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Rajputs: what textbooks don’t tell (Part 2) - AditytaKrishna Singh

Rajputs were ranks of armed men , from soldiers and peasant or pastoral warriors to peripheral bandits, living above Deccan ; many elites became Kings and one family also rose and established an empire — the Pratihars [730–1036 AD] of Kannauj. Rajputs (and Pathans) were central to what Dirk H.A. Kolff calls “military labor market” above Deccan, evident from their presence in both invading and resisting forces. Khanwa is an example.

Babur’s centralized army employed Yusufzai and Dilazak Pathans who he defeated and co-opted in Afghanistan . He also co-opted muslim Janjua Rajputs [23] led by their Sultan Raja Sanghar Ali , who deeply hated Delhi Sultans since Mamluk days. Hindu Purbiya mercenaries (rajputs) led by Shiladi Tomar also switched sides to Babur (Decisive battles lost; Joglekar;p-62).

Sanga’s decentralized alliance included his Mewar Rajputs, Maldeo led Marwar Rajputs , Agra Pathans led by Sultan Mahmud Lodi and Meos led by Raja Hasan Mewati (Satish Chandra; Vol-II;p-34).Meos are Muslim converts from hindu Rajputs , Minas,Ahirs etc of Mewat who now intermarry . Hasan Khan was a Khanzada and Khanzadas are Muslim Jadons (rajputs) (Decisive battles lost; Joglekar;p-60). Thus Pathans and Rajputs (both hindus and muslims) soldiered on both sides — invading and resisting.

7. Sahane writes “Rajputs were specialists in defeat”

My preferred medieval Rajputs are : Pratap (Sisodia) — Mewar’s last prominent ruler who resisted Mughals for decades ; Isa Khan — a Bains Rajput employed by Karrani Sultans (Pathan) of Bengal and the leader of Bengal’s resistance to Mughal Empire [The History of India, Eliot, 74][Ain-i-Akbari Vol III, p-647]; Durgawati Chandel — the Chandel Rajput widow of adivasi Gond Raja Dalpat Shah who with her son led Gond coalitions against Mughal invasion of Gondwana; Abdullah alias Dulla Bhatti — a Bhati/Bhatti rajput who led peasant banditry in Punjab against Mughal policies and was later executed by Akbar Banda Bahadur — a Manhas Rajput and the first Khalsa Sikh commander, after Guru Gobind’s death. Unfortunately, the nationalist Historians’ absolute emphasis on Timurid family neglects their stories , shrouding them in the folklores of their regions.

Nevertheless, lets check veracity of above claim with the three examples given by Sahane.

Prithviraj Chohan of Delhi-Ajmer

Sahane hastens to use Prithviraj’s defeat in the Second Battle of Tarain as evidence that the latter was a specialist in failure. But he himself mentions, even if casually, that Prithviraj defeated the same enemy in the First Battle of Tarain. One needs not knowledge on history but only common-sense to realize that the conclusion does not follow logically. Evidently, he was not a recurrent loser to be dismissed as “specialist in defeat”.

Further,Sahane does not explain what changed between the two battles.

Sanga of Mewar

Under Sanga, Mewar State remained a hegemonic power among all kingdoms of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa region. He must have a better military record than that of a “defeat specialist” to unnerve the Emperor of Afghanistan to call his war on the former “Jihad against infidels and apostates” (otherwise Babur was quite secular).

Sanga’s first major battle was subjugation of Rajputs of Idar state (Gujarat) in 1514. In 1517, he defeated an alliance of Idar’s Rajputs and Gujarat Sultanate, putting his vassal at Idar. In 1517, Sanga helped Medini Rai wrestle Mandu leading to Turkic Sultan Mahmud Khilji II’s escape to Gujarat. In 1519 at battle of Gagron he defeated an alliance of Gujarat Sultanate and Malwa Sultanate, arresting Khilji II who he restored after six months only when the latter gave Chanderi and Ranthambore fort. In the same battle, he actually had the wounded Gujarat Sultan (a self-confessed Rajput) nursed in his tent (Ferishta, Erskine). In 1517, Sanga defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the Pathan ruler of Agra at the battle of Khatoli , though lost his arm ; many Pathans changed allegiance to him . In 1519 he again defeated Ibrahmin Lodi at Dholpur. After this, his influence reached Pillai Khar near Fatehpur Sikri in Agra (Medieval History Part 1; Satish Chandra; pg-222). In 1520, he led the siege of Ahmedabad against the Gujarat Sultan. His only embarrasment was the Chittor siege 1524 by Gujarat and Malwa Sultans. Is this record of a “defeat specialist”?

At Khanwa, Sanga-led alliance was shocked by matchlocks but so were the Pathan and Turkic Sultans of Gangetic plains — Turkic powers in North ceased to exist. By omitting the above and picking on Sanga due to his (hindu) Rajput identity, Sahane defeats the purpose of saying that it was not a “Hindu versus Muslim” fight.

Pratap of Mewar

Modern Rajputs call him “Rajput symbol” and the Right calls him “Hindu icon” especially since Tod. To dismiss both, the Left-liberals declare him a “ ‘snob’ who refused pluralism of a kind Emperor” and “an incompetent loser who lost his Kingdom”. But pages of Professor Satish Chandra, the only historian to have authentically written on him and devoted some space to him, prove all above wrong.

In February 1568, the Emperor and Jaipur’s Raja Bhagwandas finally ended the four-month siege of Chittorgarh fort (Udai II lived at Udaipur, the new capital) which led to massacre of 30,000 inhabitants of which only 8,000 were combatants and rest were farmers and civilians. Their severed heads were displayed across the region in Taimuri (not Muslim) style(Medieval History Part-2; Satish Chandra; pg-107). Culprits included a hindu and a muslim. Chittor had a significant Muslim population, evident as Kumbha’s Kirtistambha(1448) has Allah carved in Arabic nine times [M Athar Ali; Social Scientist; p-20]. Thus victims were also muslims. In 1572 Udai II died and Pratap called from exile. Pratap inherits a lost State i.e. three fortresses.

In 1576, after the fourth summon failed, Haldighati was invaded; Man Singh (son of Bhagwandas) and Syed Hashim Barha led 5000 strong Imperial force — mostly Rajputs and Pathans. The beleaguered forces saw Pratap-led Rajputs, Bhils led by Rana Poonja Bheel and Pathans led by Hakimkhan — 3000 soldiers. After initial success, the release of Imperial reserves forced the beleaguered troops to retreat, failing to break stalemate (Satish Chandra;Vol-II; p-120 to 121). Anyone calling it “victory” or “defeat” is distorting history. In the following months, the Emperor joined the fray and as Pratap was hunted, he temporarily lost all the three fortresses too.

In Pratap’s south, Gujarat was annexed by the Empire in 1573 with the last Gujarat Sultan dying as refugee at Jamnagar state of Jadeja rajputs. In the north-west Chandrasen (Pratap’s friend) of Marwar state was ousted by an alliance of Jaipur-Bikaner-Empire in 1562 and with his death in 1581, a puppet Motaraja alias Udai Jodhawat was instated making Marwar a hostile state. The Jaipur State, Bikaner state and Hada rajputs of Kota-Bundi state were actively involved in operations against him (Satish Chandra , Vol II,121). Far from being “Rajput resistance”, it was “resistance against the new Rajputs”. Since Sahane’s parochial objective was to cite Pratap’s losses to prove “Rajputs were specialists in defeat”, he loses an opportunity to point the above to modern Caste and Communal organisations.

Next few years see many skirmishes with forts gained, lost and regained as several expeditions under Shahbaz Khan, Rustam Khan, Abdulrahim Khankhana , Jagannath Kachwaha and Lunkaran Kachwaha were sent to hunt him. Regular Mughal army was recruited from Haryana and Awadh , it cannot be denied that it had heavy recruitment of Rajputs of these belts . In 1585, with Imperial focus diverted, Pratap conquered most Mewar and consolidated hold over it. He died peacefully in 1597, unlike his three predecessors.

From 1598 to 1605, several expeditions were sent including Prince Salim’s expeditions in 1599 and 1603 but with little success. From 1605 to 1613, Emperor Jehangir sent several expeditions under Prince Pervez, Mahtab Khan and Abdullah Khan, but were repelled. In 1613 Jehangir himself arrived and camped for two years. With heavy toll of life , depopulation and ruination of agriculture, Amar Singh finally accepted a treaty in 1615. He was 56 years old back then and died four years later. He ruled and fought as sovereign for 18 of his 22 year rule (Satisch Chandra; Vol-II;122).

Can we call Pratap and his son “defeat specialist” notwithstanding they conquered their territories and effectively resisted for four decades in the above conditions? What Liberal bashes the underdogs for resisting the mammoth Empire? What Leftist uses the identity of the sepoy to boast greatness of his Emperor and simultaneously attacks the sepoy’s community?

8. Insisting on Rajputs’ congenital cowardice, Sahane writes “The three most famous Rajput heroes not only took a beating in crucial engagements, but also retreated from the field of battle”.

In Eastwood’s “Letters of Iwo Jima”, after defeat at battle of Suribachi, all Japanese soldiers commit Harakiri except two. One tells the other“We can die now or retreat and fight another day. Which is useful for Japan?”. Wars are not fought for glory but to gain or defend territories. Retreat is intelligence and fight unto death is only last resort. Babur fled Samarkand. Humayun fled India. Shivaji fled Delhi. INA had to retreat from Manipur. If Pratap did not retreat in 1576, the resistance would have neither lasted four decades nor could he have conquered most Mewar. The same was true of Sanga and Mahmud Lodi.

What liberals need to understand?

Shoaib Daniyal ,passionately alleges that “Pratap is let off for casteism”. His evidence — Pratap was Rajput. Pratap was heavily dependent on the Bhil King, Jains , Gadiya Lohars and Pathans for his resurgence — they would not have supported him,a marginalized leader, if they found him so. Ironically Daniyal ,a Bengali himself, admires a more hegemonic Rajput , Man Singh, an ideal replica of Puranic Kshatriyas who may have slayed many Bengalis in his conquest of Bengal and crushed rebellions as Mughal governor of Bengal. Daniyal fails to see that Timurids were an Imperial hegemonic family (like Imperial Guptas and British) that extensively used lower hegemonic communities, Rajputs and Pathans, to (also killing fellow rajputs and pathans apart from others) to maintain its supremacy.

While pushing back those upset with an actor’s naming of his son after Taimur, Daniyal invokes Maratha atrocities and hits at Shivaji. In response, Sahane as Marathi rebuts explaining why one must not dismiss the Maratha ruler , where he also flaunts his diatribe on Rajputs as a proof of secularism. Evidently, Sahane may not write-off Shivaji (using his defeats) for Shiv Sena’s or Sambhaji Brigade’s misdoings and may not slam Marathi Brahmins for RSS’s misdoings but he slams both Pratap and the Rajput community for what RSS says or Karni Sena does ; thus he pens an unreferenced article characterized by distortions (points 1 , 2, 4 ,5 and 6), omissions (point 7) and communal caricaturing (points 3,4,5,7 and 8). Apart from alienating Rajputs , the article misleads from real issues.

From Major Shetan Singh Bhati (PVC; 1962 war) to Major Aziz Bhatti (Nishan-e-Haider; 1965 war) Rajputs have fought gallantly and skilfully on both sides just as many others have. The alleged Haldighati defeat is not an issue, Dadri murder is. Not opposing Saharanpur savagery is an issue, not allegedly not fighting the British is. Pratap is not an issue, Karni Sena is. The alleged cowardice or alleged lack of skills in the past are not issues but the delusional “Hindu-ness” and “Kshatriya-ness” of the present are pressing social issues. The Left-liberals must identify the real issues from the “unreal” ones.

How Sahane and Daniyal could have educated us against “Rajput vs Muslim” narrative instead?

1. Rajputs and Mughals: Certain elite Rajput women were betrothed to Timurids marking loyalty, not vice-versa. There were many Rajas and their Rajputs who died serving Mughal family in return for lands and titles , not vice versa. Example: Tej Singh Bundela and his men at Gingee. This was Naukari . Also, thousands of Rajputs and their leaders resisted and fought the Imperial forces ; this was Gadar. example: Pratap and his men. Rajput-Mughal alliance is a modern spurious term. Both Mughal and British were same for ordinary rajputs — employers or oppressors.

2. But Pathan-Rajput relationship was colored with complex interactions — friends , foes , employers and employees. Example, In 1473 Rao Shekha, ancestor of Shekhawats employed Balailzai Pathans in his war against Tomars and wrestle Dadri from them (Shekhawati; Pankaj Rakesh,p-17). Pratap’s resistance was as impossible without Pathans as without the Bheel King. Sher Shah employed Bihar’s Sikarwar and Ujjainiya Rajputs in his war that ended Turkic Hussaini Shahis of Bengal.The Rajput-Pathan intimacy was epitomized by friendship of Saharanpur’s two Urdu poets and freedom-fighters — Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan.

3. Hindu and Muslim Rajputs:

It was Pathans who brought Islam to Rajputs. After Pathans , Muslim Rajputs were South Asia’s largest martial muslims. Just as 40th Pathan Infantry was created for Pathans , 17th Musalman Rajput Infantry was created to induct them. The first Indian VC awardee was sepoy Khudadad Khan, a Manhas Rajput from 129 Baluch and the second Indian VC awardee was Naik Darwan Singh Negi ,a hindu rajput from 39th Garhwal Rifles. Until 19th century, Hindu and Muslim rajput villagers had marital ties , something which Muslim Rajputs still invoke in their conversations but sadly the Hindu Rajput has little memory of it.

Hindu rajputs had more intimate ties with Muslim Rajputs and Pathans than other Hindu Savarns, with whom they are clubbed in recent times. These are what our textbooks omit. Sahane’s puerile casteist piece obfuscates this long story and actively aids Hindutva in making truth more inaccessible.


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