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Distorted memories

 MPost |  2015-05-20 22:59:06.0  |  New Delhi

In yet another attempt to restrict history within the narrow confines of religious divisions, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday hinted at a grand conspiracy to deny 16th century Rajput king Maharana Pratap Singh his rightful place in the large pantheon of medieval heroes, while setting up comparisons with the Mughal emperor Akbar, who fought the former in the Battle of Haldighati in 1576. “If Akbar can be called ‘Akbar the Great’ for his contribution then why can’t Maharana Pratap be recognised as ‘Maharana Pratap the Great’,” Singh argued in a bizarre tweet.   

What the home minister and fellow acolytes may have forgotten is that the Indian State has taken great care to publicly remember the Rajput ruler. Udaipur’s airport is called the Maharana Pratap Airport and Delhi’s interstate bus terminal is named after the erstwhile Rajput ruler. In addition to such public adornments, Pratap is one of the only three medieval rulers to have their statues in Parliament, with the other two being Shivaji and Ranjit Singh. The home minister’s comment, therefore, betrays a deep sense of superficial paranoia, which is confined to the banal dichotomies of religious ‘supremacy’.

There are no two ways about the fact that Pratap was a brave individual, who made enormous sacrifices for his kingdom and its people against the dominant Mughal army. For three decades after the defeat at Haldigahti, Pratap and his men moved around the forests of Mewar (areas around <g data-gr-id="35">Udiapur</g>), defying the Mughal Empire, while his family suffered enormous hardships. Unlike other members of the ruling Rajput fraternity, Pratap fought guerrilla-like battles against Akbar’s army and refused to strike an alliance with the Mughal emperor. In no way does Akbar’s greatness and contributions to the society he ruled over, in terms of culture and administrative know-how, belittle Pratap’s heroism and valour.  Had Akbar been a mere Muslim king, with no great empire to rule over, Pratap too would have been deemed a non-entity. Like all great rivalries of the past, one cannot exist without the other.

History has given us numerous tales of valour. The story of Chand Bibi, Queen Regent of Ahmednagar, who defended her kingdom against Emperor Akbar’s forces in the face of enormous odds, is one of glorious tragedy. The odds, historians have argued, were doubled since she conducted the entire rebellion as a woman.  Of course, there are no roads, bus terminals or airports dedicated to her for the valour she displayed in the battlefield. Of course, Man Singh of Amber, the general commanding the Mughal army, also fails to find a place in the pantheon of medieval heroes. India’s medieval history, however, cannot be neatly confined to the largely imagined Hindu-Muslim crusade.

To mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first anniversary in office, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are planning to celebrate India’s Hindu historical icons. In one year, the emphasis, one could argue, has shifted from “<g data-gr-id="27">sabka</g> <g data-gr-id="28">saath</g>, <g data-gr-id="29">sabka</g> <g data-gr-id="30">vikaas</g>” to a celebration of a narrow and spiritually insecure version of Hinduism.

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