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NMML seminar: Historians differ on whether Rana Pratap won battle of Haldighati

Three Rajasthan ministers had backed a proposal to “rectify” history taught at the university level to say Rana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati against Akbar’s army

Written by Sampad Patnaik | New Delhi |
Updated: November 18, 2017 12:36:07 pm
NMML seminar, Rana Pratap, Haldighati, Akbar, India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News Rana Pratap (File)

For two days, historians gathered at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) to reconsider widely accepted conclusions about the Battle of Haldighati, with one side arguing that Maharana Pratap “won” the battle in 1576. The Rajput king’s history has sparked debate, coinciding with protests by Rajput communities over the film Padmavati by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Three Rajasthan ministers had backed a proposal to “rectify” history taught at the university level to say Rana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati against Akbar’s army. The controversies surrounding Maharana Pratap and Padmavati have heightened debates over Mughal-Rajput history. Triloki Nath Chaturvedi, former Governor of Karnataka and chief guest at the NMML conference titled Maharana Pratap in History, on Thursday said Rana Pratap, “the central figure in the psyche of the people of Rajasthan”, managed to put “Mughal forces on the retreat till a rumour that Akbar himself was joining the (Haldighati) battle turned the tide against him”.

Another speaker, Vijay Kumar Vashishta, argued that the conflict itself be reassessed to grasp the meaninglessness of the victory-defeat binary. “Pratap retreated strategically to continue fighting the Mughals with guerrilla warfare, by attacking their ration supply and by rallying farmers not to submit their produce to the Mughal administration. It is not right to say the battle was ‘lost’.” Professor Krishna Swaroop Gupta said one must be mindful while reading sources of history. Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak and Abd al-Qadir Bada’uni, considered authoritative sources on Rana Pratap, were “court historians” of Akbar. “Since they enjoyed the patronage of the emperor, it is difficult to ignore their writing may have pushed forth certain points of view, that the Rajput king ‘lost’ the battle,” Gupta said. “If you blame Rajasthani sources for being one-sided, then you can blame Persian sources for the same.”

Friday’s speakers presented insights on Rana Pratap’s personality, with Dr Manorama Upadhyaya arguing “he was a liberal, who freely mixed with subalterns, like the Bhils, and co-opted them in the battle against Mughals”. Regretting the inflection point in Indian historiography, Professor Hitendra Patel said, “Till 1961, historians accepted the greatness of both Akbar and Maharana Pratap, but things changed afterwards.”

“The battle of Haldighati was undoubtedly lost by Maharana Pratap,” said Tanuja Kothiyal, who has extensive done work on Rajputs, over phone. She was not a participant at the seminar. “However, the Mughals could not control Mewar region very successfully. In that sense, one can say ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ remains inconclusive.”

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However, Kothiyal agreed with Gupta’s contention that “there has been a clear bias in looking at Persian sources, regarding them more authentic than vernacular (Rajasthani) sources. Persian sources, like Ain-i-Akbari, enjoyed authenticity because they were more “official”, they were court records. British historians, such as James Todd, writing on Pratap appeared more credible because they set a template for how history is to be written,” Kothiyal said. Historians at the seminar unanimously agreed that Padmavati was a “mythical figure”. Many cited “politics” as the reason why a mythical figure became so important in the imagination of a community.

Kothiyal said, “There is no doubt Padmavati is a mythical figure. In contemporary politics, Rajputs are a minority. They are no longer rulers… Rajputs’ sense of loss has become so heavy that these issues matter so much. The protests over Padmavati are to find socio-political significance in a fast-changing society, now dominated by Jats, Gurjars and Meenas — all with their own martial… pasts.”

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