to numerous minor rulers, warlords and zamindars. While discussing the growth of military labour market from mid-fifteenth to mid-nineteenth century, Kolff has analysed the historial role and political culture of these peasant-soldiers. One interesting aspect of his work is the use of folklore, which gives tantalizing glimpses of the images of Rajputs through the eyes of their women.
Tan Tai Yong’s book under review also deals with the dynamics of the military labour market in the Punjab from 1849-1947 but from a different perspective and context.Unlike Kolff his object is to study the relationship of the colonial state with the army with an eye on the changing threat perceptions of the British rulers first from the virile and martial Punjabis and after the 1857 revolt from the Purbiyas as well as their security concerns, long term goals and policies. For him, the central concern is to explore and map out the extent and process of the militarization of bureaucracy, society and economy of the Punjab which was burdened with the responsibility of supplying man power and money without interruption.
The author begins with an examination of considerations, circumstances and compulsions which obliged the British to reverse the policy of demilitarization of the Punjabis after their unnerving experience of the 1857 upheaval and opening of certain districts of the Punjab as a recruiting ground for the Indian Army. It may be pointed out that the process of militarization of state and society in this region, though intensified by the demands of the colonial state, was built on the existing traditions of armed fighting (if need be) against injustice, tyranny and religious persecution as well as against foreign invaders who barged seventeen times through the open frontier of this region.
As a result, the Punjabis especially the Sikh Jat peasantry were obliged to cultivate a martial mentality, physical toughness and courage and love for sports. These qualities, coupled with their military training on the European model as recruits in Ranjit Singh’s Army and their bravery in the two Anglo-Sikh wars had raised their value in the military labour market whose center had shifted from Eastern India, Bombay and Madras to the Punjab by the end of the 19th century. Keen to fill in the major gaps in research on the role played by the military in the economic development of colonial Punjab, the author has argued that there is enough scope for exploring the extent and processes through which the province had become militarized from the late 19th century onwards. While pursuing his enquiry, he has raised three major questions: (i) What was the nature of the relationship between the colonial army and the government in the Punjab? (ii) What was the nature of the military labour market and how was demand (for the chosen martial castes) and supply (the readiness of preferred castes/tribes to enlist) in that market managed? Related with it was the query regarding appropriate means to sustain the loyalty of the crucial segment of man power. What was the nature of civil military equations in this unique ‘garrison state’ to use Yong’s phrase.
In fact, the entire discussion in this study revolves around these three major questions. In order to provide answer to the first question, the author has discussed the post-mutiny army reforms in 1858 as recommended by the Peel Commission. The underlying principle of these reforms was to divide and rule, and prevent the natives from developing a spirit of camara, shared interests and sympathies. Such an advice from the Punjab Committee (consisting of John Lawrence, Herbert Edwardes – both being expert Punjab watchers and Neville Chamberlain) was based on the logic of filling the Indian Army with a wide variety of castes and religious communities in order to break the monopoly of high caste Brahmins and Rajputs in the Bengal Army. Its second recommendation emphasized localization of recruitment and service. The political object of the policy based on these two recommendations was two-fold: (i) to make the army a safe instrument and prevent its various regiments from unifying against the British Government ; (ii) to develop a special relationship between the colonial army and the rulers. These reforms had a positive implication for the future of martial Punjabis especially Sikhs. As a result, the Sikhs found a permanent place in the reconstituted Bengal Army which recruited thirty-five percent soldiers from Punjab upto 1870. The second phase of reforms, beginning in mid 1880s gave priority to fighting efficiency of recruits in view of the escalating tensions after the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1880) and gnawing suspicions regarding Russian invasion of India. In this climate of fear-psychosis, Lord Roberts as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Bengal Army based his reform proposals on the theory of ‘Martial castes and races’. Without going into the merits of this theory, it may be said that a different kind of selection process was used to recruit warlike social groups and weed out the unsuitable elements. Thus, the period from 1885 to 1903 saw a growing demand and preference for Sikh Jats, Gurkhas, Pathans, Punjabi Muslim agriculturists and chiefs of tribes from the Salt Range Tract in the colonial Army. Recruitment of Ranghars was an exception. However, the principle of localization in recruitment and service remained in force. Reorganization of the Army on the basis of the martial race theory had positive implications for the special relationship between the preferred castes and the Punjab Government. In return for land-grants, sanads and titles, ex-soldiers and serving recruits pledged their whole-hearted support and loyalty, to the Angrezi- Sarkar. The second question regarding the nature of the military labour market has been discussed in a very thorough manner. The author has argued that even the Punjabization of the Indian Army after the second phase of reforms did not broaden the social base of recruitment. Owing to the bias in favour of certain types of soldiers who were to be recruited and the localities from which they were to be drawn, the military labour market remained extremely restricted. In 1900, out of a total male population of 11,255,986, just over 50,000 were in direct military service. In 1897, when the north became the main feeding area for the army, the total annual intake was no more than 4,500 according to the Annual Caste Returns of the Indian Army, lying in India Office Records. Tan Tai Yong has explained the complexities of the selection process, based on the ‘Martial Race theory’ and the Military handbooks (produced by the Army Department) which were used as guide-books, or manuals for the selection of the ‘right type of social and religious’ men as recruits for the army. As a result, many regiments narrowed their selection to include soldiers only from “particular subcastes, class, tribes and localities” (p.71). For example, Sikhs, who were generally regarded as a ‘Martial caste’ and constituted a significant portion in infantry regiments of the Indian Army by 1880s, their numbers in service were not strikingly high when computed in proportion with their population. Recruitment handbooks specified the criteria for ideal recruits : … in judging the values of tribes which supplied converts to Sikhism in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, who in fact formed the Singh people,…those tribes, who, though they now supply converts to Sikhism, did not do so then, cannot be considered (or it is inadvisable to consider) as true Sikhs. (Captain R.W.Falcon, Handbook on Sikhs for Use of Regimental Officers, Allahabad 1896, P-65). Besides, the qualification of being true or Khalsa Sikhs, according to the official definition of ‘Martial castes’, their suitability was also adjudged in terms of the theory of environmental determinism. Manuals for Recruiting Officers described the Jat Sikhs from central Punjab as “hardy, strong and full of hardwork and the best quality of Sikhs for military purposes”. Consequently, recruitment of Sikhs was virtually limited to the Majha area of Central Punjab and ninety percent of Sikh recruits were listed as Jat Sikhs. Mazhabi Sikhs, another noticeable group, were recruited as they had been elevated to an agricultural caste from a menial caste after they had been given land grants in the canal colonies. Yong has reinforced his argument by discussing the case of Punjabi Muslims especially the Gakkhar, Awan and Janjua tribes who enjoyed a high social status and belonged to the Salt Range tract. As far as the means for sustaining the loyalty of ‘Martial races’ were concerned, these included awards, land grants, sanads, titles and other forms of patronage. For example, to keep these peasant-soldiers happy and contented, the British Government enacted legislative measures such as the Punjab Alienation of Land Act 1900-01, whose object was to save them from the menace of indebtednees. Another such step was the withdrawal of amendment to the original Punjab Colonization of Land Act, which provoked the agrarian agitation of 1907. Similarly, Akalis were assuaged by the Punjab Government in the course of the Gurdwara Reform Movement by avoiding to take a Pro-Mahant stand. Ultimately, Malcolm Hailey put an end to the Akali unrest by passing the Gurdwara Shrines Act of 1925. It is obvious that the British Government avoided any action which would alienate the ‘Martial races and castes’ owing to their tremendous value for the Indian Army. For similar reasons local notables were given political importance as is evident from the provision of restricted franchise in order to ensure their numerical dominance in the Punjab Legislative Council. The third major question concerns the nature of the equation between civil and military authorities. The growing demand for heavy recruitment of Punjabi soldiers to fight battles in France, Africa and Middle-East in the First World War (1914-1919) made the peace-time strategies for recruitment ineffective and inadequate. Civil-military cooperation was extremely necessary in order to exploit the recruiting potential to the fullest possible extent. The old system of recruitment, which carried out the recruitment process in a decentralized and poorly coordinated manner with the civil administration whose involvement remained nominal in practice. Moreover, the traditional catchment area showed signs of drying up owing to intensification of recruitment drive. Without going into more details about defects in the old system of recruitment, it may be emphasized that the new system, based on the recommendation of Michael O’ Dwyer Lt. Governor of the Punjab (1912-1919), was introduced in the Punjab in December 1916 and later extended to the United Provinces and the rest of India. Under the new system, known as the ‘territorial system’ recruiting areas were redrawn to correspond with the administrative divisions. The most important feature of the revised system was the integration of the military function of recruiting into the civil administrative structure. It led to the assumption of direct control of recruiting operations in the province by the functionaries of civil administration. It had also given a very important advantage to the military authorities. Unlike the army, civil administration had a structural framework which was not only province-wise but also penetrated into every level of society. Thus, civil-military integration facilitated the recruiting operations in all twenty-eight districts, though there was variation in exploitation of manpower. Under the new system, “the entire line of the civil hierarchy from the Lieutenant Governor in Lahore to the Lambardar in the village was utilized for the purpose of mobilization”(p.116). Obviously the new territorial recruiting system in the Punjab now functioned as an integrated multi-tiered structure. I shall not go into the details regarding its mechanism including war associations and committees. One major change, caused by civil military integration, was the militarization of bureaucracy and local notables in colonial Punjab. From 1916-1919 the Punjab ‘home-front’ was virtually governed by a military bureaucracy, whose tentacles reached into every level of society and economy. Tan Tai Yong has rightly remarked that “the direct assumption of a military function by the Punjab Government, and its intrusion into society on behalf of the military during the war, was to mark the beginning of a quasi-military state in the Punjab” (p.140). Their integration continued after the war in order to maintain the military districts amidst the turmoil of social and economic problems, created by demobilization and political change. It may be pointed out that civil-military integration was to become a permanent feature of political life in one of the successor states –- Pakistan. Another outcome of this unique civil-military relationship in the Punjab was the emergence of an influential rural military lobby. By demonstrating their indispensability to the military and state during the war, they strengthened their positions by the acquisition of land grants, titles and appointments in the civil and military service for themselves and their followers. These elites subsequently constituted themselves as the Punjab Unionist Party. Tan Tai Yong’s insightful study of the processes of the militarization of government, society and economy in the Punjab from 1849-1947 has enriched our understanding of the complexities of state formation in colonial India. His work has vindicated the relevance of research in regional history for configuring the continuities and departures in the career of nation-states in South Asia. Its significance is three-fold. Firstly, it has added a new dimension to the ongoing debate on the nature of the colonial state which has been viewed either as coercive(Bipan Chandra 1980; S.S.Bhattacharya, 2004) or hegemonic (Bhagwan Josh 1992). The colonial state in the course of its development did not crystallize into one single model. The author has shown conclusively that the imperial imposition of the role of being the ‘swordarm’ of the British empire upon the Punjab deflected the course of its development as a civil society. Unlike other provinces, it was developed as a unique civil-military regime during the first half of the twentieth century. The colonial state’s anxious concern with the management of this region as the main recruiting ground for the Indian Army resulted in putting the burden of supplying canon fodder upon its ‘martial races’. A strong nexus between the civil and military functionaries was maintained during the interwar years in order to insulate the ‘military districts’ from external political influences – Ghadrite, revolutionary and Congress propaganda. It was reinforced by the establishment of local political structure i.e. legislative council following the implementation of the recommendations of Montagu-Chelmsford Report (1919) and grant of full Provincial Autonomy under the Government of India Act of 1935. Numerical domination of the rural political elite, achieved through restricted Franchise with the tacit approval and intervention of the British rulers, further widened the communication gap between the nationalist leaders, landed-elites and peasant soldiers who could retain their land grants, inams and titles on the condition of their continued support and loyalty to the British Government. Secondly, the troublesome political legacy of the civil-military nexus in this region had been reinforced through the collaboration of elected government. Under the banner of the Punjab Unionist Party which mobilized men and money for defence of the British empire during the Second World War. I would endorse Ayesha Jalal’s view (1990) that militarization of state, society and economy, through the co-option of Muslim rural-military elite in the western, Sikh Jat peasant proprietors in the central and Hindu Jat land owners in the south east Punjab, played a decisive role in the emergence and formation of the postcolonial state in Pakistan: perpetuation of the dominance of the Punjabi controlled feudal military oligarchy was also a consequence of the political inheritance of the colonial policies. Of course, interplay of domestic, regional and international factors have also facilitated the entrenchment of social, political and economic power in the hands of landed-families, military and bureaucracy. Thirdly, the poor response of the Punjabis to the Congress-led movements has been attributed to the Punjabi’s faith in the paternal image of the Punjab Government and its officials. It had been carefully projected and upheld through close contact between the people and the government during the nineteenth century. It was perpetuated by the civil-military regime as the government continued to function through the District Soldiers Boards as the maibap to the population of the ‘military districts’. It may be pointed out that the relationship between the colonial state and its military constituency in rural areas had always hinged on a ‘precarious balance of vested interests’ as shown by Tan Tai Yong through examples of Punjabi Muslim and Sikh rural elite. For example in the Salt Range Tract, Jhelum District Muslim peasantry whose dependence upon earnings from military service as the sole means of survival left them no choice but to be loyal and supportive.However, the Muslim, Sikh and religious elites were motivated to become collaborators owing to their expectation of more substantial gains and patronage. Thus, Yong’s analysis has added a new dimension to the insights of G.A.Heeger in his article ‘Growth of Congress Movement in the Punjab, 1920-40(1072).
The agriculturalists in the Majha tract, who had many options of earning a livelihood lost their enthusiasm for military service during the Second World War after learning about the tribulations and risks faced by their brethren in the foreign lands. It may be pointed out that religious fervour as in the case of the Akali movement, pull of patriotic feelings in the case of the Babbar Akalis and the strong impact of Marxist ideas in the case of Kirti-Kisan Party activists indicate that lure of material benefits from the British rulers gradually lost their appeal.
It is difficult to agree with Tan Tai Yong that the civil-military regime had insulated the Punjab from major communal disturbances or anti-government agitations. A number of specialists in communal politics in the Punjab have argued that triangular religious competition in this region intensified by the British politics of creating enumerative religious communities through census operations and police reservation of seats in legislative bodies had vitiated relations between Hindus, Muslim and Sikhs. The short term unity of internist engineered by the rural military elite on the political front, could not survive under the pressure of the powerful lobby of Muslim League and Akali party. This problem requires more critical analysis.
In the end, I would like to recommend the book under review to scholars and researcher in the history of nation–states and civil society in South Asia especially India and Pakistan. Sage publications deserve great praise for its slick and flawless production.
Kamlesh Mohan, Professor of Modern History in Punjab University, is the author of Militant Nationalism in the Punjab (Manohar, 1986) and Towards Gender History: Images, Identities and Roles of Women in North India (Aakar, 2005).