Raja Mahendra Pratap of Hathras is again in the news. It is sad that petty divisive politics is being played in the name of a great patriot like him. Certain TV channels, newspapers and portals can be found mentioning him as ‘Jaat’ Raja. It is a pity that a man who believed in equality of all religions and shunned castes is being identified by the religion and caste of his birth.
These days Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp ‘historians’ are pointing out ‘the fact’ that Raja Mahendra donated land for the university, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College (MAO) in 1875. ‘The fact’ is a ‘half baked’ truth and reveals the deep rooted problems in our education system, which has let ‘myths’ take the place of history. In fact, Raja was born on 1st December, 1886, more than a decade after MAO college was established. He himself took admission at MAO, in 1895, as Sir Syed was a ‘great friend’ of his father Raja Ghanshiam Singh. He, indeed, contributed to the University by leasing out 1.221 hectare of land to the College, much after the College was established, at Rs. 2 per annum. AMU campus extends over 467.6 hectares, most of which was bought from the British government through the public funds raised by Sir Syed and his comrades. Though, it cannot be ruled out that, being a friend of Sir Syed, Raja’s father had also donated to the college. The university does acknowledge Raja’s contribution by putting a portrait of him in the Maulana Azad Library along with other distinguished alumni and university founders.
Raja took admission at Muhammadan Anglo Oriental Collegiate School at the age of eight. His father was a friend of Sir Syed, thus Syed himself took special care of his progress till his death, three years later. In the boarding house, he was allotted a two room set in a four room bungalow. Raja had ten servants to take his care in the boarding house, who carried his books, washed clothes and cooked food. He stood first in his first three classes, but performed comparatively poorly in English. The young boy learnt horse riding, cricket, chess, tennis and table tennis, while making his name in debates as well. In leisure time, Raja would work in his garden or attend to his cow.
Sir Syed himself used to stop at his bungalow to tell him that he should study hard, since Raja’s father was a good friend of his. After the death of Sir Syed, his son Syed Mahmood once called up young Raja, who was at the time playing with Ross Masood, grandson of Sir Syed, to tell him that Raja and Ross were brothers and should be treated as such.
As a student, Raja was not very brilliant. He failed in the middle class, in the F.A exam and left the college without receiving his B.A degree.
In his autobiography, Raja recalled Niaz Ali as his first teacher. Altaf Hussain, Ali Mohammad, Pandit Bhagwandas, and Wilayat Hussain were other teachers at MAO, who get mentions in his autobiography. Ashraf Ali, another teacher, was remembered for his Ganga-Jamuni culture, who would fast on Janmashatami (Birthday of Lord Krishna). Ahmad Hussain was his best friend and Kunwar Man Singh of Sirohi, Prince of Tonk and Nawab Mohiuddeen were other good friends in college.
Later on, in 1912, Raja went to Turkey to show solidarity during the Balkan war. Mukhtar Ansari, a tall leader of Congress, was leading the delegation. Raja did not know him personally but the fact that many of his MAO colleagues were part of the delegation was enough for him.
The man shunned the caste system. He would not enter the temple where lower castes were not allowed and employed people on the condition that they would stop following caste based discrimination. Raja attended Gurudwaras, Churches and prayed in mosques along with Muslims. He wrote in Hindi, Urdu, English and Persian. ‘Religion of Love’ was conceptualized by him as a system where all the religious beliefs would have equal weightage.
We should think what we have done to the legacy of this great son of the soil.