Here's why BJP wanting to portray Akbar as a foreign Muslim invader and Maharana Pratap as the saviour of Hindus is flawed

The Supreme Court has cited Akbar as an "architect of modern India", yet certain hardcore sections of Hindu nationalists still think he was a foreign invader.

Alright, let’s clear the air around king Akbar first. He was a third-generation Indian ruler, not a foreigner by any means. He is credited with abolishing a discriminatory religious tax “Jaziya” for sections of the Jain community. The Supreme Court of India has even cited the Mughal emperor, arguably the greatest Indian king, as “architect of modern India.” The generations that went to school and college before now know every bit of this. We all have grown up reading tales of Akbar and his trusted aide Birbal, who was Hindu. Yet, Akbar’s Muslim religion irks certain Hindu nationalist supporters.

Seen as part of this Muslim antipathy, now there is a proposal being backed by influential sections of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to dub Akbar as “foreign invader” and even modify historical facts. At least three senior ministers in BJP-ruled Rajasthan have backed a proposal to revise history textbooks to reflect that Mewar’s Maharana Pratap emerged victorious over Mughal king Akbar’s army in the Battle of Haldighati in 1576.

The revised narrative being backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers runs contrary to what has been taught to Indian students till now, which is that the popular battle ended in a “stalemate,” and that Akbar’s army was the more powerful of the two.

As reported in the Indian Express, the controversial proposal is being backed by former Higher Education Minister, and now Health Minister Kalicharan Saraf, School Education Minister Vasudev Devnani and Urban Development and Housing Minister Rajpal Singh Shekhawat. The decision to try change history was reportedly taken at a meeting at Rajasthan University on Wednesday.

“Yes, it has been established. A distorted version of history has been taught to generations of students. But the fact is that Akbar was a foreign invader and Maharana Pratap was a brave, patriotic ruler. And if there is a proposal to correct this mistake and tell students that Maharana Pratap actually won the battle, then what is wrong with it?” the Indian Express quoted Saraf as saying.

The English daily reported that the proposal was first raised by BJP MLA Mohan Lal Gupta last week, following which it was considered Wednesday’s meeting. It is being reportedly reviewed by university’s Board of Studies for critical examination, following which a final call will be taken.

The Battle of Haldighati

Akbar’s army in the battlefield was being led by a Hindu, a valiant general Man Singh. Maharana Pratap, on the other hand, was being backed by “an Afghan contingent led by Hakim Sur which played a distinctive role”, as per medieval historian Satish Chandra.

Maharana Pratap

An artist’s impression of Mughal king Akbar.

According to Chandra, the first battle rather ended in a stalemate. The Indian Express highlighted several passages from one of Chandra’s texts,

“The Mughal forces were commanded by Kr. Man Singh. With both the Hindus and the Muslims divided, the battle of Haldighati can scarcely be considered a struggle between Hindus and Muslims. Nor can it be considered a struggle for Rajput independence, influential sections of the Rajputs already having cast their lot with the Mughals. The struggle can be regarded at best as an assertion of the principle of local independence.”

“Akbar followed up the battle of Haldighati by coming back to Ajmer, and personally leading the campaign against Rana Pratap. In the process, Goganda, Udaipur and Kumbhalmir were occupied, forcing the Rana deeper into the mountainous tract of south Mewar.


(Source: Twitter/Indianhistorypics)

Former Information and Broadcasting Minister and Congress leader Manish Tewari weighed in on the debate, saying that the Battle of Haldighati shouldn’t be portrayed as Hindu-Muslim fight, in an apparent attempt to preempt the BJP from milking the debate for political gains. Tewari, however, backed the idea of changing history if there “is a view that Maharana Pratap won”.


(Source: Twitter/ Manish Tewari)

Culture has been as a sensitive topic for the backers of the BJP. A Bollywood director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, was attacked last month during the shoot of his historical drama Padmavati in Rajasthan. Karni Sena, a powerful Rajput group with over seven-lakh foot-soldiers and which was behind the attack, said Bhansali was distorting historical facts by depicting Queen Padmavati and Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji in a romantic light. Bhansali denied the allegations.

Taking the bull by it’s horn, historian Tanuja Kotiyal reportedly said that altering history serves the purpose of mobilising local population around local historical figures such as Maharana Pratap.

When Rajasthan came into existence in the 1950s, there was no other element bringing it together than the fact that it is a collection of Rajput states. so celebrating Maharana Pratap becomes crucial in forging a Rajasthani identity,” the Indian Express quoted her as saying.

Historian Tanuja Kothiyal, who specialises in the history of medieval Rajasthan, believes altering historical facts such as the result of the Battle of Haldighati “not only insults history but the education process as a whole”.

“However, just to accommodate public memory, one can’t turn facts around. It would be very detrimental to history as well as to education.”