Who Was Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh— The Jat Hero PM Modi And Yogi Adityanath Are Taking Steps Towards In Uttar Pradesh?

Swarajya Staff

Sep 19, 2021, 01:22 PM | Updated 01:22 PM IST

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (Twitter)
Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (Twitter)
  • Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh belonged to a princely family of Jats in Uttar Pradesh.
  • With the outbreak of the First World War, he travelled to Afghanistan and in 1915 formed a government-in-exile of Free Hindustan.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the university named after and dedicated to Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, last week.

    Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh was a freedom fighter, revolutionary, writer, and social reformer. PM Modi and the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, have repeatedly mentioned the importance of giving the Jat hero the recognition and remembrance he deserves, in public discourse.

    In 2019, Adityanath had announced his plans to set up a state-level university in Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh's honour. In 2021, they have given their words validation and action.

    Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh had donated land to the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in pre-independent India. Later, he entered the Lok Sabha as an Independent candidate from Mathura in 1957.

    PM Modi and Yogi Adityanath are at the forefront of paying homage to the Jat hero. The gesture comes at a time when UP is heading to assembly election in which Adityanath has begun his campaign to return to power in the state.

    Aligarh and other parts of western UP are expected to register this gesture from PM Modi and Adityanath as a step extended towards the Jat community amid the ongoing "farmer's protests" led by Rakesh Tikait, the Jat farmer leader from western UP, in parts of Punjab, Haryana and UP.

    The life and legacy of the Raja

    Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh belonged to a princely family of Jats in Uttar Pradesh, and was a prominent donor to the Aligarh Muslim University. He was attracted to the independence movement, and had joined the Berlin Committee of Indian revolutionaries.

    With the outbreak of the First World War, he travelled to Afghanistan and in 1915 formed a government-in-exile of Free Hindustan, with himself as President, Maulavi Barkatullah as Prime Minister and Maulavi Obeidullah Sindhi as Home Minister.

    Barkatullah had even procured a fatwa from the Sheikh-Ul-Islam, who governed the religious affairs of Muslims in the Ottoman empire, asking the Muslims of India to unite with the Hindus against the British. While at the outset, the whole movement appeared quintessentially secular, there were definite tensions underneath the surface.

    Mahendra Pratap had conceded that if Germany were to hand over India to Turkey ‘the chief independent Muslim state’ (and the seat of the Ottoman empire) then ‘the position of two hundred and twenty million Hindus would have been far worse than the present.’ (F.M. Bailey, Mission to Tashkent, Oxford University Press, 2002) What is to remembered here is that the Raja's concerns stemmed from the fact that it was the German-Turkish alliance which had had helped him escape to Afghanistan and Turkey had deputed Captain Kazim Beg to accompany him at all times.

    Mahendra Pratap’s prime minister Barkatullah was an Islamic revivalist and emphasized the ‘special character of Muslim majority provinces’. Despite these frictions, Mahendra Pratap and Barkatullah shared a profound friendship.

    In 1927, when Barkatullah arrived in United States with chronic diabetes, crowds of Indians welcomed him with chants of ‘Vande Mataram’ (Humayun Ansari, 'Maulana Barkatullah Bhopali’s Transnationalism', in Transnational Islam in Interwar Europe: Muslim Activists and Thinkers’, Ed. Götz Nordbruch, Umar Ryad, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

    Raja Mahendra Pratap had met Lenin and before him, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany but had no ideological affinities with them as such. His mission was the independence of India and for that he was ready to take the support of any force that would fight against the British.

    Even though he met Lenin and Trotsky in 1919, when the Amir of Afghanistan closed down the Provincial Indian government-in-exile, he moved to Japan and not the Soviet Union.

    There, he joined hands with Rash Behari Bose, who had created the Indian Independence League which would later be handed over as Azad Hind Fauj to Subhas Chandra Bose. Rash Behari was also the president of the Hindu Mahasabha in Japan.

    If any ideology was close to Mahendra Pratap’s heart, it was pan-Asianism. Though repelled by the creation of puppet states by the Japanese in other Asian regions, he retained the ideals of pan-Asian cooperation. He even initiated a volunteer corps of the World Federation for the Province of Pan-Asia. Its objective was ‘fighting for the freedom of Asia’.

    He also visualised ‘eight corners of the world under one roof’. He traveled extensively in Japan and addressed the public on the pan-Asiatic theme (Sven Saaler, 'Raja Mahendra Pratap: Indian Independence, Asian Solidarity, World Federation', 1930, in Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, 1920–Present, Ed. Sven Saaler & Christopher W. A. Szpilman, Rowman & Littlefield, 2011)

    A fierce social reformer, Mahendra Pratap battled casteism and untouchability throughout his life.

    In 1971, The Illustrated Weekly of India ran a series on the lesser known non-Gandhian freedom fighters of India, compiled by Qurratulain Hyder. It was titled ‘The Terrorists’. Before you complain, let me remind readers that Khushwant Singh was then the editor of the Weekly. In order to correct certain factual errors, Raja Mahendra Pratap, who was still alive, wrote a letter to the editor which was published in the magazine’s issue dated 25 July, 1971. Here, he remembered Maulvi Barkatullah’s contribution to his movement and also—significantly—added:

    I am still a friend of Russia and China but I think the Russians and Chinese ought to get liberated from the thoughts of Karl Marx. I did not succeed in bringing about the revolution in India. The defeated Russian Army found in Lenin the needed hero. Maulvi Barkatullah and Captain Kasim Beg also came to Russia. Barkatullah later had good pull in the Soviet Foreign Office. He did not die in Germany. In 1927 he called me from Moscow. I got for him 2000 marks from the German Foreign Office.

    So much for rumours of Mahendra Pratap being a Marxist.

    In the letter, Mahendra Pratap movingly recounted that when Barkatullah died and was buried in a foreign land, he declared that it would be a temporary burial and that Barkatullah’s body would be brought to India when India became independent.

    Beyond religions, a burning desire for Indian independence united these two men. Here we have a pan-Asian Indic nationalist, who wanted Russia and China to be free of Karl Marx and who was friends with a maulana who was greeted with ‘Vande Mataram’ chants.

    India's freedom struggle was a story of many ideas and personalities working in their own way to create a nation-state as per their conceptions. Most heroes of that long struggle remain uncelebrated. With the establishment of a university in Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh's name, one such hero is finally beginning to get his due.

    This article borrows from an earlier piece on Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh by Aravindan Neelakandan.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.