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Tribune, Saturday February 21, 2009 Renowned journalist and an authority on Sikh history; author of A History of the Sikhs 1469-1964
The Nalwa legend
Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837) was one of the most renowned and trusted generals and administrators of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He was the one who turned back the tide of Afghan and Pathan invasions of India going on for over five centuries back into their homelands. They had made Khyber Pass a one-way traffic route. Nalwa not only reversed the route of traffic, but also ruled the province with an iron hand, giving the traditional marauders of India a taste of their own medicine.
Consequently, while his name was used by Afghan and Pathan tribes women to frighten their children to submission, in India it is used with pride as one who paid the invaders back in their own currency with compound interest. Many legends have grown around Nalwa. It is hard to sift facts from fiction. At long last we have one of his descendants, Vanit Nalwa, gather textual material, including ballads composed by the general's admirers, as well as old paintings put together in one volume—Hari Singh Nalwa: Champion of the Khalsaji (Manohar).
The book will be available in the market by the time this article is published.
Vanit Nalwa has written about her distinguished ancestor with unconcealed pride, brushing aside criticism of his ruthless methods he used to crush turbulent tribesmen of the North-West Frontier Province. They have never forgiven the Sikhs for what Nalwa did to their forefathers. His name still rankles in their minds. Nevertheless, her book is a most valuable addition to the bibliography of Sikhism.
Vanit Nalwa is a practising psychologist with a doctorate in neurophysiology from Delhi University. She did post-doctoral research in Oxford University and won a Fulbright scholarship to train at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland (US).
Great General and able administrator
Hari Singh Nalwa: Champion of the Khalsaji by Vanit Nalwa.
Pages 367. Rs 1,295.
The Sunday Tribune, May 31, 2009
IT is perfectly understandable that Ranjit Singh’s life and achievement have received considerable scholarly attention. His role in Punjab history and achievements fully justify that. However, the man who chiefly assisted Ranjit Singh in expanding and consolidating his empire was his legendry general Hari Singh Nalwa. Some half a dozen books have been written about him but there is not one single volume which can be described as standard. It was left to one of his descendants to write one. Unless one is mistaken, for the next couple of decades, this book is likely to be accepted not only as the most detailed and factual account of what he did and achieved, it is also likely to be quoted as the most authoritative one on the subject.
The interesting thing about the author is that she is not an historian by training and is a professional psychologist. She taught for a few years at one of the Delhi colleges, but gave up that job and became a consultant for which job she had been trained both in India and abroad. For the last few years, however, she has been engaged in writing this book. It must be said to her credit that no professional historian could have done better than what she has done.
The book gives a detailed account of Nalwa’s early years, his encounter with a tiger that Nalwa killed with his small dagger, his induction into Maharaja’s army, his participation in the battle of Kasur, his appointment as the Commander of the Lahore Army and such other matters.
The third chapter entitled "Sikhs and Afghans: 1813-1819" gives a preview of how his career was shaped. He was appointed Governor of Kashmir in 1820 but meanwhile he also took part in the conflict over Hazara which eventually proved to be a major undertaking. Among other things, he also established a new township which was eventually named after him.
The years 1822 to 1831 describe him as the "Viceroy: on the Western Frontier" after which he was recognized as a leading political figure who also participated in diplomatic negotiations with the British.
In this connection, two things need to be noted. One was the fact that after it had been agreed between Ranjit Singh and the East India Company that the frontier between the two powers would be the river Sutlej, the issue now was how Ranjit Singh’s kingdom was to be expanded, if at all. It was here that Nalwa played a sterling role. After the conflicts of Hazara and Kashmir, the only way Ranjit Singh could expand was to conquer the Pathans and that is where Nalwa played a decisive role. This was his second important contribution to policy making.
Without going into details one thing needs to be widely acknowledged. Nalwa conquered and controlled the Pathans in such a manner that he became a legend in his own lifetime. The author says towards the end of the book: "In the two-and-a-half centuries that Afghanistan has existed as a nation, three ‘super powers’ — Britain, Russia and the United States of America— have attempted to subdue the Afghans with little, or absolutely no success. The Sikhs won the only real victories against them and Hari Singh Nalwa’s success has remained unmatched."
This statement more or less sums up the approach adopted by the author in her book. To what extent this statement is applicable to today’s situation is a matter of personal opinion and judgment.
One thing that the author brings out in considerable detail is that Nalwa was both a fighter and an administrator. The way he administered both Hazara and Kashmir has been described in detail. She goes beyond that and has written a separate chapter on "Towns, Forts, Gardens and Shrines".
The book is likely to hold ground for many decades to come.
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The Sicques 5 Shukarchakia Sardari 8 Consolidation of the Sikh Kingdom 9 Sarkar
of Nalwa 23 Lahore Court 25 On becoming a Sardar 26 Conquest ofKasur
seeks Khalsajis help 35 Hari Singh sent to Attock 36 Kabul King conspires against
Sikh Gurus and Kashmir 44 Appalling conditions of the Hindus
Sikhs conquer Kashmir 44 Pandits Shias Khakhas Bambas 46 Closing western
Sikhs Kashmiris 51 Hari Singhs administration 52 Reforms 53 Boost to trade
The conundrum 63 Case of two officers at war? 63 Best governor
Afghan levies 183 Message intercepted 183 Hari Singhs strategy 184 Nalwa arrives 185
Raging battle 186 Treachery of Jamadars troops 188 Hari Singh to the fore 188 Afghans
Maharaja furious with Dhian 206 Dhian suppressed correspondence 207 Khushal Singhs
Dynamics ofRanjit Singhs mind 216 Sikh Kingdom after Hari Singh
Katas 231 Amritsar 233 Tarn Taran 236 Kashmir 236 Gujranwala 240 Ferozepur
Conquest of Sialkot 251 Rescue ofMalerkotla 252 Battle ofMultan 252 Dexterity
Hari Singh Alexander 260 Sardar Hari Singhs chivalry 262 Hari Singh
Complicity ofGulab Singh 269 Barakzai Nalwa 269 Nalwas Tiwanas 271 Nalwa
Damtaur 82 JagirdarHazara 82 Crushing defeat to Tarins Bambas 86 Battle
Land reforms 91 Watermanagement 93 Revenue earners 93 New trade route 94 Important
Hari Singhs efficacy
Pashtunistan 107 Battle ofNaushehra 108 In pursuit of the Barakzais 112 Valiant
ofEngland sends gifts 137 Magnificent khilat 138 Reception of the Khalsa 139
Missions progress to Simla 140 Hari Singh William Bentinck 141 Formal
Winter capital ofKingdom of Kabul 154 Approachavoidance
Jagirdar 290 Friends Punjabis Countrymen 305 Camaraderie 309 Secular outlook 309
Gracious host 313 Hari Singhs lastjourney 313 Nulwah in the Vindhya Range 315
Impact ofHari Singhs death 316 NWFPNalwas gift to undivided India 317 Hari
Accolades by historians 324 Sixty volumes 325 Icon 325 Portraiture 327 International
Notes on Illustrations