Does Prithviraj Chauhan’s political acumen mirror that of Nehru, Gandhi?

Though it’s unfair to judge history by 21 century sensibilities, certain decisions of the 12 century CE Hindu king invite similar scrutiny as one faced by 20 century Indian political heavyweights.

1. Illustration of Prithviraj Chauhan 2. Jawaharlal Nehru with Indira Gandhi, 3. Rajiv Gandhi

By Mayur Lookhar

A Yash Raj Films production with super star Akshay Kumar in the lead. Few days before the theatrical release, special screenings are held for Bharatiya Janata Party heavyweights – Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in UP. The Delhi screening was also attended by RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] chief Mohan Bhagwat. Last Sunday [29 May], Kumar was a special guest at the final of the Indian Premier League that took place in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Gujarat Titans, the new franchise beat Rajasthan Royals. The Chauhan dynasty controlled the territory of Sapadalaksha- that included present day regions of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and some parts of Punjab. Prithviraj is said to have been born in region that is present day Gujarat.

Kumar was seated next to BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] secretary Jay Shah, who is also the son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Kindly note Kumar only graced the IPL final as a guest. A Gujarat vs Rajasthan IPL final in Gujarat, that won’t be an ideal platform to promote a film on Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan (1166-1192), a man who is revered in both the regions.

Chuck all political affiliations, friendships aside, and simply view the film on its merit. Samrat Prithviraj [2022] released yesterday [3 June]. We’ve given our review of the film. There is one aspect to the 12 century Hindu king which we felt needed to be explored not in a film review, but in a separate article. And that relates to the political acumen of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan.

Akshay Kumar in and as Samrat Prithviraj [2022]

The film is largely inspired by Prithviraj Raso, an epic poem by his court poet Chand Vardai [played brilliantly by Sonu Sood]. While it is wrong to judge any history by 21 century sensibilities, but certain traits to Prithviraj Chauhan compel us to question his political acumen. Credit to writer, director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi that he hasn’t shied from questioning the same in his film.

Kindly note, we’re giving some spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched Samrat Prithviraj [2022]] yet, and desire to watch it, then we leave it upon you to decide if you wish to continue reading this article.

The Prithviraj Chauhan-Muhammad Ghori battle has nothing to do with religion. And that’s proven in the film too. The Ghurid dynasty ruler Muhammad Ghori [Manav Vij] doesn’t take, too, kindly to his kin Mir Hussain eloping with Chitralekha[ his sex slave]. In those days, kings destroyed rival kingdoms but also kidnapped their women and turned them into sex slaves. Maybe, Chitralekha was one such women.

Hussain and Chitralekha flee Ghazni [now in present day Afghanistan] and seek shelter from Prithviraj Chauhan.

[Note Ghazni was then ruled by the Ghurid dynasty, with Afghanistan only taking birth in 1747, with Ahmed Shah Abdali being its founding father. The film wrongly attributed 12 century Ghazni as part of Afghanistan]

Against the wishes of his court men, Chauhan sticks to his ‘dharm’ [duty] ideology to protect the honour of a woman and her lover. In the film, Chauhan [Akshay Kumar] questions whether this is true love. He is impressed by Hussain’s doot (ambassador) answer and thus decides to offer protection to the lovers. In his first meeting with Hussain, Chauhan raises his hand to offer a salaam [Islamic way of greeting] whereas Mir Hussain raised his hands to offer a namaste [Hindu way of greeting]. Dwivedi’s film stands out for its inclusivity. However, in shielding Hussain, the Hindu Samrat makes an enemy out of Muhammad Ghori. 

Illustration of Prithviraj Chauhan

A confident Chauhan urges his men to prepare for battle.  And so, the stage is set for an epic battle in 1191 in Tarain also known as Taraori.  Using some smart strategy, Chauhan and his men are able to defeat Ghori. Sadly, Hussain is lost in the battle.  Chitralekha [not shown in the film] expresses a desire to be buried next to her lover. While Chauhan’s ministers have reservation over a Hindu lady being buried, Chauhan goes against their advice and decides to honor the woman’s last wish.

But what about Ghori? After having his sword around a fallen Ghori, Chauhan decides against beheading his enemy. Ghori is imprisoned, we don’t get to know for how long. When presented in the court, Kanha kaka [Sanjay Dutt]. Prithviraj’s uncle, is keen to behead Ghori himself. The man had vowed to behead anyone who dares to threaten his nephew. However, Prithviraj leaves Kanha and everyone stunned by pardoning Ghori. The vanquished Ghurid king is shocked himself. He tells the Samrat to kill him, behead him, because if he lets him go, then there will be retribution. Ghori repeats his words few times, but Chauhan has made up his mind. He orders his men to respectfully release Ghori and ensure his safe passage back to Ghazni.

Though, he issued a dire warning, Ghori doesn’t have any immediate ambition to seek revenge. It is only the power tussle between Prithviraj and his older cousin Jai Chand [Ashutosh Rana] that presents an opportunity for Ghori to exploit. We will come to that later, but the question remains why did Prithviraj not kill Ghori? Why did he release such a dangerous foe?

It’s a question that irks Kanha kaka and other men in the kingdom, The answer here is provided by the court poet Prithvi Chand Bhatt aka Chand Vardai. The reasons tails to Chauhan and Chand’s kundalis (horoscope). Yes, you heard it right, kundali. Vardai explains to Kaka that there is a certain prophecy to Prithviraj and himself, which cannot be changed otherwise. This prophecy involves death, defeat of Prithviraj, and also death of Vardai himself. Kaka is taken aback by the bizarre prophecies but he is helpless.

If Kaka and other 12 century wise heads deemed this prophecy as bizarre, it will naturally come under scrutiny in the 21 century, especially in 2022 where past political blunders by Congress leaders are time and again raked up by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its IT cell warriors. Leave aside political affiliations, but sitting in our drawing room, you do have few questions –

1 Why did Prithviraj not kill Ghori at the only opportunity he had?

2 Did he lack political acumen?

3 Why would a king put his life, his own kingdom on the line just to honour some prophecy in his kundali?

While the invaders were enemies, but Prithviraj also fought domestic battles. The film doesn’t mention it, but Chauhan had laid to waste the rival kingdom of Chandela, and another arch enemy the Solankis.

Maybe the tragic events of 1192 would have been averted had he agreed to his cousin Jai Chand’s demand for equal power sharing in Dilli [now Delhi].

Historians have been divided over the reign, rule, and even the death of Chauhan. Today, ancient Indian history is being questioned in social, political circles. It is no secret that post-Independence, our school history books were largely written by left-liberals. Abul Kamal Azad was India’s first education minister. Samrat Prithviraj [2022] director Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi had pointed out during the trailer launch how a long narrative is being run to discredit ancient Hindustani history. It puts a neutral observer into a limbo – How to separate fact from fiction?

This is an endless debate, but the current visuals of some BJP leaders, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat watching Samrat Prithviraj [2022] would give an impression of the Hindu king being perceived as a Saffron icon? Globally, political leaders look to history for electoral gains. Given how the right-wing parties have regularly bashed 20 century Congress leaders like Jawaharhal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi for their alleged political blunders, how do they perceive the political acumen of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan?

Jawaharlal Nehru with Indira Gandhi. Source Indira Gandhi facebook.

Like the Hindu king, Nehru is often blamed for India’s early economic, social, political blunders. Chief among them is blindly believing China’s Hindi Chini bhai bhai [Indians and Chinese are brothers] sloganeering. Nehru was blamed for India’s defeat to the Red Dragon in the 1962 Indo-Sino war. Chacha Nehru also allegedly refused a permanent United Nations Security Council seat, in favour of China. Much of the problems of the North-East are blamed on Nehru and Congress’ party lack of political will to solve the crisis. If that wasn’t enough, Nehru’s personal life, too, has been unfairly targeted.

His daughter Indira Gandhi has earned her share of praise and criticism too. She was hailed, even by right wing parties for the 1971 East Bengal liberation war. However, till date, it is questioned if you had 90,000 enemy soldiers surrendering, then why didn’t Mrs. Gandhi and her then Congress government take back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir? Why did Mrs. Gandhi and her government release all the 90,000 Pakistani soldiers?  Wouldn’t it have been prudent to keep half of that surrendered troops in jails? Couldn’t Mrs. Gandhi and her government lay down strict terms of peace with a weakened Pakistan then?

The popular answer thrown to such questions is that India was under a lot of pressure from America and other Western powers. Unlike today, back then the world view was more pro-Pakistan than India. Reportedly, US and UK had sent some warships to counter India, who then dialed its all-weather friend Russia for help.

On the domestic front, Indira Gandhi was blamed for imposing the dreaded Emergency [1975-1977]. Her government was particularly criticized for the forced vasectomy, suppression of media. Gandhi also copped criticism for the Sikh separatist movement, the dangerous decision to fire guns to flush out Khalistani terrorists from the sacred Golden Temple. Such moves, eventually led to her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Members of the Congress party were also accused of inciting communal violence during the 1984 Sikh riots. 

Source: Rajiv Gandhi facebook.

Nehru gone, Indira gone, then came her son Rajiv, who rode on the sympathy wave to become India’s next Prime Minister. While he was a pleasant personality, Rajiv Gandhi copped criticism for siding with radical ideology in the famous Shah Bano case. The general perception is that the Congress party has often catered to vote bank politics. Congress’ handling of the Sri Lanka-Tamil rebels crisis too boomeranged on India. Sadly, it cost Rajiv Gandhi his life. At least, Prithviraj Chauhan waged a war to protect the honour of a woman.

History cannot be changed but in a democratic India, people have the power to hold governments accountable. People did throw the Congress government out at various stages. While economically, the Manmohan Singh led-Congress coalition government did a fair job, but their failure to curb terrorism, corruption, safeguard national security led to the people throwing the United Progressive Alliance 2 out of power in 2014.

Unfortunately, there is no such accountability in a kingdom. Good, bad or ugly, Prithviraj Chauhan’s political decisions resulted in him losing his kingdom, his life. Prithviraj’s cousin Jai Chand conspired against him that helped Muhammad Ghori avenge the earlier defeat. With Chauhan’s fall, the Islamic invaders took control of the Sultanate of Delhi and large parts of Northern India. Later, there was Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji who waged few battles against the Islamic invaders, and also the British. It took the British to overthrow the Islamic rule in India after 450 years. And it took us another 200 years to be an independent state again when the British left in 1947.

History can be subjective. It can be reshaped or even rewritten, but it is more important to learn from the mistakes to ensure that Ghori rather no gory history repeats itself.


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