Of Chutzpah and Bhajpah: Sangh Parivar’s art of appropriating historical figures

By MahtabNama,

The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is once again in news, even before it had time to disappear from the front page of some of the daily newspapers, especially The Times of India. However, unlike the previous episode, the ‘regressive’ administration or students of AMU are not responsible for the news this time. Okay, but what’s then news this time?

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Indian Express reports that the BJP has declared to celebrate the birth anniversary of “Jat King” Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh at an entrance to the Aligarh Muslim University campus on December 1. “AMU celebrates its founder’s birth anniversary as Sir Syed Day. I have no objection to that. Raja Mahendra donated land for the university, then what is the harm in celebrating his birthday,” (UP State BJP chief Laxmikant) Bajpai told The Indian Express. He even visited Aligarh a week ago and directed local party workers to prepare for the event. “I am not afraid of any government. The day is not far off when we will celebrate Raja Mahendra’s birthday inside the campus,” he said.

Mahendra Pratap, Wiki

Wonderful! But who is this Raja, what did he have to do with the BJP (Bhajapah) and why on earth has, all of a sudden, the BJP has realised that they should be celebrating Raja’s birthday?

According to Wikipedia, “Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (1 December 1886 – 29 April 1979) was a freedom fighter, journalist, writer, and Marxist revolutionary social reformist of India”. Sounds like some bloody Communist, in Hindutva lingo, right? He was, a sort of, as IndianPost, a website of Stamp Collection of philatelic stamps issued in India, (Post-Independence) notes, “Raja Mahendra Pratap was a revolutionary and a patriot with an indomitable zeal for India’s freedom. He was a rare prince who voluntarily chose the path of a wandering pilgrim in quest of freedom of his motherland.” Recognizing his contribution, on 15th August 1979, the government of India issued a commemorative stamp in his name.


IndianPost further notes, “Spurred by the conviction that freedom was not possible without revolutionary struggle and revolutionary struggle was not possible from within the country, he left India in 1914. For the next three decades, he relentlessly strived to arouse the conscience of the world community to help India free herself from the foreign yoke. In 1915, through Germany and Turkey, he made his way to Afghanistan. That year in Kabul, along with other Indian revolutionaries he established Provisional Government of Free India. He was the President and Maulana Barkatullah was the Prime Minister.”

And what was his connection with Bhajpah (BJP), or erstwhile Jan Sangh or BJP’s father organization, RSS better known as Sangh Parivar? If there is any connection at all?

No-no, it’s not that there was no connection between Raja Mahendra Pratap and the Jan Sangh (BJP was established in 1980, before that it was known as Jan Sangh). There was a very close connection between the two. But any Bhajpayee (read BJP worker) will not tell you that, because it is contradictory to what they are claiming about the Raja today. By any account, Raja Mahendra Pratap was fiercely anti-Hindutva in his ideology. He even founded a new religion called Prem Dharma (Religion of Love), preaching Hindu-Muslim unity and wrote a book on it, which can be accessed here. Moreover, the most important fact is that he defeated Hindutva forces in election. In 1957’s general elections, Mahendra Pratap defeated BJP’s first Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpai from the Mathura constituency of UP as an Independent Candidate. Vajpayee was Jansagh’s candidate in the election!


Surprised? If yes, you should not be, as over the years Bhajapah and its father organisation, the Sangh Parivar or rather brigade, has mastered this art of appropriating historical figures.

Take the case of Bhagat Singh. Yes, the same Bhagat Singh whom we know as a Marxist revolutionary. According to Sangh Parivar’s propagandists, he was a staunch follower of the ideology of Sanathan Dharma. But “the communist’s ideologues conveniently ignore the truth that the roots of Bhagat Singh’s ideology lie in the very concept of Hindu Rashtra.” To justify their claims, they will give you examples like Bhagat Singh was born in a family who were staunch followers of the Arya Samaj, was educated at Dayanad Anglo Vedic (DAV) School and National College of Lahore, was inspired by the sagas of two great patriots Chatrapati Shivaji and Maharana Pratap and finally, they link his association with the RSS. Of course, without any reference! To any of us who has read Bhagat’s writings, it is nothing but absurd. Absurd and irrational as it may sound, the fact of the matter is that these arguments are being used frequently, to the extent that it has started gaining currency. The appropriation of various anti-Hindutva historical figures like Baba Saheb Ambedker and Subhas Chandra Bose are the pet projects of Sangh. How this is happening has been explained in my article, Bhagat Singh and the Hindu Rashtra.

Hence, I won’t be surprised if tomorrow the BJP announces that they will celebrate the birth anniversary of Jamnalal Bajaj in front of Jamia Millia Islamia gate because he had contributed to the development of Jamia. Never mind that Bajaj is duly acknowledged in Jamia’s official history and was a staunch secularist. I am saying this not because I am tendentious but I have seen this happening in Jamia’s case.

Let me give you only one example. In the wake of the Batla House ‘Encounter’ (September 2008), the BJP branded Jamia as the Nursery of Terror and demanded the dismissal of the then Vice Chancellor, who offered legal aid to the Jamia students accused in Delhi Blast (2008). In those days, it was really difficult for anyone to identify himself or herself as a student of Jamia or a pass out. Many could not get a job despite being suitable candidates because s/he studied at ‘Nursery of Terror’. The smear campaign was such that the Members of the University Academic Council had to write an open letter explaining its position. This did not happen only in 2008 but many times even this year. The Sangh Parivar uses bogey of terror to demonise Jamia, for that matter, most of the Muslim managed/run institutions as when and when required.

smiriti irani jamia

But recently (17th November 14), when the tulasi of Sangh Parivar, Smiriti Irani (HRD Minister) visited Jamia and addressed the convocation, she said nothing about Jamia’s alleged linkage with terrorism. On the contrary to her party’s views, she spoke about Jamia’s illustrious history and nationalist character. She spoke about Insaf (Justice) and Insaniayat (Humanity). Congratulating the Law graduates, she said, “I am hopeful you will make sure that Justice and Humanity is protected in the country”. This reminded me of the above episode, where Jamia tried to ensure Justice (through Legal Aid) for those accused of being terrorists and how Irani’s own party reacted to it. Moreover, it was also interesting to note the use of Urdu words in her speech.

Listening to Smiriti Irani’s speech here I could not resist thinking about Mirza Ghalib. To my mind, had Chacha Ghalib been alive today, seeing all of this, he would have said:

Bazeecha-e-atfal hai duniya mere aage/ Hota hai shabo-roz #chutzpah mere aage!


(The author blogs at mahtabnama.wordpress.com and can be chased on twitter @MahtabNama )