Amid the ongoing row in Aligarh Muslim University, Haryana minister Captain Abhimanyu’s remark that the AMU should be renamed after Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh has put the focus on this freedom fighter’s life. An alumnus of the university, Raja Mahendra Pratap was a Marxist revolutionary and social reformer. Born in a royal family in 1886 in the Hathras District of Uttar Pradesh, Raja Mahendra Pratap was an active participant in politics since his early age. He also took part in the Balkan War in 1911 along with his fellow students at the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental Collegiate School which later on became Aligarh Muslim University. Though he did not complete his graduation, he was felicitated during the centenary celebrations of the university in 1977.
Leaders from the BJP claim that Raja Mahendra Pratap donated large tracts of land for the establishment of AMU and that he should be honoured accordingly. According to the University, Raja Mahendra Pratap ‘did lease 1.221 hectares (3.04 acres) of land in 1929 at Rs. 2/- per annum to AMU’. However, the University says, ‘the bulk of the land was procured from the British Government which was in the process of closing down the Aligarh ‘Chhawani’ (Cantonment) from which Sir Syed got 74 acres’. Besides him, there were a large number of other donors.
Raja Mahendra Pratap was also deeply involved with the Swadeshi movement and would constantly promote small industries with indigenous goods and local artisans. Deeply influenced by the speeches of Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others, Mahendra Pratap started the movement to burn the foreign-made clothes in his state.
Pratap also visited foreign countries in an attempt to obtain support for India in its struggle for freedom. He also visited a military camp near the Polish border in order to gain knowledge about the army policies and its functioning.
During the World War I, Pratap established the first Provisional Government of India in Afghanistan and declared himself as the President and declared a jihad against the colonial rule. He had soon become a threat to the Britishers who had announced a bounty on his head. He fled to Japan and continued his movement from there.
A believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence policy, Pratap also established Prem Maha Vidyalaya (the college of love), a one of its kind polytechnic institution in his palace in Vrindavan. The college offered courses like carpentry, metalworking, pottery and textiles, all under one roof. He also believed that whole world is one family and that expenditures reduced from police and armed forces can be used for developing the countries. He also encouraged Panchayat Raj as a tool that can help in putting the real power in the hands of common man and reduce corruption.
He was nominated for Noble Peace Prize in 1932. “Pratap gave up his property for educational purposes, and he established a technical college at Brindaban. In 1913 he took part in Gandhi’s campaign in South Africa. He travelled around the world to create awareness about the situation in Afghanistan and India. In 1925 he went on a mission to Tibet and met the Dalai Lama. He was primarily on an unofficial economic mission on behalf of Afghanistan, but he also wanted to expose the British brutalities in India. He called himself the servant of the powerless and weak,” his nomination read.
While Mahendra Pratap Singh played an active role in the freedom struggle of India, he was elected to Parliament in 1957 by defeating Bharatiya Jana Sangh (which later converted into BJP) candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha polls. He died in 1979.