In poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, especially western U.P., the issue may have political consequences
Over the past week, Samrat Mihir Bhoj emerged from the pages of history books to make headlines in the vernacular newspapers of western Uttar Pradesh as Gurjars and Rajputs staked their claim to the 9th Century ruler of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty.
While Gurjars claim the king belonged to their caste, the Rajputs contend the word Gurjara referred to a place, not a caste and that Mihir Bhoj was a Rajput king.
In poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, observers say, the issue will have political consequences, particularly in west U.P., where the Gurjar vote could prove decisive in at least a dozen constituencies.
The issue surfaced days before Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath unveiled a 12-feet high statute of Mihir Bhoj in Dadri town of Gautam Buddh Nagar in a college named after the ruler on September 22.
The plaque referred to the ruler as Gurjar Partihar Samrat. It offended the Rajputs. Just before the event, the word Gurjar was removed. In his speech, Mr. Adityanath tried to placate both the communities by saying “mahapurush” (great men) are beyond caste and region. Observers say that playing the Hindutva card to unite the castes, he emphasised that during Mihir Bhoj’s time, no Muslim invader could cross into India, and it was towards the end of the Gurjara Pratihara dynasty that Mahmud Ghazni invaded north India.
However, it didn’t cut much ice with the Gurjars, who have formidable numbers in Dadri and the neighbouring Jewar constituency. There was a time when Gurjars of the region swore by the Congress leader Rajesh Pilot but today both Jewar and Dadri have sitting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs.
While Dadri has Tejpal Nagar, a Gurjar, Jewar sent Dhirendra Singh, a Thakur to the Assembly. Local sources say it’s internal politics that put Mr. Adityanath on a sticky wicket on the issue.
Lapping up the opportunity, Opposition leaders — Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Mayawati and Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Jayant Chaudhary — took the BJP government to task for distorting history and playing caste politics.
“Around 25 years back, BJP Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma named the NH24 after the Gurjar Samrat. At Akshardham, former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee unveiled a statue of the ruler. In the Parliament, I have described him as Gurjar Samrat twice. Had there been any controversy, it would have been pointed out and removed,” said Malook Nagar, the BSP MP from Bijnor. “Some people want to create confusion for their vested interests. We welcome it if other castes want to embrace the Gurjar Samrat, but his name should not be tampered with,” said Mr. Nagar, a respected figure in the community.
On September 26, Gurjars held a massive mahapanchayat in a Dadri village, demanding the word Gurjar to be restored before Samrat. For young Gurjars who are moving away from traditional professions of agriculture and dairy farming, it has become an emotive issue because they have grown up listening to oral stories of Mihir Bhoj. “The new narrative has come to us as a shock,” said Dr. Veerpal Singh, a professor in Chaudhary Charan Singh University who hails from the Gurjar community. In Dadri itself, there are at least half a dozen institutions named after the ruler.
On Tuesday, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Surendra Nagar removed the black ink from the word Gurjar and posted his pictures on the social media. Some hours later, unknown people put black ink on the names of the CM, Mr. Nagar and the local MLA on the plaque. The BJP blamed the local Samajwadi Party leaders for the act. Dadri Police has arrested two people in this regard.
In his reaction, Prince Arunoday Singh Parihar, who describes himself as a direct descendant of Mihir Bhoj, wrote to PM Narendra Modi to stop “distortion of Rajput history”.
Ajay Singh, national president of the Akhil Bhariya Kshatriya Mahasabha said they were approaching the High Courts of four States to protect the community’s honour. “How could the Gurjars enjoy the perks of Other Backward Class (OBC) and appropriate a Kshatriya ruler at the same time,” he asked, adding the issue would not die down soon. “It will have consequences in the elections,” he said.
Manvendra Pundhir, Professor of History in Aligarh Muslim University, described Mihir Bhoj as a Rajput ruler. “Wherever there are gaps in history, communities use them to invent their past and the political parties use communities according to their convenience,” he said, adding that if one were to go by nomenclature, “The present day Guptas could claim Samudragupta as their ancestor.”
Meanwhile, local police are providing security to the statue of a king whose empire once covered almost the entire north India.
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