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Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh: Life and legacy of the less celebrated revolutionist

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Aligarh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 14 laid the foundation stone of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh. The move comes two years after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh had not received the recognition due to him for having donated land for Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), and promised to construct a university in the same city in his name.

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However, many political pundits are sceptical about this and view it as BJP’s attempt to attract the Jat votes in Uttar Pradesh where Assembly elections are due next year. The party has notably lost ground among the Jat farmers of western UP, who have been protesting for a full year against Centre’s contentious farm laws.

Let leave the politics aside and take a look at the legacy and honour of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, who donated his wealth to promote education and gave his own residence to establish the first technical school of the country.

The highly learned man of the time was well versed in eight different languages, practised different religions, founded the world federation, fought alongside Mahatma Gandhi to get India its independence from the British rule, set up a Provisional Government of India in Afghanistan, and got nominated for highly reputed Nobel Peace Prize.

His initial days

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Born into the ruling Jat family of Mursan estate in Hathras in 1886, Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh studied at the Government School in Aligarh, and went to the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, which later became famous as Aligarh Muslim University. In 1907, at the age of 21, the young Raja proceeded on a world tour with his Sikh wife and upon his return, he donated his own residence in Mathura and converted it into a technical school named ‘Prem Mahavidyalaya’ in 1909. Which was reportedly country’s first polytechnic.

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh and Aligarh Muslim University

Although the Raja couldn’t complete his graduation from the institution, his name is counted among the prominent alumni of the reputed university. As Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh comes from a prominent family of the area, his father and grandfather were close to the educationist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who founded Aligarh Muslim University.

Like many others in the region, the notable family also contributed to Sir Syed’s efforts to set up the university and donated some parts of their land to AMU, while other parts were granted on lease. An educationalist himself, Raja Mahendra Pratap too, gave land to various educational institutions.

“The family never wanted that AMU should be renamed after him, only that his legacy be publicised and made widely known,” Charat Pratap Singh, the great grandson of Mahendra Pratap said adding that AMU has agreed to name its City School after the Jat raja, the land for which had been given on lease by his family in 1929.

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His contribution to India’s freedom struggle

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, who was a freedom fighter, revolutionary, writer, social reformer, and internationalist, left his estate in 1914 to actively participate into the swadeshi movement. He was highly inspired by the speeches of Lokmanya Tilak and Dadabhai Naoroji and was influenced by Marxist ideology. He escaped to Germany in 1914 after the British government issued an arrest warrant against him and on December 1, 1915, he established a “Provisional Government of India’ outside the country at the historic Bagh-e-Babur in Kabul in the middle of World War I and, as the British government targeted him for his activities, based himself in Japan. He declared himself president, and his fiery fellow revolutionary Maulana Barkatullah of Bhopal, prime minister, of the Provisional Government.

An intrepid revolutionary, Mahendra Pratap subsequently travelled to various countries to gather support for the revolutionaries fighting for independence in India. He went to Germany, Japan, and Russia, and met the political leaders of those countries.

Nomination for the Nobel Prize for Peace

In 1929, Mahendra Pratap launched the ‘World Federation’ in Berlin. And in 1932, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Swedish doctor N A Nilsson, who was a member of the Commission of the Permanent International Peace Bureau.

His Nobel Peace Prize nomination described him as a “Hindu patriot”, “editor of the World Federation”, and “unofficial envoy of Afghanistan” and read, “Pratap gave up his property for educational purposes, and he established a technical college at Brindaban. In 1913 he took part in Gandhi’s campaign in South Africa. He travelled around the world to create awareness about the situation in Afghanistan and India. In 1925 he went on a mission to Tibet and met the Dalai Lama. He was primarily on an unofficial economic mission on behalf of Afghanistan, but he also wanted to expose the British brutalities in India. He called himself the servant of the powerless and weak.”

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In words of his grandson Charat Pratap Singh it was “mainly due to his (Mahendra Pratap’s) contribution to the education sector and launching the World Federation that later became the force behind the United Nations, that he was nominated for the Nobel Prize”.

When Mahendra Pratap Singh defeated young Atal Bihari Vajpayee

In 1946, after almost 32 years of exile, Mahendra Pratap Singh finally returned to India and joined Mahatma Gandhi in his fight against British rule. Ten years later, in 1957, Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh contested the Lok Sabha election from Mathura, and was elected Member of Parliament after defeating Chaudhary Digambar Singh, the Jan Sangh candidate of Congress, Atal Bihari Vajpayee with over 40 per cent of the votes.

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