Friday, May 16, 2014

Royal Profile: Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh

Mahendra Pratap is a famous name in India and a man of very royal roots and connections. However, his path in life was not a royalist one. He devoted himself to the cause of Indian independence but at the same time, to create a very new sort of India, influenced by western political ideas (and often not the best of those) rather than a restoration of traditional Indian glory. He was born on December 1, 1886 in the Aligarh District of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, the third son of Raja Ghanshiam Singh Bahadur of Mursan in the Hathras District of Uttar Pradesh. The Mughal emperors had bestowed on the head of the family the title of Raja Bahadur and the ancestral state of Mahendra Pratap resisted fiercely when the British arrived and began expanding their influence in India. Eventually, they were defeated by the British and pro-British forces so that the family was left with a reduced number of villages and no political power. With such a background, it is little wonder that Mahendra Pratap would ultimately devote his life to ending British rule in India. When he was only three years old he was adopted by another princely family that had fought against the British, unsuccessfully, and had been dispossessed by 1818. This was the family of Raja Harnarain singh Sahib of Hathras.

The grandfather of Raja Harnairain, Raja Dayaram, had resisted the British and been forced to flee to central India but his son restored the family fortune by siding with the British during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in return for which his title was restored to him and he was given control of a number of districts but died soon after. Hathras was not one of the areas restored to his control and so many locals attributed his death to a broken heart. Young Mahendra Pratap grew up with this family in the Vrindavan Palace and had a very happy childhood, living in splendor and surrounded by a loving family. He was given a good education but even in his youth displayed a distinct lack of interest in his royal status, a concern for the common people and a burning desire to drive the British out of India. While in college in 1902 he married the daughter of a Jat Sikh family from the Jind princely state of Haryana in what was then Punjab named Maharani Balbir Kaur. She died in 1925 but in his later career, Mahendra Pratap would make much of the religious diversity of his family connections, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and portray himself as a representative of the vast diversity of India. And that was something he knew very well as he, along with his brother, traveled extensively until he had visited practically every corner of the immense Empire of India.

It is worth noting that, in his travels, he seemed to interpret everything he saw according to the radical ideologies he had picked up in college and was becoming rather Marxist in his worldview. When he traveled around India, he seemed to only see the negative, the poor, the victimized and little else save for the variety of peoples and beliefs that might pose a problem in his dream of uniting all Indians in opposition to British rule and the whole of traditional Indian society as it had been. Still, he went home to his own palace and was not above using his princely connections to further his own cause. He was able to meet with other pro-independence notables, promote education and household industries to further the cause of economic independence. Eventually this led him to take the dramatic step of leading a campaign to burn all foreign-made clothes in his state. Frustrated by the relatively small impact he was having at home, in 1914 he decided to go abroad and to seek foreign assistance for removing the British from India. Obviously, it was an ideal time as August of 1914 saw the British Empire take on some powerful enemies.

Mahendra Pratap made it to Switzerland and it was there that his cause and that of the German Empire found each other, working through the man who would later be made famous by a telegram, Arthur Zimmermann in the German Foreign Office. Zimmermann, who would also promote the use of the communists to undermine the Russian Empire, was enthusiastic in supporting Indian revolutionaries to undermine the British Empire. Mahendra Pratap was just as eager but insisted on meeting Kaiser Wilhelm II himself, which he did. The Kaiser decorated him with the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle and discussed with Mahendra Pratap an idea the Germans had long pinned some hope on; an invasion of India through Afghanistan. Already allied with the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, it was hoped that Muslim solidarity with the Central Powers would be easy to achieve and that the appearance of even a modest force on the northern border would incite Indians of all backgrounds to rise up against the British Raj and few doubted that Great Britain would be crippled by the loss of India. It was not a new idea. Shortly before the war broke out, the Kaiser, in one of his troublesome marginal notes, wrote, “Our consuls in Turkey and India, agents, etc., must inflame the whole Mohammedan world to wild revolt against this hateful, lying, conscienceless people of hagglers; for if we are to be bled to death, at least England shall lose India.”

The prince was introduced to men in the German army and officials in Austria-Hungary. He met the Khedive of Egypt while in Vienna and later when on to the Ottoman Empire where he was also warmly received. A German-Turkish expedition set out across Persia to Afghanistan led by General Oskar Ritter von Niedermayer and the diplomat Werner Otto von Hentig. On December 1, 1915 Pratap set up a provisional government in Kabul, Afghanistan for “Free Hindustan” with himself serving as President and other prominent advocates of independence in lesser posts. The Muslims added their voice to that of the Ottoman Sultan by declaring a jihad against the British Empire of India but obtaining the support of the Emir of Afghanistan proved frustrating and ultimately impossible. He demanded much but refused to commit himself and, unaware that the British were already giving him more than the Germans ever would to stay on side, the effort was finally abandoned in disgust. There would be no Muslim army to attack northern India and there would be no mass Indian uprising against the British in World War I. The would-be president was left without a job but he still had enough Marxist credentials to be invited to Russia after the Bolsheviks seized power by Vladimir Lenin.

The provisional government in Kabul
Mahendra Pratap went to the emerging Soviet Union and Lenin rolled out the red carpet for him (so to speak). At that time, it was probably easy to be taken in by Lenin who had yet to actually do very much but was full of utopian promises about what the future of the Soviet Union would look like and what a Marxist vision of socialist paradise it would become. Pratap did not stay long enough to see the nightmare the USSR would grow into as things were far from stable and the British were beginning to make a serious effort to apprehend the troublesome prince. When World War I came to an end with the Allies victorious and the British Empire enlarged, he found himself effectively back where he had started with his former powerful friends in Berlin, Vienna and Constantinople all gone. Returning to India seemed out of the question so, in 1925, he traveled to the Empire of Japan which had long been a haven for Asians who dreamed of independence from European colonial rule. His vision for a free India, it must be remembered, was a totally alien and revolutionary one. Aside from his Central Powers backers, the only Allied countries to look with any favor on his “Free India” attempted government were the United States and Russia and despite his pedigree, it infuriated him that the monarchs of India had opposed his anti-British scheme for armed rebellion.

In fact, his tendency toward collectivism seemed to grow ever stronger and he even tried to set up his own brand of religion which was to be a sort of combination of all beliefs with the only dogmas being that all religions be accepted, all faiths, all races and all classes be united with no discrimination and all treated equally. He even dreamed of such collectivism on a global scale by doing away with the unequal institutions of the past and creating a sort of world federation where all humanity would be united and everyone would be the same. He set up a “World Federation Centre” to promote such ideas but had been largely sidelined by the time of World War II. Although still in Japan, it was another revolutionary, Subhas Chandra Bose, and another provisional government of Free India that would gain support from the Axis powers in another effort to provoke an Indian rebellion against Britain. Another socialist, though a more authoritarian one, Bose would be no more successful than his predecessor though he did at least manage to get some Indian rebel troops onto Indian soil for a clash with the British but it was swiftly turned back.

In 1946 Mahendra Pratap was finally allowed to return to India where the first thing he did was rush to meet the rising star of Mahatma Gandhi. The following year, Great Britain granted India independence and Mahendra Pratap spent the rest of his days continuing to push his political agenda, basically railing against the elites (of which he himself was a member, in both the old and new versions of India), being elected to office, presiding over Jat gatherings and advocating for greater power for local assemblies. It was not exactly the fate he had hoped for when he stood as provisional President of Free India but, despite his defeats in working with foreign powers in an attempt to overthrow British rule, there is no doubt that the India created after independence has more in common with his vision than that of the traditional India that existed before the arrival of the British (or any other Europeans) and which had endured throughout the Raj. Whether it is better or not would depend on the view one has of Indian history and the heights achieved in those days the current republic has separated itself from. Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh died on April 29, 1979.


  1. its a nice article,and you have a unique interest.Being great grandson of Raja Mahendra Pratap singh i got interested to read about your write up.Just want to add that one the pictures is actuallyy his son Prem Pratap Singh the one in black coat and hands folded.
    charat pratap singh

    1. Pls let me have yr email id I would like to get in touch. I think we are related

  2. Mr. Ranvir Singh, who was with Raja Saheb during his last days and in fact was holding his hand as he breathed his last, is writing a book on Raja Saheb. I think the three of you will have a lot to talk about!
    Sandeep Mehandiyaan

  3. Hello charat and Hari, my father was grand nephew of raja Mahendra pratap. He was Kuvar Brij moham singh. I think we are related. Nidhi singh

    1. hi,
      yes please send me your email or contact no. we should get in touch

  4. My mother was from the Mursaan family, so there is a connexion ! lets explore further.

  5. Sir could you please do articles on for your India articles:
    Sri Krishnadevaraya
    Chatrapati Shivaji Bhonsle
    Rajaraja Chola
    Chandragupta Maurya
    Maharana Pratap

  6. Gentlemen lets conference on voice mail. My Tel number is 9910221029.


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