Rewriting history to suit Hindutva: The Vasundhara Raje govt is insulting the legacy of Maharana Pratap

Six decades after Independence, many Rajasthanis still have royal monikers for their democratically elected chief minister and her democratically elected son. Among followers and darbaris, Vasundhara Raje is deferentially called Maharani Sahab and her son, Dholpur parliamentarian Dushyant Singh, is known as Raja Sahab.

In a state obsessed with royalty and titles, the royalty is obsessed with its history. So much so that the line that exists between facts, fiction, superstition and tea-stall talk often gets blurred, leading to some really interesting insights into history.

A few years ago, for instance, the department of public relations of the Rajasthan state government came up with a unique explanation for Raje's election as chief minister. In a "fan-ticle" published in its official publication, the department said Raje's ancestor Jayappa Scindia, a ruler of Gwalior, was killed in a battle in Rajasthan's Nagaur in 1759. The magazine claimed his dying words were that his soul will get mukti (salvation) only when a Scindia becomes Rajasthan's ruler. Thus the ascension of Maharani Vasundhara Raje Scindia to the democratic throne, even though it took a good three centuries.

Vasundhara Raje. Reuters

Vasundhara Raje. Reuters

If history can be rewritten for the benefit of the winners of electoral battles, imagine how followers of the royalty would be itching to control the narrative around some of their legendary warriors and kings, especially the big three — Prithviraj Chouhan of Ajmer, and Rana Sanga and Maharana Pratap of Mewar.

The Rajasthan government's latest attempt to rewrite history is to announce Maharana Pratap as the winner of the Battle of Haldighati fought in 1576. The post-truth was proposed by a BJP legislator from Jaipur and readily forwarded by the vice-chancellor of the University of Rajasthan for appropriate action. While the verdict on the new winner of the battle is awaited, some Rajput leaders and legislators have joined the chorus for rewriting history and declaring Rana Pratap as the winner.

Rana Pratap is perhaps the greatest pre-Independence hero of Rajasthan. But his heroism doesn't arise from the belief that he won the Battle of Haldighati against Akbar's forces. He became a legend because in spite of losing that war — yes, that is an established fact — and facing numerous hardships, living like a nomad in the inclement hills of Mewar, he did not surrender to Akbar. Unlike the other Rajput kings of the region, he showed exemplary courage, resolve and perseverance in his steadfast refusal to accept the suzerainty of the Mughal emperor.

Because of their myopic view of history, those eager to rewrite the outcome of the 1576 battle are actually doing a great disservice to the Maharana. By declaring him the winner, they are removing the very edifice of Pratap's heroism: his legendary struggle, his steely resolve and his relentless effort to reclaim what he had lost. They do not get a simple fact that Maharana Pratap is revered because even in defeat he remained defiant.

Rajasthan's folklore is full of anecdotes and ballads that recreate Maharana Pratap's struggle. His insistence on sleeping on the floor, renouncing luxuries and comforts and surviving on rotis made of wild grass till he wins back Mewar are the stuff of legends. Those who helped him wage his guerrilla war against Akbar in exile are household names. The absurdity of declaring him a winner, thus obviating the struggle, will turn this rich heritage into a joke.

The problem with the BJP is that it sees history through the blinkers of religion. So, in its narrative, the Battle of Haldighati is a clash of religions — the Mughal army and a Rajput ruler. But, this interpretation of history is completely flawed.

The Battle of Haldighati was fought between Akbar's army led by Man Singh, the Rajput ruler of Amber, Jaipur (several other Rajput chieftains fought in Akbar's army too) and Maharana Pratap's Army. Many historical accounts suggest that Maharana Pratap had a commander called Hakim Khan Sur, who many believe, led the charge after the Maharana had to retreat because of an injury. Maharana Pratap's own brothers Jagmal and Shakti Singh helped the Mughals. So, it is clear that the battle lines were not drawn on the basis of religion or Rajput kinship.

Akbar's role in shaping Indian history was perhaps bigger than any other ruler. Compared to him, Maharana Pratap was just a footnote in the history of Medieval India. But, the BJP and its Hindutva brigade find it difficult to accept the idea of a nation being a work in progress, of India as a heterogeneous entity shaped by Hindus, Mughals, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and almost everyone who set his foot on this land over several centuries. Thus their efforts to belittle the Mughals, denounce them as "invaders" and look at every battle as a fight between Muslims and Hindus. This, unfortunately, is an insult to the wonder that is India.

The problem is compounded by the inability of many Rajasthanis to accept their ancestors fought among themselves, surrendered to the Mughals and lost almost every war of importance. They were vanquished by Mohammad of Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, Babar and Akbar before being reduced to minions in the Mughal darbar. Unable to find cause celebre in history, Rajput narratives get embellished with myths and romanticised narratives of local Bhaats and Charans (bards and poets patronised by rulers) preferred as facts. For them, Chand Bardai's Prithviraj Raso becomes established history even when historians call it a fictional account of wars that Prithviraj Chouhan fought against Muhammad Ghori. In Bardai's narrative, Chouhan gets captured, blinded and still kills Ghori with a lethal arrow shot. (However, according to historians Chauhan was defeated, captured and killed in the second battle of Tarain in 1192. Ghori lived on for several years after the second battle of Tarain).

Unfortunately, distorted facts can never lead to realistic assessments of a country's past or understanding of its heritage. Maharana Pratap winning the Battle of Haldighati could be a good story for Amar Chitra Katha. But it can never be serious history.

After reading it, even the Maharana would wonder if he were the winner, why did he wander in the hills of Mewar for years and survive on just ghaas ki roti!


Published Date: Feb 11, 2017 09:52 am | Updated Date: Feb 11, 2017 02:38 pm


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