HistoriCity | What explains the brouhaha over Rupala’s statements - Hindustan Times
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HistoriCity | What explains the brouhaha over Rupala’s statements

Apr 18, 2024 08:22 PM IST

Communities have used marriages to build political alliances and achieve upward mobility. This includes those in power at different times throughout history

The Patel-Rajput rivalry that has ignited in Gujarat’s Saurashtra is just one of the many interesting developments that election season has thrown up, prompting the need for historical analysis and correction. On March 22, BJP Union minister Purshottam Rupala told a gathering: “Maharajas had given their daughters to foreign rulers and the British and broke bread with them while us Dalits neither gave up our religion nor made any relations with them, we are the true inheritors of Sanatan dharma.”

Rajkot: Union Minister of State and BJP candidate Parshottam Rupala addresses a gathering as he arrives to file his nomination papers for Lok Sabha elections, in Rajkot, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI04_16_2024_000107B)(PTI) PREMIUM
Rajkot: Union Minister of State and BJP candidate Parshottam Rupala addresses a gathering as he arrives to file his nomination papers for Lok Sabha elections, in Rajkot, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI04_16_2024_000107B)(PTI)

Rupala, who hails from the Patidar community, said this while campaigning as the BJP Lok sabha candidate from Rajkot, angering the Kshatriya-Rajput community who sought the revocation of his candidacy. Two days ago, Rupala held a roadshow near Race Course Ground in Rajkot, considered a stronghold of the saffron party. “I want to make an appeal to the Kshatriya community. Your support is also crucial in the interest of the nation. I request you to show a big heart and support the BJP,” Rupala said.

Rupala was undeniably wrong about Rajput rulers giving their daughters to the British, who were not looking for marriages as a tool to establish alliances and strengthen their rule. However, other dynasties in power did use marriages to build alliances.

Codes of honour

India’s Kshatriya community is diverse – some are known to call themselves Rajputs, claiming to be direct descendants of erstwhile rulers and tracing their genealogies based on the sun, moon and fire. These groups are geographically scattered across the country but find particular concentration in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Rajasthan, earlier known as Rajputana, they are considered the most influential and wield immense influence in rural areas where they continue to hold large tracts of land and resources.

Historians have shown that amongst the Rajputs, marriages were part of a broad gamut of social reproduction strategies to ensure that economic resources and land, inheritance of property, networks of support, influence and power remained in a few hands. Patrilineages stressed the purity of bloodline and genealogy to prove ‘Rajputhood’, which translated to control of women’s reproductive systems and agency.

Lt. Col. James Tod (1782-1835), the author of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan (1832), has been acknowledged as the ‘Herodotus’ or the father of the history of Rajputs. He was the first British agent appointed to Mewar (Udaipur). Presenting Rajputs as a martial race he wrote paeans about their valour and pride. However, his motivations were not scholarly but imperial.

He gave a communal colour to wars between Hindu Rajput rulers and Mughals and called them holy wars; he disparaged Rajput kingdoms like Amer (Jaipur) for marriages with Mughals and also denigrated the Marathas with whom the British were warring through much of the late 18th and early 19th centuries (in the Anglo-Maratha Wars of 1775–1782, 1803–1805 and 1843). Ironically, even though Tod served the interests of the British colonial project in India, his works are often cited by members of the Rajput who take offence at the historical truth of intermarriage.

Alliance building when in power

Marriages are and have always been a tool for alliance-building. In modern times, it is a networking space deployed by business families. In ancient and medieval India and elsewhere, it was seen as a strategy to resolve conflict and turn one’s foe into kin. In the 12th century CE/AD, for instance, the North Indian king, Govindchandra Gadahvala (1114-1155 CE), took four wives, two of whom were Buddhist, reflecting the need to govern a diverse society. In the 14th century, the mother of Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1309 - 1388) was a Bhati Rajput according to historian Jadunath Sarkar.

Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) recognized the importance of reinforcing alliances through marriage. He married 10 Rajput women, starting with Raj Kanwar, the daughter of Raja Bharmal (1498 - 1574), a Kachhwaha Rajput chief who was battling his neighbouring kingdom of Mewar. Through this alliance, the Kachhwaha kings rose to prominence in the Mughal court and remained one of the most influential and rich kingdoms till India became a democratic republic in 1947. The other marital alliances made by Akbar were with Rathor princesses of Merta, Marwar, and Bikaner, the Bhati princess of Jaisalmer, and the Guhilot princess of Dungarpur among others.

Interestingly, this alliance also helped Rajput chieftains build relationships with the trading Marwaris, who enabled them to transmit their revenue from jagirs (a feudal land grant) in different areas of the Mughal empire to Rajasthan. Emperor Jahangir (1569 - 1627) married Kachwaha, Bhati, Bundela and Rathor princesses. Aurangzeb (1658 - 1707) married off his sons to the granddaughter of Kachhwaha Raja Jai Singh, a Rathor princess of Kishangarh, and a Shekhwati princess from Manoharpur.

What the English did

There is no dearth of historical evidence to show that the English too consorted with Indian women, both Hindu and Muslim, but these were not to make political deals. Before the armed struggle for independence in 1857, there were many notable cases of interracial relations. Charles ‘Hindoo’ Stuart, who embraced Hindu culture and particularly the worship of Lord Krishna, was known to be also partial towards Rajput soldiers with their twirly moustaches. David Ochterlony, a resident of Delhi on two occasions (1803-06) and (1818-22) was married to Mubarak Begum, a former courtesan. She built a mosque that is still disparagingly called Randi ki Masjid (prostitute's mosque) by locals of Delhi The other two notable Englishmen who married locals were Sir Charles Metcalfe (1834-1838) who fell for a Sikh woman in Lahore with whom he had a son, and James Kirkpatrick, who when stationed at Hyderabad as resident (1798-1805), married a Muslim noblewoman, Khairinussa and converted to Islam.

The East India Company also became an unwitting beneficiary of the Mughal policy of matrimonial bonds with Rajput kingdoms during the reign of Emperor Farukh Siyar (1713-1719). James Tod, the Rajput chronicler, writes, “This marriage yielded most important results, which were not confined to the Mughals or Rajputs, for to it may be ascribed the rise of the British power in India”.

The emperor was suffering from a swelling in the groin and no remedy suggested by his own doctors had worked. This malady, writes Tod, “ had delayed the celebration of the nuptials between the emperor and Indira Kanwar, daughter of Raja Ajit Singh of Marwar (Jodhpur), and even threatened a fatal termination”.

What the emperor needed was surgery and this is where the British found the opportunity to win his favour by using the services of Dr William Hamilton who was attached to the East India Company’s Surat office. The operation was successful and so was the emperor’s marriage which took place in December 1715. Two years later in 1717, the much pleased Emperor Siyar then granted the British their first-ever royal grant conferring territorial possession of Calcutta and two other neighbouring villages as well as commercial privileges.

HistoriCity is a column by author Valay Singh that narrates the story of a city that is in the news, by going back to its documented history, mythology and archaeological digs. The views expressed are personal

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