Mahendra Pratap Singh : Revolutionary Raja
The Indian freedom struggle has seen countless acts of sacrifices and after freedom; many such sacrifices were recognised too. Off late, it had become a custom that India remembered freedom fighters that were loyal only to one family. But times have changed and many forgotten fighters who deserved recognitions and respect are now coming to the fore. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the revolutionary Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University, two years after Uttar Pradesh Cheif Minister Yogi Adityanath had said that the freedom fighter had not received due credit for donating his land for the Aligarh Muslim University. The news of the laying of the foundation stone of the university created quite a buzz, as the name of the Raja Mahendra Pratap did not rang a bell for many in India. He was a social reformer, freedom fighter and writer and entered the Lok Sabha in 1957 as an independent candidate from Mathura. He may have been a minor royal but had played a stellar role in India’s freedom struggle.
He was born in a royal Jat family of Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh in 1886 and took an active interest in politics from an early age. He fought in the Anglo-Balkan war in 1911 along with his classmates from Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental Collegiate School, which was later renamed Aligarh Muslim University. Though Raja Pratap did not complete his graduation, he was felicitated during the centenary celebration of the University in 1977.
Raja Mahendra Pratap was a revolutionary at the core and was much ahead of his contemporaries in his ideas for the freedom of the nation. He established a ‘Provisional Indian Government’ in Kabul in 1915, during the First World War, but based himself in Japan after the British Government started targeting him. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1932. He returned to India in 1946 and immediately started working with Mahatma Gandhi. Post-independence, he pursued the ideals of Panchayati Raj. Charat Pratap Singh, great-grandson of Raja Mahendra Pratap,while speaking to The Indian Express said “He was not a political figure. He was more of a reformer who promoted education. He gave his residence to establish the first technical school in the country. He was well-versed in eight languages; he practised different religions and founded the world federation”. Mahendra Pratap’s father and grandfather were known to be close to educationist Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who was the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University. The family is said to have given some land to the University as a donation, while some were on the lease.
All Inclusive Raja
It is widely speculated that the foundation of the Raja Mahendra Pratap University was laid by Prime Minister Modi because he hailed from the Jat community. This has been considered relevant because the Jat community is now spearheading the farmers’ agitation in western UP against three farm laws, and the BJP wants to appease the community in the run up to the UP assembly elections. Political theorists may say whatever they think but the reality is that the Raja always favoured all-inclusiveness in the society and it is what the government intends with this university. A highly respected figure in our history, Mahendra Pratap hailed from western UP. He donated land to set up the Aligarh Muslim University, where he studied. At the time, it was known as the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College.
S.N. Sahu, Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India KR Narayanan tells extensively about the revolutionary raja in his write-up in leaflet.in. Sahu explains the all inclusive approach of the Raja through the eyes of the Gandhi. Raja Mahendra Pratap had also established the Prem Mahavidyalay in Mathura, which Mahatma Gandhi wrote about in Young India on 8th March 1928. Sahu quotes:
“This creation of Raja Mahendra Pratap has a proud record and is one of the very few pre-non-co-operation institutions that were created and have lived without Government aid, recognition or affiliation. Like all such undertakings it has had to pass through many vicissitudes but has come out scatheless through them all. Recently it celebrated its anniversary. Dr. Ansari presided on the occasion. The report before me states that “the proceedings began with a takli demonstration and hoisting of the national flag by Dr. Ansari and singing of the flag-song by the volunteers of the Hindustani Seva Dal followed by Vande Mataram”.
Mahendra Pratap and Lenin
Mahendra Pratap went to the erstwhile Soviet Union as a guest of the Soviet regime under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin after the Bolshevik revolution established communist rule there. He interacted with him and other leaders such as Leon Trotsky.
It is well documented that Lenin hailed Lokmanya Tilak as a revolutionary and as the father of Indian unrest. He condemned the British regime in India when Tilak was arrested and demanded his release.
Raja Mahendra Pratap had the privilege of meeting him in 1918, and he referred to this meeting in some of his speeches in the Lok Sabha during 1957 and 1962 when he was a Member of the House. Lenin’s support to Lokmanya Tilak and Raja Mahendra Pratap, and his unequivocal stand in favour of India’s freedom struggle constitutes a fascinating aspect of our movement for independence.
Gandhi and Mahendra Pratap
Sahu in his write-up explains the relationship between a Raja and a saint, both being distinct in their approach towards the same goal. He says “ apart from visiting the erstwhile Soviet Union, Mahendra Pratap also visited Germany, Japan, Turkey, and several other countries to garner support for India’s freedom struggle. He was in touch with Mahatma Gandhi throughout this period.
Gandhi disagreed with his methods, but admired his love for India and his dedicated efforts to free it from British rule.
In fact, Gandhi wrote in Young India on 4th July 1929, “Raja Mahendra Pratap is a great patriot. For the sake of the country, this noble man has chosen exile as his lot.’’
In 1929, Mahendra Pratap sent a letter to Gandhi outlining the idea of non-violence. He wrote:
“Ahimsa, as I understand it, is not to give pain to anybody in mind or body by one’s thought, talk or action. However, to be a follower of this principle does not stop here. A follower of ahimsa has to change all those conditions under which himsa is practised or becomes possible. I call it worst kind of himsa, opposite of ahimsa, when a man tolerates or aids himsa of others. Many people in India today deliver some very fine sermons on the beauties of ahimsa; however, they do little to destroy the himsa of the British.”
He further added
“In the true spirit of ahimsa, I cannot force my will on others. Let everyone find out for himself what one must do. I can only point out the eternal truth that the Creator certainly wants the good of all his creatures…all the men and women…in our common human race. If any man or group acts selfishly and oppresses others he surely misuses his gifts and acts against the wishes of the Creator. I can only say: Let everyone try his or her best to destroy all himsa. This is ahimsa.“
For his support of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, he was arrested by British forces and handed over to the US Occupation army after Japan was defeated in the second World War. In 1946 he wrote a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, through Red Cross, requesting him to urge the Government of India to approach Japan to negotiate his release. Eventually, he was released.
Mahendra Pratab Singh Estates (Repeal) Bill
Mahendra Pratap was critical of the Indian National Congress party and the Nehru government. He contested general elections in 1957 as an independent candidate, and was elected to the Lok Sabha by defeating former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In 1960 the Nehru Govt introduced the Mahendra Pratab Singh Estates (Repeal) Bill in the Lok Sabha to rescind the Mahendra Pratap Estate Act. Before the Bill was taken up for discussion, the then Law Minister, A.K. Sen appealed to the Deputy Speaker for an extension of time for thorough deliberation and observed, “This is a fit occasion when the nation and the Parliament will acknowledge its deep debt of gratitude to a great patriot of India.“
This great freedom fighter is part of the folklore of western UP. He was progressive and forward looking. He was a Raja yet a Revolutionary. He talked about a world federation for world peace, and wrote that India could be a leader in establishing such a body. In that context, while participating in the discussion on motion of thanks on President’s Address at the Lok Sabha on May 14, 1957, he said that coexistence of all religions and harmony among them would be critical for the establishment of the world federation. He was a leader long forgotten, but it is high time that we need to learn and respect these forgotten heroes of our freedom struggle.\
By Nilabh Krishna