New Delhi/Lucknow: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Aligarh on 14 September for the foundation-laying ceremony of a state university named after Jat Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh. The visit is being seen as yet another move by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to pacify the Jat community of western Uttar Pradesh that is seething in anger over the farm laws.
The party is looking to send a message to the Jats that none of the previous governments bestowed any honour on the ‘most powerful Jat king’ in the way he deserved, said sources in the BJP.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had announced the setting up of the university in the name of Pratap, who once donated land to the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), in 2019 while campaigning for by-elections for assembly segments of Tundla and Iglas in western UP.
At the time, the CM had said that even though the Jat king donated land for AMU, his name was never engraved on its walls. So, the government is building an entire university to honour him.
The foundation laying event comes at a time when Jat farmers in western UP are openly venting their displeasure with the BJP government on issues like farm laws, no hikes in sugarcane prices and higher input costs for farming. The Muslim community is protesting alongside the Jats in a show of a united front.
Any such united front could prove to be powerful enough to demolish BJP’s strongholds in western UP. The party was the biggest beneficiary of the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 in which over 60 people were killed. It has since dominated the region electorally, winning 17 of the 22 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
According to an Indian Express report, the new university will come up on 92.27 acres of land in Lodha village in Aligarh.
Pratap’s great grandson Charat Pratap Singh, who had earlier sent a legal notice to AMU over lease expiration of the land donated by the Hathras royal, expressed satisfaction at the move.
“We are happy with the decision taken by the government, I would say ‘Der aaye durust aaye‘ (better late than never). The family is very happy and we welcome the decision. This is a historical step… Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has played an important role in this new university. I personally congratulated him after this decision. He recognised the contribution of Raja Mahendra Pratap in the field of education,” he said.
“Some people are relating this decision with politics but we are not relating to it with Jat politics,” he added.
AMU public relations officer Omar Peerzada said, “As of now I have no information regarding this land issue but we welcome the decision of the government of naming a state university after Raja Mahendra Pratap. It’s a moment of pride for us also as he was our alumnus.
“He had made immense contributions in the field of education. He was a freedom fighter. His family was very close to founding members of AMU. We feel proud of his accomplishment. We have one section on him in our library, we always feel proud of it,” he added.
BJP’s appropriation attempts to win over voters
According to experts, the BJP is continuing with its policy of adopting and or/appropriating social thinkers, heroic royal figures and other great icons from different castes in order to win over those particular communities.
In his book Republic of Hindutva: How the Sangh is reshaping Indian Democracy, Badri Narayan, a social historian and professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, wrote that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP combine has appropriated icons of several communities.
It presented Raja Suheldev of Rajbhar community as a great hero of Hindutva. Similarly, it glorified other historical figurers like Baldev and Daldev of the Pasi community, Goddess Dina Badri of Musahar community, Dalits’ legendary Poet Ravidas and Supach Rishi of Jatavs and presented them as an integral part of its great Hindutva narrative.
This process was intensified after 2014 with events like birth anniversary celebrations, inauguration of tourist places, setting up universities, etc.
In 2014, the BJP insisted for the first time to celebrate Raja Mahendra Pratap’s 128th birth anniversary at AMU. Then there were allegations that there is not even a single photo of Raja Mahendra Pratap in AMU despite his land contributions. This was reportedly found to be untrue.
In 2018, when a controversy erupted over a photo of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Aligarh University, Captain Abhimanyu, who was a minister in the Haryana government, had demanded to rename AMU after the Jat king.
BJP propaganda, experts say
However, according to historians and experts, the life and legacy of Mahendra Pratap was contrary to the ideology pursued by the BJP. He was one of the pioneers of Hindu-Muslim solidarity and “Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb”.
“Firstly, the propaganda being spread by the BJP that even after donating land to AMU there is no photo of Mahendra Pratap there and no justice was done to him, is completely wrong. A large number of people donated money and land for the establishment of AMU and everyone’s photo or portrait is there,” said professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, history department, AMU.
“Then again, the entire life of Mahendra Pratap was against the ideology of communalism. He always opposed the Hindu Mahasabha and contested elections against Jana Sangh (BJP’s predecessor). He had propounded a separate religion for the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity, which was named by him as Prem Dharma. So on what basis BJP is striving to use his ideology?” he added.
The Jat king, who was an AMU alumni himself and whom the BJP seeks to claim ownership of now, had defeated ex-Indian PM and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee from Mathura in the 1957 general elections.
Professor Badri Narayan said: “BJP always uses the strategy to honour great historical figures. He (Pratap) is the biggest icon for the Jats. But the most important thing is how efficiently they have appropriated cultural icons and conveyed the right messages to get an upper hand in the battle of narrative.”
During World War I in 1915, the late Hathras royal, who was once the chief of the All India Jat Mahasabha, had established the first-ever provisional government of India in exile, based in Afghanistan. Indian revolutionary Maulana Barkatullah was the PM of the regime against colonial rule.