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‘Panipat’ controversy: Why Maharaja Surajmal matters in Rajasthan

Rajasthan Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh has called for a ban on Ashutosh Gowariker’s film Panipat; what are the protests about?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 11, 2019 6:42:11 am
panipat movie controversy, Third Battle of Panipat, Ashutosh Gowariker’s film, Panipat, Maharaja Surajmal. rajasthan protests panipat screening, indian express explained National Democratic Party protest against screenings of Panipat in Jaipur on Monday. (Express photo by Rohit Jain Paras)

On Monday, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot urged the Censor Board to take note of allegations that Ashutosh Gowariker’s film, Panipat, had wrongly portrayed Maharaja Surajmal. A day earlier, Rajasthan Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh had demanded a ban on screening of the film in North India to avoid any law and order situation.

In the film, Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur is reportedly shown as having denied help to the Maratha army, one of the factors leading to the Marathas’ eventual defeat. The film is based on the Third Battle of Panipat fought between the Maratha empire and the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali. Members of the Jat community have protested against the film and several theatres in Rajasthan have decided not to screen the film, which was released on Friday.

Who is Maharaja Surajmal?

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Maharaja Surajmal was born in 1707 in the kingdom of Bharatpur, Rajasthan. He ruled in the 18th century and was the son of the Jat chieftain Badan Singh. He is described as “a strong leader who harried the Mughal empire in the anarchic period of its decline, consolidated the kingdom with its capital at Bharatpur and used the resources gained to build forts and palaces, the most famous being the palace at Deeg and the Bharatpur Fort” in an account published in the British Library’s online gallery.

This has been mentioned as a caption to a photograph of the cenotaph taken by Eugene Clutterbuck Impey. Some institutions that have been named after him include the Maharaja Surajmal Institute of Technology and Maharaja Surajmal Brij University, Bharatpur.

The Third Battle of Panipat

The Third Battle of Panipat was fought between the Marathas and the invading armies of Afghan general Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1761. The battle, fought about 90 km north of Delhi, was won by the Afghans and left about 40,000 troops of the Marathas dead. Maharaja Surajmal was among those who played key roles in the battle. After the battle, the Marathas lost their preeminent position in north India, which ultimately paved the way for British colonial powers to take over.

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