ARMY HANDS OVER HISTORICAL FORT GOBINDGARH TO CIVIL ADMINISTRATION
Rashmi Talwar /Amritsar
October 6, 2008——–
The coming Monday was indeed be special and a magnificent historical moment in the history of the holy city as the army handed over the Fort Gobindgarh ramparts to the civil administration of the city, after several rounds of talks between bureaucracy, the political leadership and army authorities.
Major General P.S.Paul,VSM, General Officer Commanding Panther Division handed over the reins of the fort to Deputy Commissioner KS Pannu on this Monday .
The Punjab Government has already chalked out an ambitious plan to tap the great tourism potential of this historic city which includes a plan for the adaptive re-use of Fort Gobindgarh as a National Museum displaying memorabilia of India’s Freedom struggle besides a contemporary history of the Indian armed forces and the role of these forces in preserving the integrity of the country.
Located on the northwestern boundary of India, it was here that Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his armies for the first time were able to shut the Khyber Pass and prevent the invaders from invading India in the early 19th century.
It may be recalled that on December 20, 2006, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had handed over the key of the historic fort to the then Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh.
This monument was kept out of bounds from the people of Punjab for over 150 years who have emotional attachment with the events related to Fort Gobindgarh. It had remained under the control of Army since 1849, when Punjab was annexed by the British after the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is expected that Fort would be thrown open to the civilians who could witness firsthand the past history of the monument and of the period .
Built in 1760, it was called Bhangian Da Kila (Bhangis was one of the twelve Sikh misles), The fort occupies a unique place in the Indian military history.
During 1808, the fort was known as the fort of Gujjar Singh Bhangi. Later it was re-built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the help of Jodh Singh. The legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singh, strengthened the fortification of the fort in order to keep his treasures and treaties safely. Towards this end, is a specially constructed “Toshakhana”, in the centre of the fort. The huge Toshakhana was also used to store large amount of grains and provisions for the 12,000-strong Maharaja’s army.
Made with brick and lime with number of army bastions and iron gates and 25 cannons on the ramparts that are now replaced with modern weaponry, the fort was constructed on a square pattern with a parameter of 1500 sq mt with two strong gates, four large bastions and well-defined rampart.
The majestic entrance has been named ‘Nalwa Gate’, after General Hari Singh Nalwa –the great Sikh warrior in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army.
The other end of the gate is known as ‘Keelar Gate’ and it was rumoured that in its close proximity existed an escape tunnel, connecting to Lahore tunnel. However, the army authorities said that they had not been able to locate any such tunnel so far.
Of special interest to the denizens and tourists is the Darbar Hall, Hawa Mehal. and Phansi Ghar (hanging chamber) besides the “O’Dyer Bungalow” a grim reminder of — a reminder of the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath (General Reginald E. H. Dyer, chief of the British army in Amritsar and the perpetrator of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that is merely a crows flight to the historical bagh where thousands lost their lives in the bloodiest carnage) . the British Army had added these to the fort after the annexation of Punjab about 150 years ago
Significantly after the Indo Pak Partition the fort provided shelter to a large number of refugees from Pakistan. A year after Partition in October 1948, the fort was handed over to the Indian Army. It was last occupied by 176 Field Regiment of the artillery
However, reservations are already being expressed whether the state government would be able to preserve (and restore) its original glory.
Talking to The Pioneer, Pannu said the administration and the Army authorities had worked out a solution. A part of the fort still held by army establishment would be properly segregated to give safety to their unit and also provide suitable camouflage by raising a wall with a cost of Rs 2.50 crore. A special road has also been constructed to provide a separate entry to the Army establishments.
He said the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had already earmarked restoration fund of Rs 2.50 crore that had been lying with the administration and would be used for proper facelifting and conservation of this historic monument..
Despite the prolong army occupation of the monument , the forces had to this day maintained the historicity of the place with the names of the various buildings still intact and etched in original form and have even tried to enhance the usage of the place by displays .
One such instance is the “Phasi Ghar” (hanging chambers ) that has a mock effigy hanging from a noose pointing explicitly over its use by the British who condemned hundreds of Indian freedom fighters and patriots to the gallows.
It is reported the General got sadistic pleasure in watching patriots being hanged in ‘Phansi
Ghar’ which is situated just opposite his residence-cum-office.
On this occasion , the “Association of Families of freedom fighters” demanded an inventory of those condemned to the gallows by the British , to be handed over to the civil administration as well as all previous records of the fort so that history could be truthfully , clearly and concisely conveyed to the public through historical memorabilia and corresponding documents in the proposed museum .
Also such a list could piece in the puzzle of several “missing” freedom fighters “who were known to have just ‘vanished’ during the freedom struggle and their mention in any incident or report could not be located .