Controversy

Twisting history

Print edition : March 31, 2017

Maharana Pratap Yuva Kshatriya Sangathan paying tribute to Rana Pratap on the occasion of his birth anniversary in Bhopal on May 21, 2015. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

A depiction of Hakim Khan Sur offering his services to Rana Pratap in his fight against the Mughals.

Rajasthan University includes a book that declares Rana Pratap, the ruler of Mewar, as the winner of the Battle of Haldighati—a claim that has no basis in history—in its reference list for students.

ATTEMPTS by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan to introduce Rana Pratap, the Rajput ruler of Mewar, as the winner of the Battle of Haldighati, in which he supposedly vanquished the Mughals, have sparked a controversy. At the centre of the controversy is the book titled Rashtra Ratan: Maharana Pratap (Aryavrat Sanskriti Sansthan, Delhi, 2007) in which the author Chandrashekhar Sharma has argued that Rajputs, and not Mughals, won the Battle of Haldighati in 1576.

Expressing his anguish over what he called “politicisation of history”, the eminent historian Satish Chandra said: “I am hoping that liberal and secular voices will not allow this disruptive attitude.” The veteran academic, whose Medieval India: From Sultanate to the Mughals is regarded as a primer to understanding medieval Indian history, said: “The battle between the forces of Akbar led by a Rajput, Man Singh, and those of Rana Pratap which included an Afghan contingent led by Hakim Khan Sur, initially ended in a stalemate. It cannot be considered a struggle between Hindus and Muslims, nor one for Rajput independence as there were Rajputs on both sides.” Yet, this is exactly what is sought to be done in Rajasthan today.

Chandrashekhar Sharma, who teaches in Udaipur’s Government Meera Kanya Mahavidyalaya, uses details from some of the land documents pertaining to the region surrounding Haldighati and the administrative decisions taken by Rana Pratap during the period to argue that Rana Pratap did not lose control over the territory. Quoting the contents of the book, BJP legislator Mohan Lal Gupta demanded a change in the way history is taught in Rajasthan University. Lending their voice to the debate, three other BJP legislators, former Higher Education Minister Kalicharan Saraf, School Education Minister Vasudev Devnani, and Urban Development and Housing Minister Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, demanded that the university’s curriculum should be restructured and Rana Pratap should be shown as the winner of the battle. The university’s History Department has since added the book to the list of reference books for undergraduate students to provide an alternative view to the dominant discourse.

The move has not gone down well with academics who believe history is being seen with blinkered eyes. The Battle of Haldighati, they argue, is widely but wrongly perceived as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, which actually is not the case. Both armies had a mix of Hindus and Muslims. If Islam Khan Sur, a descendant of Sher Shah Suri, along with his contingent was supporting the ruler of Mewar, Akbar’s army was led by Raja Man Singh of Amber. The Mughals were also helped by Shakti Singh, the brother of Rana Pratap.

The Battle of Haldighati was fought between the two forces on June 18, 1576, and is said to have lasted only four hours, not from sunrise to sunset as Chandrashekhar Sharma notes. It was primarily fought in the traditional manner between cavalry and elephants since the Mughals found it difficult to transport artillery, which was their strength, over the rough terrain. In a traditional fight, Rajputs were at an advantage.

Giving an outline of the outcome of the battle, Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a medieval India historian of Aligarh Muslim University, said: “The impetuous attack of the Rajputs and others along with Rana Pratap led to a crumbling of the Mughal left and right wings and put pressure on the central forces of Man Singh’s army. But a rumour of Akbar’s arrival turned the tide, and resulted in a Rajput retreat. By July, Rana Pratap recaptured some of the lost territory and made Kumbhalgarh his base. Soon, Akbar actually appeared on the scene and many territories of Rana Pratap along with Kumbhalgarh were captured and Rana Pratap was forced to flee deep into the mountainous tracts of southern Mewar.”

The Mughal push did not end there. They exerted pressure on the Afghan chief of Jalore and the Rajput chiefs of Idar, Sirohi, Banswara, Dungarpur, and Bundi. These states, situated on the borders of Mewar with Gujarat and Malwa had traditionally acknowledged the supremacy of the dominant power in the region. Consequently, the rulers of these states submitted to the Mughals. A Mughal expedition was also sent to Bundi where Duda, the elder son of Rao Surjan Hada, had collaborated with Rana Pratap to take control over Bundi and adjacent areas. Both Surjan Hada and Bhoj, the father and younger brother of Duda respectively, took part in this conflict on the side of the Mughals. Rana Pratap ultimately escaped to the hills.

Satish Chandra said: “There is no evidence anywhere that Rana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati. He is known for the valiant fight he put up. His guerilla tactics were later copied by Shivaji. It is wrong to characterise his fight with Akbar on religious lines. You cannot look at history through the prism of contemporary politics. Rana Pratap was a brave man no doubt but he was supported by the Bhils as also Afghans. He stood for some principles at a time when most other Rajputs had submitted to Akbar. Until Independence, there was no statue of Rana Pratap in Udaipur or any road named after him. Now, leaders talk about him for political reasons. There was nothing Hindutva about him. Those who are hailing him as a Hindu hero today are copying the language of British historians who saw medieval India as an unending conflict between Muslims and Hindus.”

Not a religious conflict

The Battle of Haldighati and the war between the Mughals and Rana Pratap was not a fight between two religions. It was a war for imperial hegemony, which was won decisively by the Mughals. In this, the Mughals had the support of a large number of Rajputs, and Rana Pratap had the support of Afghans.

Thus, “this so-called attempt by Rajasthan University is nothing but an attempt at creating new myths and distorting and falsifying well-established facts where there is no iota of controversy or ambiguity. It is just playing to the gallery at a time when the hydra-headed communal monster is raising its ugly head. You are going to create ignorant imbeciles by teaching such ‘history’,” Rezavi said.

The latest controversy is part of a series of right-wing attempts to glorify rulers of small kingdoms with the use of expressions like “maharana” (emperor) for Rana Pratap, although Mewar was barely a kingdom, and “veer” (brave) for Shivaji along with the nomenclature of “Shivaji’s empire”.

Rezavi said: “During the medieval period even insignificant rulers tried to take high-sounding titles. The ruler of Mewar took the title of Maha-Rana, the grand Rana. Such a title also symbolised the importance of the Rana as a prominent chief among a bevy of Rajput chieftains. Marwar and Mewar were both great Rajput chieftaincies compared with those of the Kachawahas of Amber or the Bundelas. The Kachawahas rose to prominence only after they became the collaborators of Mughals. Rulers of Mewar and Marwar were prominent even without the Mughals.”

Satish Chandra said: “They [politicians] are trying to distort history everywhere. History cannot be decided by politicians though they are trying very hard. Rana Pratap fought a brave but individual battle. Only a section of Rajputs supported him. Most of them had been won over by Akbar.” Incidentally, Akbar wanted to take the Rajputs and Khatris into his administration. “Eight of the 12 diwans in Akbar’s administration were Khatris and Kayasthas. That puts at rest all controversy about it being a fight for religion,” he said.

Incidentally, the Mughal sources refer to Shivaji simply as Shiva. The Marathas gained prominence only much later under the Peshwas. As Rezavi put it: “Shivaji and Sambhaji were petty hill rajas of a few fortresses and lived by collecting chauth [protection money]. Shivaji was defeated at the Battle of Purandhar by a Rajput, Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Before that, Mughal commanders who fought him were Shaista Khan and Jaswant Singh Rathore. When brought to Aurangzeb’s court at Agra, Shivaji was made fun of by none other than Jaswant Singh Rathore. He was imprisoned in the haveli of Ram Singh [son of Jai Singh] from where he managed to escape.”

Tales as history

Where will this attempt to mix myth with history lead to? “I see no end to such attempts at distortions when communal forces are out to divide our social fabric. The mere fact that they are attempting to include such tales as history in school and college textbooks is an attempt to pollute young minds. This is what the Nazis did, this is what Pakistan has done: in Pakistan references to Akbar have been removed from textbooks. The schools teach that Akbar was the one who harmed Islam by aligning himself with Hindus and Rajputs. In India, attempts are made to inculcate in young minds the idea that Akbar was actually bad because they [the communal forces] feel threatened by his irreligious attitude. Akbar’s ‘sul-i-kul’ [absolute peace, or policy of reconciliation] is feared by both Hindutva and Islamist forces,” Rezavi said.

Incidentally, Fr Monserrate, the Jesuit priest who visited Akbar’s court in 1585, had perceptively remarked: Akbar by tolerating every religion was in fact negating all. Rezavi said: “That is what worries Pakistani mullahs, that is what irks the Hindutva brigade in India. For both of them, the actual hero is Aurangzeb and the myths that surround him. To Muslim communal elements, he is a messiah; to Hindu chauvinists, he is an icon that helps them circulate their politics of hatred. The Indian masses are not fools. They will realise that kingship knew no religion. They [kings] had no religion but used religion to further their agenda just as modern-day politicians are doing.”

Some political leaders believe that Rana Pratap, Shivaji and other rulers opposed the Mughals because they were Muslims. That is far from true. Shivaji and Rana Pratap had a sizable number of Muslim commanders and soldiers in their army. The Mughal army comprised Rajputs, who were Hindus. Shivaji presided over what he called Hindu Pad Padshahi, as a Haindavaraja. But if one believes contemporary accounts, like that of Peter Mundy, most of his jails were filled with Brahmins. He collected chauth and sardeshmukhi from Hindu peasants as there were hardly any Muslim peasants.

Be it Rana Sanga who, as Satish Chandra says, invited Babur to come, or Rana Pratap or Shivaji, they fought the Mughals not because they were foreigners (there was no concept of nation then) or because they were Muslims (the coronation ceremony of Mahmud Lodi was done by Rana Sanga and he also issued coins in the name of Lodi), they fought for imperial hegemony and fought as one king against another.

The latest bid to foist Rana Pratap as an all-conquering Hindu icon reminds one of the Hindi film Jai Chittor. The film, made in 1961, was directed by Jaswant Jhaveri. It had a popular song by Lata Mangeshkar, “ O Pawan veh mein udne wale ghode”, which glorified Rana Pratap’s famed horse, Chetak, which is said to have saved his life in many a battle. The film, though, came with a warning: All incidents here bear no resemblance to any person living or dead. Such a warning is fine for a fictional film, and one could say the same about the history that is sought to be spread by Rajasthan in recent weeks.

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