The Emperor of Education : Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh and his Legacy
The laying of foundation stone by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University at Aligarh on 14th September, 2021 has heralded anew dawn in Aligarh, the sleepy University town known primarily for Aligarh Muslim University. Though from the last two years UP BJP in general and Its CM Yogi Adityanath in particular have made feverish pitch for inclusion of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh in the pantheon of AMU often asking for an equalpedestal along with Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan, the founder of AMU. Of course, many viewed these voices and declarations are inconsequential or just a political anachronism. Little did they realize that the CM often walk the talk and rarely missed a chance to put forward his agenda for development with a focus on greater Hindu unity. It’s a different matter that AMU recognized its former student while celebrating its centenary year and acknowledged his contribution to the university though he did not graduate as he left his studies in the middle.
The recent event therefore, needs to be addressed, analysed and discussed in the larger context of establishment of a framework for enrichment of the educational tradition rather than scoring a mere political point. Politics is of course, a focal point of delivery for politician, Yogi Adityanath notwithstanding. The very establishment of this new University in the same location as that of AMU scores two points namely, the ensuring a provision of higher education to the rural youth from relatively backward areas of Uttar Pradesh and the possible of creating a counter narrative to largely fundamentalist ideological moorings of AMU students. A strong and vibrant university enthused with nationalist ideology will provide an intellectual fillip to the one sided and partisan youths of the university town and its feeder areas.
The search for an icon with a rustic background and man of integrity with intellectual pursuit from the Hindi heartland especially from the Jat belt of Uttar Pradesh ended with Raja Mahendra Pratap. It may not pay immediate political dividends to BJP but will certainly help its cause among ta section of Jats who are feeling a little alienated due to firm laws. It helps the cause more when it intends to spread education among the youth from the hinterlands of eastern and western Uttar Pradesh. Education has been an antidote of poverty and unemployment and by establishing an additional university the BJP tries to show a path of modernization while showcasing its developmental plank for which opposition can only rue rather than castigate the powers that be in perch.
The question then becomes why the BJP has to dust away the leaves of history to discover and celebrate a leader who once trounced one of its founders in an election. This shows the inherent ability of BJP to accommodate and accept persons with larger social commitment irrespective of their ideological beliefs. It is to be seen that whether this seeming appropriation of the Jat icon will make him untouchable among the so-called secular-liberal brigade. Historian Irfan Habib has already raised the decibel by claiming the left leanings of Raja because of his purported meeting with Lenin and Trotsky. But calling him leftist for this meeting is akin to call Netaji as Nazi due to his meetings with Hitler.
Another though slightly unrelated yet important aspect is Afghan connection. Indians pride themselves of conquering the Badlands of Afghanistan and its unruly warlords through the heroics of Hari Singh ji Nalwa. And if Hari Singh ji won them with sword, Raja own them with bravery and intelligence as he established his Government in Exile at Kabul. In the terrible times of Taliban, its soothing to know this part of history. In fact, the naming of this nascent university in the name of this great son of India, is a tribute to the celebration of 75th years of our independence a la Azadi ki Amrit Mahostav. Needless to add, his selection and acceptance add salt to the wounds of liberals simply because his most trusted lieutenant was Mr. BarkatullahBhopali, his prime minister, of this new government. It’s another matter that one university is already named after him in his hometown, Bhopal.
Raja Mahendra Pratap was also a great freedom fighter and patriot to the core. A widely travelled man, he made Kabul his fortress and fought against British imperialism. He continued his fight against Britishers and managed to evade them and returned to India in 1946. After his return, he dedicated himself to the development of education. A man of rare genius, he understood the importance of vocational education and skill development much before it became a buzzword and donated his house at Vrindavan to establish Prem Mahavidyalaya, the first polytechnic college of India.
This realization of the potential of education to transform the individual and society in late early twentieth century puts the Raja in the company of select politicians and statesmen of his time. In fact, if a corollary can be drawn I would simply put that emphasis on vocational education by Raja Mahendra Pratap not only intended to bring a paradigm shift in Indian education system juxtaposing it with Macaulay’s colonial education pattern but create a skilled manpower for the newly independent country, so essential for national development. Further, it was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Gandhi ji) who first questioned the credentials of colonial education system and wanted to replace the three R (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) with three H (Head, Heart and Hand), thus brining vocational and basic education to the forefront of learning and pedagogy. Needless to add, it was the practical wisdom of Raja Mahendra Pratap who fructified the idea of Wardha model into more a comprehensive and relevant academic design.The other passion of him was the development of rural masses and implementation of Panchayati Raj. It may be noted that he participated in Gandhi’s campaign against apartheid in South Africa and this thought a lasting impression of Gandhism into his though and action.
The Raja also made himself and his ideas relevant by participating in electoral politics and taking it like a fish to the water. Contesting as an independent candidate in the heydays of Congress and a nation seized under Nehruvian charm, he won with majority by trouncing more seasoned politicians. This proved that he was not just a philosopher or ideologue but man of real politick, a philanthropist and a man of people. This way Raja Mahendra Pratap comes closer to Aristotelian ‘philosopher king’, he shed the crown to his convictions but found a place in the heart of people.
He also finds a place in the pantheon of internationalists of India, the others being Rabindra Nath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. He travelled around the world to create awareness about the situation in Afghanistan and India. In 1925 he went on a mission to Tibet and met the Dalai Lama. He was primarily on an unofficial economic mission on behalf of Afghanistan, but he also wanted to expose the British brutalities in India.Much before, the world leaders of his time could realize the need for an international organization to be maintain world order and in peace. In 1929 he launched World Federation, which was precursor to United Nations. He called himself the servant of the powerless and weak. And these lasting contributions and his influence across the globe brought him a Nobel nomination in 1932. This given a lot of pleasure to note that this government is recognizing this son of soil albeit belatedly, but as they say better late than never.
By Prof. Tapan R. Mohanty
(The author is the Dean, Department of Distance Education and Professor of Sociology of Law at National law Institute University, Bhopal. The views are personal.)