Indian medieval history and the typical bashing

22 Dec

Following is a response to a flurry of tweets on medieval history where I was tagged.


People read a half baked article and start passing verdicts on history like pandits.
Why did x do that. Why didn’t y do so.
X was a hero. Y was a scoundrel.
It is always easy to second judge history from hindsight.
As easy as a person watching cricket match on TV and taunting at the batsmen on ground “Useless fellow, I would have easily driven that one to long-off.”
This condition is well known in historical studies and they call it – ‘Presentism’ (more here)

Now to the serious business. If you think alliance with Mughals was sin, for your information Shivaji was ready to do that.
If fighting for Mughals was a sin, Shivaji again was more than willing to do that and he did so as well. All these are facts on record in contemporary sources.
History isn’t that simplistic where you can segregate heroes and villains cleanly like in a bollywood movie.
Truth is, they all have their share of sins – Rajputs, Marathas, Sikhs, Jats- you name it.
Holier than thou attitude doesn’t work nor does singling one out. I’m saying this despite (& because of) knowing what Marathas did in drought ridden Rajputana.

So let us put the facts straight before being judgmental.

Why did Jai Singh ally with Mughals?
First reason:
Hard geographic reality of north India is, whoever dominates the indo-gangetic plains is surely the ruler of north India (go back and forth in timeline to verify as much as you’d like).
This area was out of Rajputs hands, since generations before Jai Singh. Even Sanga at his peak could only scratch the surface (till PeelaKhal near Agra).
Be it Turks, Mughals or Hindus even before that. The power sitting on indo-gangetic plains has always enjoyed an upper hand over the rest.
In this geographically consistent, well fed and resourced land block, one could easily maintain huge standing armies without letting them break into feudal/federal hierarchies. Co-ordination of different arms of army and government machinery throughout the plains was seamless; which  provided for quicker reflexes and logistics. Needless to mention the tremendous natural resources one could marshal in the fertile plains.
That edge shows in political setup as well. Kannauj was considered the de-facto capital of north India before Islamic invasions, after which the focus shifted to Agra (not far). Both are in indo-gangetic plains, so is Delhi.

There is not a single successful Islamic invasion of any part of Rajputana that was not campaigned from Indo-Gangetic plains. Almost all the tide turning battles of medieval north India took place in these plains only.
Before we start pointing fingers at Rajputs (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t), Rajputana’s human cost and toll of eight centuries of constant battles, resistance against invasions has to be counted. All that is before Jai Singh.

So far as Amber is concerned, even with Mewar before Mughals, it was a minor ally, part of confederation. Raja PrithviRaj the ruler of Amber fought under Maharana Sanga against Babur, as part of Rajput federated army in 1527 A.D.
Basics of politics (or survival if you will) dictate that in picking ally/confederation, stronger one should be the obvious choice.
As long as Mewar was strong (till 1527 A.D.), Amber was in their confederacy. Even though geographically they were still right next to a strong, plain dwelling Muslim power (Lodis of Agra Sultanate). There was no reason to flip over.
Enter Babur and 1527’s watershed moment. Babur smoked away the Mewar confederacy. He not only emerged the un-disputed ruler of indo gangetic plains, but also the technologically superior one (gunpowder).
This defeat opened the minor Rajput states like Amber to a whole new geo-political reality.
Mewar reteated into its own wounds and there was absolutely no other Hindu power in north India near or strong enough that could be allied with, to thwart Babur (who was stronger, remember?).
If one beats your boss, he definitely becomes your boss.
Why I am stressing on Khanwa’s implication as reason for Amber’s switch, is because the switch happened soon after Khanwa.
Many may not know, but it wasn’t out of the blue that one day Bharmal decides to marry his daughter to young Akbar.
It was his predecessor, elder brother Puranmal (1527-1534) who allied with Babur’s son Humayun and died fighting alongside Mughals in retaking the  same fort of Bayana, with which Babur and Sanga’s rivarly had sparked. This, as is evident, happens barely few years post the Khanwa battle.

We pick Amber for bashing because with time Amber had grown in importance as a crucial Mughal ally (since Akbar-Man Singh days).
Amber played a major (often lead) role in virtually all important Mughal campaigns. Their financial health improved and political power rose in and out of Rajputana.
To these developments, the rest of Rajputana could either grudge (like Mewar) or join the chorus like others.

Next comes the timing (second reason).
When Rajputs were strong and Mughals as well, Sikhs and Marathas were not on the scene.
When Marathas were strong, Rajputs were already spent and Sikhs had only begun as a political power.
By the time Sikhs rose, Marathas had been dealt with by British and Rajputs fully co-opted.
So it was never easy for one hindu/native power to actively gel with the other.

Then there’s the emergence of caste and clan based Kingdoms in early medieval centuries. It effectively nullified possibilities of Hindu native powers in producing another Imperial ruler pan north India. No prizes for guessing who filled the vacuum then.
This by the way is the fundamental difference that permeates below many crucial phases of medieval history. A serious threat to Imperial muslim power at Agra would unite the sub-continent’s muslims. Which is the reason why even in peak power Marathas dominated Agra via Mughal proxy.
If on the other hand it were instead a Hindu Imperial power on decline, there would be a bee-line of Hindu rivals and dis-grunted allies to pick the empire’s flesh piece by piece and make a good run for it, while its free for all.
‘Jitnee Naap Lee Utnee Tumharee’
Did infighting not happen in Muslim Kingdoms. Yes it did, but primarily at ruler level (not as deep social schisms like ours). Regardless, there was always the call of Islamic Ummah and Jihad which would unite and zeal up the fragments like they were never splintered.

Coming to Jai Singh. If Jai Singh had no regards for Shivaji or other Hindu Kings or he was such a blind Mughal servant, why would he and his son Ram Singh swear an oath to protect Shivaji during the latter’s Agra visit?
Why would his son tell the emperor hell bent on killing Shivaji – “I’m bound by oath to protect Shiva, kill me before you harm him.”
Why would Jai Singh let his son file an affidavit to emperor saying “Should Shivaji do anything untoward or flee, I would be responsible.”
Why would Ram Singh’s men guard Shivaji’s life in the inner most circle of troops around him?
Why would Ram Singh be punished and doubted by Mughals all his life, for letting Shivaji slip away?
Why would Shiavji after fleeing confess to Jai Singh “Your son would not leave me alone.”
It bewilders me, which selfish father-son duo would behave in this way and how could this be a selfish behavior in the first place.

Till Marathas were weaker they made proposals to Rajputs for alliance.
Once Marathas were powerful enough to cross Narmada and Mughals were weaker, did they ask Rajputs for any alliance?
No, they asked Rajputs for Chauth. So where was the nationalism or religion then? Where did the talk of pan-Hindu, anti-Mughal alliance go when Marathas pillaged the drought ridden Rajputana for hafta wasooli?
Factually, that is how power works.
Anyway, going back, Shivaji had asked Jai Singh for alliance so lets analyze it properly.
On what basis would Jai Singh (ruler of Amber close to Mughal base in Agra) unlearn his geographic reality and ally with Marathas?
Let us imagine he just somehow would. Have you thought of the logistics of what next? No, but Jai Singh did.
Simple question, would all the Rajput states between Amber and Marathas (far beneath Narmada back then, no presentism please) co-operate in such an anti-Mughal alliance??
If not, then what alliance, what logistics.

Lets say regardless, he should still pursue alliance. Next question comes on the “why” part.
Putting aside all sentiments of nationalism, religion, emotions and ego, can we answer this “why” like a cold calculated statesman?
Would Jai Singh, a mansabdar of Mughals, ally with a power against Mughals when he himself had defeated that power.
Even if the thought of counter alliance crossed his mind. Wouldn’t he rather look for a power whose addition would definitely and clearly tilt the scales?
Yes Marathas did become that strong, but not in Jai Singh’s time, not in 17th century. That happened in 18th century, when they needed Rajputs only for chauth.

Now we come to the final question. Disregarding all these previous questions, we for a moment assume Jai Singh did refuse to ally with Mughals or say rose against them.
What would happen then? I’ll tell you what would happen.
Firstly Shivaji wouldn’t be able to leave south with full power when Islamic sultanates and other rivals were present in South. If he would enter north to Jai Singh’s aid with partial punch, it is as good as not coming. Both Jai Singh and Shivaji would suffer losses and weaken further. What else; any of the kingdoms like Marwar, Mewar and numerous others would use this god sent political opportunity to side with Mughals against Jai Singh, thus scoring brownie points, better court status/ political equations for self; where does that leave Amber and Jai Singh? To the gallows.
That is how nasty politics is and has always been.
That is part of what stopped the Hindu states from uniting.
Do you know what was one of the conditions of the hardy Hada Chauhans in their very balanced treaty with Mughals. Here, have a look:
“That we or our troops would never be placed under any other Hindu commander.”

There’s your last reason. Have you all got your answers?
I for one am tired of clarifying & repeating on numerous forums and sites either way. Bailing out now.



One Response to “Indian medieval history and the typical bashing”

  1. mrudulalele February 3, 2017 at 2:01 pm #

    Thank you very much for the article! I can understand your frustration. Whatever little I have read about Shivaji, Jai Singh and Ram Singh are highly respected even though they served Aurangzeb and I pity the ones who don’t. Without Ram Singh surely we would not have the Maratha Empire as we know of it today since Shivaji’s resurrection to full strength happened only after he escaped Delhi.

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