Stamps on Sikhs in Politics by Rupinder Kaur
The contribution of Sikhs towards establishing a political system and a sustainable democracy in India is without doubt. The larger contribution they have made on a global platform is abundantly evident to anybody who travels from San Francisco to Bangkok, from Vancouver to Copenhagen. The Sikh diaspora from Indian independence to global ‘villagification’ is a proud amalgamation of history, faith, culture and ‘one-world’ character. This vast ability, this largeness of heart and mind is captured in various stamps released by the Post and Telegraphs Department of India, Bhutan and Uzbekistan over the past few decades.
The political history of Sikhs is well known to be started with Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the most powerful ruler Punjab ever had. A great warrior and statesman, Ranjit Singh with sheer might and wisdom united the people of the country who were torned by internal dissensions and jealously. He raised a powerful force to bring the invaders to their knees and carved out a great kingdom in north India extending far into Afghanistan and Kashmir. The reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh laid the foundation of a modern nation transcending communal distinctions. In 1966, the Department of Posts issued a 15 p monochromatic stamp in the memory of this powerful king which shows his three quarter profile portrait till the waist decked up in a beautiful robe and precious jewels. The First Day Cover shows a pen sketch of the great ruler riding a robust horse.
To commemorate the bicentenary of Ranjit Singh’s coronation as the Maharaja of Punjab, a ` 4 stamp was released in 2001. It shows the portrait of the ruler in three-quarter profile till the waist. The First Day cover shows the miniature painting of the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh by an unknown artist of 19th C. More than half of the composition is filled with figures with a slight hint of architecture in the background. The Maharaja is shown seated on his Golden thrown in the centre towards the left with his princes seated on chairs beside him. Various ministers and dignitaries can be recognized in this beautiful painting.
When India gained its Independence in 1947, it was divided into 24 different states and needed a strong political system for its governance. Voting system by common people were held to run the state administration under the Chief Minister being head of the state, along with a team of ministers and their governance was watched by the Governor, a representative of the central government as its observer. The reigns of the country were in the hands of Prime Minister under the directions of the President. With democracy, the princely states over the course of time were merged with the state government and the privy purses of the rajas and maharajas were abolished. Today India has its 12th President and 14th Prime Minister ruling the country.
In March 1972, Giani Zail Singh assumed the position of Chief Minister of Punjab, and by 1980 became Union Home Minister in 1980. He took the oath as the 7th President of the Republic of India in 1982 and became the first Sikh to hold India’s highest public office and honour. Being a Sikh and ardent follower of Guru Granth Sahib, he was given the title of ‘Giani’ and won hearts of the masses as the President of the People. Giani Zail Singh was a man well recognized as a champion of national unity and stood steadfastly on the principle of secularism. He passed away on December 25, 1994 after meeting with an unfortunate road accident. On the 1st Death Anniversary of President Giani Zail Singh the Department of Posts issued a ` 1 commemorative stamp. It shows his self-portrait in his distinctive closed neck sherwani with a red rose in its button-hole. Another remarkable feature is his signature done on the right side corner below. The First Day Cover again shows his portrait till the bust. Here the rose can be seen more clearly.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur , was the health minister in the Indian Cabinet for ten years after India’s independence. She was the daughter of Maharaja Harman Singh, a princely family of Kapurthala. She was an eminent Gandhian, a freedom fighter, and a social activist. In the pre-independence era being an active member of the Congress Party, she took part in the Salt campaign and was arrested in Bombay. During the Quit India Movement she led many processions, one of which was subjected to a ruthless lathi charge in Simla. It is difficult to list all the organisations which she either founded or headed. The most remarkable project she launched was the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. In 1989, the Department of Posts, India issued a special stamp to commemorate this eminent personality. The stamp shows her three-quarter profile portrait in black and white with the vertical borders of Indian tricolour. The First Day Cover shows her side profile sketch.
On the occasion of Fifty years of the Republic of India, the Department of Posts issued a set of postage stamps in 2001 to honour three political leaders – N.G. Ranga, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir and E.M.S. Namboodiripad who had led to the socio-political development of our country. Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir well known for his political reforms in Punjab, plunged into the freedom struggle at an early age after being deeply moved by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He stirred the masses through his sensitive poems and was an active member of Akali Movement. In 1930, he also attained the highest seat of Sikhism as the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Amritsar and in 1996, took over as the Chief minister of new state of Punjab after its reorganization. The stamps in the denomination of ` 3 each show the self-portraits of the leaders
along with the national flag. The First Day Cover shows a sketch of the Parliament House, where these stamps were released at a formal ceremony to mark the conclusion of the Golden Jubilee Celebration. The national emblem is shown at the top of the cover with a numeral ‘50’ written just below it. The tricolor flying in upward direction symbolises freedom and prosperity.
Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon as the Chief Minister of Punjab from 1956 to 1964 led to an all round progress and development of this northern state of India. He removed obstacles and created opportunities to place Punjab on the industrial map of the country by modernising dairy and poultry farming and giving boost to small scale industry sector. He opened various colleges, polytechnics and universities also. To commemorate the 40th Death Anniversary of this dynamic leader, the Department of Posts released a ` 5 postage stamp in 2005. It shows his self-portrait behind a background of golden fields and clear blue sky symbolizing the progress achieved by Punjab during his tenure. The cover shows his portrait along with a pencil sketch showing a small tractor, some industrial units, buildings and a small plant with a rising sun behind them, symbolizing prosperity. The cancellation shows a factory with a chimney. Everything is very symbolic which summaries the contribution made by this great politician visually.
Bhutan a small country in the Himalayas completed 100 years of monarchy in 2008 and celebrated the coronation of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as its fifth king. With this the 28 years old became the world’s youngest reigning monarch. This year also saw Bhutan’s historic transition to a democratic constitutional monarchy. Bhutan released a miniature sheet with four stamps each of 25 NU on Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in Dec 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first world leader to visit the new democracy. To mark these occasions a set of four stamps were released by Bhutan in a miniature sheet. Set within a golden sheet the heads of the two neighbouring countries sharing a common boundary are shown greeting each other. This is after a decade that an Indian minister has visited Bhutan.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a two-day state visit to Uzbekistan from April 25 to April 26, 2006 at the invitation of the Uzbek President, Islam Abduganievich Karimov who himself had visited India in April 2005. The visit marked a new chapter in Indo-Uzbek relations. Manmohan Singh’s visit was the second visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Tashkent since Uzbekistan’s independence in August 1991. During this visit, India and Uzbekistan signed seven agreements in the fields of energy, business, education, mineral prospecting and stepping up the joint fight against international terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking. To mark this historic visit the Post of Uzbekistan issued a special commemorative stamp of 45 som denomination depicting the two leaders and the flags of their respective countries behind them.
If we rewind to the pre-Independence reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and then come forward to post-Independence politics in India, Sikhs have always looked towards prosperity and goodwill for people at large. Sikh political leaders are today well admired for their role in bringing socio-economic reforms in Punjab and the country through their wisdom. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs has duly honored some such personalities and their contribution through these stamps till date and continue to do so going forward.