Painting Haldighati with new colour
The government of Rajasthan wants to rewrite the history of Maharana Pratap. Three senior ministers of the Vasundhara Raje government have backed a proposal that suggests altering what is being taught at university level about the Rajput ruler of Mewar who lived for 57 years from 1540 to 1597. We grew up reading the stories of Maharana Pratap's battle in Haldighati against the forces of Abu'l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar, popularly known as Akbar the Great, whose army was led by his trusted general, Man Singh. The respect for Maharana Pratap and his struggle has always occupied the highest place in the hearts of many Indians.
But now, the Government of Rajasthan wants us to revise our understanding of the event by claiming that Pratap Singh, the son of Udai Singh-II and Jaiwanta Bai, did not lose the battle of Haldighati. The proposal backed by former Higher Education Minister (presently Health Minister) Kalicharan Saraf, School Education Minister Vasudev Devnani, and Urban Development and Housing Minister Rajpal Singh Shekhawat suggests rewriting it to fit an entirely different narrative. Their proposal states that Maharana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati against the Mughal army of Akbar.
Various historians have studied the events of medieval India including the battle of Haldighati in which Man Singh was assisted by an Afghan contingent led by Hakim Sur. None of these historians considers the battle of Haldighati as a struggle between Hindus and Muslims. They also do not view it as a struggle for Rajput independence. But now a state obsessed with royalty, titles, and its history is in the process of giving the Maharana story a colour of its choice. Those who understand the psyche of Rajasthan know that it is one state where it becomes difficult to differentiate between the fact, fiction and superstition. The line often gets so blurred that it leads to some interesting insights into history.
For instance, the department of public relations of the Rajasthan state government came up with a unique explanation a few years ago for Vasundhara's election as Chief Minister. Its official publication carried an article that said that Vasundhara's ancestor Jayappa Scindia, a ruler of Gwalior, was killed in a battle in Nagaur in 1759 and his dying words were that his soul would get salvation only when a Scindia becomes Rajasthan's ruler. Hence, the ascension of Maharani Vasundhara Raje Scindia to the democratic throne after three centuries. If history can be rewritten for the benefit of the winners of electoral battles, why can't the narrative of the battle of Haldighati in 1576?
Maharana Pratap is the greatest pre-Independence hero of Rajasthan. His heroism doesn't arise from the belief that he won the Battle of Haldighati. To millions of Indians like me, Maharana Pratap became a legend because even after losing the war he lived like a nomad in the hills of Mewar. The current heir of the erstwhile state of Sirohi in Rajasthan narrated to me the detailed story of the days Maharana Pratap spent in Sirohi state after the battle of Haldighati. Indians regard Maharana Pratap because 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 Emperor Akbar.
Therefore, it makes no difference to millions of the Maharana's admirers if he had won the battle of Haldighati or not. The eagerness shown by the Vasundhara government in rewriting the outcome of Haldighati battle is representative of its myopic view of history. The efforts to declare Maharana Pratap as the winner of the battle will, in fact, hurt the sentiments of his fans because they worship him for the defiance shown in the face of defeat. He is a hero because of his legendary struggle to reclaim what he had lost.
Maharana Pratap insisted on sleeping on the floor. He renounced all the luxuries. He quit all comforts. He swore to survive on the rotis made of wild grass till he wins back Mewar. I salute Maharana Pratap for this zeal, spirit and consistency in achieving his goal. Those who helped him wage his guerrilla war against Akbar while in exile are the household names in Sirohi of Rajasthan. Could Maharana be such a legendary hero had he won the battle of Haldighati? By declaring him a winner, Vasundhara government has trifled with his legacy.
History must not be seen through the blinkers of religion. Haldighati was not a clash of religions. Akbar's army was led by the Rajput ruler of Amber—Man Singh. Akbar's army had several other Rajput chieftains. Maharana's own brothers Jagmal and Shakti Singh also helped the Mughals. How then is the battle line drawn on the basis of the religion? It was not drawn either for Rajput kinship.
India has always been a heterogeneous entity. Her history has been shaped by Hindus, Mughals, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and almost everyone who set his foot on this land over several centuries. One cannot deny the fact that the ancestors of Rajputs fought among themselves, surrendered to Mughals and lost several wars of importance. Myths play a vital role in Rajput narratives. Bards and poets patronised by the rulers played their roles in projecting romanticised versions of history. Chand Bardia's Prithviraj Raso is one such instance. Historians are divided on the facts about Prithviraj Chouhan's story which suggests that he killed Muhammad Ghori with a deadly arrow despite being blinded. Imagination is always stronger than knowledge. Myth is always more potent than history. But we must realise that without the knowledge of our history we would be rootless wonders. Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time, we fall.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)