There is a new TV series on the Sony Entertainment Channel called “Bharat Ka Veer Putra Maharana Pratap.” “About five hundred years ago, the country that taught virtues of peace to the world was threatened by the scourge of foreign invasions. The kings of this holy land began to surrender one after another, but one man stood up, one of the first freedom fighters of India, the Maharana of Mewar, Pratap singh.”
A worthy son of a worthy nation indeed! Maharana Pratap Singh belonged to a long line of illustrious kings who felt that they had the right to rule over the rest of the humanity and to relieve them of their hard earned fruits of labor by dint of being born a Rajput. The good karma of their past deeds ordained them, nay, made it their ‘manifest destiny’ to rule upon their subjects, whereas the accumulated sins of the past births of the toiling majority, the shudras and the dalits made it mandatory for the latter to serve them. This rigid caste order was not to be meddled with; it ran according to the strict accountancy of accumulated sins and good deeds. Good deeds were the fulfillment of one’s duty/karma; consequently Rajputs like Maharana Pratap took upon themselves the onerous duty of ruling and it became the incumbent duty of the toiling majority to serve them. If any one of them failed to fulfill the divine duty to serve the king, danda/force could be used, not because the king was upset that he was not being served, but because the caste order had to be upheld as the will of the God and to ensure that the shudras and untouchables fulfilled their duties and earned good deeds, lest they be born as cockroaches in the next birth. This was the idyllic Sanatan dharma that the foreign invaders were threatening to disrupt. Foreign invaders must be pushed out, lest our cherished way of life be defiled, so Maharana Pratap stepped onto the grand stage of history, not to save his principality, but to safeguard the Hindu order, against marauders who looted, raped, murdered and desecrated our temples. Did you say our temples? Are not these the temples that shut their doors to the untouchables? Yes indeed, divinely sanctioned caste order must be protected at all costs; it is our way of life.
Marauding invaders did not care about the divine social order, how could they? Those barbarians from Central Asia, who never before set their eyes upon lands so bountiful and rich. Riches belong to the mighty, God’s caste order or whatever, they too wanted a share of the spoil, so they swept in, in several waves, over centuries, to rule over these lands and reap its rich spoils. One such adventurer, who became an emperor, was Akbar, Maharana Pratap’s legendary adversary. No Rajput king could prove his match, his armies swept through the lands of Rajputs. “Submit and reap the fruits of this bountiful land as my ally or face the might of my armies!” Now, God’s will is alright but statesmanship demands pragmatism, so one after another the mighty Rajputs submitted to Akbar. When Maharana faced the Mughals at Haldighati, the Mughal army was led by none other than Raja Man Singh, of Amber. Soon Rajputs emerged as the sword arm of the Mughal Empire, conquering Bharat for it, to establish and protect dharma alongside Akbar, their king and ally.
The rude Mughal warrior too now became a divine king, the insan-i-kamil, zill-i-illahi, and Rajput kings his humble servants. The caste order was left untouched by Akbar too out of his respect for the local religion, so the Rajputs kings still did not touch the plough and the toiling masses still willingly fulfilled their dharma by submitting almost everything that they produced beyond what was required for their bare survival. This revenue was shared by the Rajputs and the Mughal emperor together, lest the divine social order be disturbed. Akbar was indeed a tolerant king, but one Rajput still refused to accept this marriage of convenience. The great Maharana of Mewar, his vanity did not allow him to submit to the rude upstart who pretended that he was a divine monarch. Divinity was exclusive to the Rajput kings of Bharat, sadly all his neighbours had submitted to the upstart, but the Maharana was made of a different stuff, he never submitted. Better to fight a guerilla war from the mountains than to share the God ordained right to rule over, earned by dint of being born in a family as illustrious as his. After all how many families, ruling or otherwise had the unblemished record of exercising strictest control over the marriage of its daughters, they were given only to the most distinguished clans and whenever their honor was in danger, they were pushed into fire without the slightest hesitation. Women after all carried the honor of the entire clan, and it was better for them to die than to fall in the hands of the enemy and bring disrepute to the family.
Maharana Pratap being a Rajput ruler from 16th century symbolizes to those who care to see, everything that the Indian civilization ought to leave behind, the caste order, subordination of women and the exploitation of the toiling masses by a small minority. But to some of the others, whose eyes are blinkered by a different kind of an ideology, this figure symbolizes the imagined resistance of the Hindu community to the invading foreigners. Deification of Maharana Pratap serves to cover up the deep fault lines of oppression of the majority by a privileged few which historically split the Hindu community wide open from within. Real history, as it happened, does not easily submit to the wishful imaginings of the vested interests. Maharana Pratap’s war was a result of the conflict between two sets of ruling class, the Rajputs and the Mughals to claim the right to rule over north South-Asia and to exploit its servile masses, most of the defeated Rajputs joined the Mughals to share the spoils, whereas Maharana Pratap did not. He was inspired by no higher ideal than retaining his right to rule over what he looked upon as the fiefdom of his ancestors. All the rest is humbug.
By Pranshu Prakash