Fought Mughal forces, defeated Akbar — why BJP is celebrating 16th-century Hindu king Hemu

Gurugram: When Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced two memorials for 16th-century king Hemchandra Vikramaditya — better known as Hemu — at a ceremony Saturday, he asked the younger generation to emulate his “valour and patriotism”.

In his remarks at an event held at Haryana Bhawan in New Delhi to mark Hemu’s coronation after the defeat of Mughal forces under Akbar on 7 October, 1556, Khattar said the memorials will come up in Panipat and Rewari. The event was held under the ‘Sant Mahapurush Samman evam Vichar Prachar Prasar Yojana’ — a programme the Khattar government announced this year to officially celebrate the “birth anniversaries of saints and great men” and for which it has allocated Rs 10 crore. 

Khattar also released a commemorative stamp in the Indian king’s name. 

The ceremony comes at a crucial time for Haryana politics, with parliamentary and assembly elections less than a year away. 

Hemu, who served as a general and wazir (chief minister) of Adil Shah Suri of Sur Empire before he crowned himself king after the Second Battle of Panipat, was a pivotal player in history at a time when the Mughals and Afghans were vying for power and control of north India. According to historical records, he helped Adil Shah fight the Mughal forces under both Humayun and his son Akbar — a fact that, according to political analysts like Pawan Kumar Bansal, has endeared him to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We are in the election year as the parliamentary and assembly polls are to be held next year,” Bansal told ThePrint. “The BJP is obviously desperate to win both these elections and is hence trying to please all communities. The event to celebrate Hemu’s coronation anniversary is also part of that exercise.”

Also significant is the lack of any mention of Hemu’s connection with the Sur dynasty, either in the speech or in a press release issued later. Bansal puts this down to BJP’s “selective” retelling of history.

“Take the case of Hemu. He remained an emperor for less than a month as he was crowned on 7 October, 1556, and died on 5 November that year at the hands of Akbar’s forces. Still, the BJP will highlight only this part of his life because it suits the party in furthering its Hindu agenda,” he told ThePrint.

Haryana Congress spokesperson Bajrang Dass Garg claimed the BJP has an old habit of doing things that polarise voters on religious lines and also divert people’s attention away from “real issues” plaguing people. 

“One has to look at the intention of the BJP while celebrating Hemu’s coronation, or in celebrating any national heroes for that matter,” he told ThePrint. “Elections are nearing and people are faced with a plethora of issues like rising prices, unemployment, abysmal conditions of healthcare and education. But the government is not talking about these issues. They just want to divert people’s attention from these real issues by doing such gimmicks.”

But on its part, the BJP says for the culture and civilisation of a nation to grow, it’s necessary for its new generations to know about their heroes. Haryana BJP spokesperson Sanjay Sharma also denied that only select portions of Hemu’s life where he fought the Mughals were being projected by the ruling party.

“Hemu’s life is so inspiring that it will motivate the lives of a lot of generations when they come to know about his rise from scratch to being the emperor of India,” Sharma told ThePrint. 

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Who was Hemu & why BJP is celebrating his coronation day

According to the press release issued by the state government, Emperor Hemu was born in the year 1501 in Machri village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. His family, it says, moved to Haryana’s Rewari where got his education, and later went on to become a ruler.  

Speaking at the event in Delhi Saturday, Khattar said that his government has always worked towards highlighting the lives and teachings of “great saints and leaders” so younger generations could draw “inspiration” from them.

This, he said, was a shift from the previous Congress regime when there was a tradition of honouring and carrying forward the names of “ancestors or forefathers of those who came to power in the state”. 

“During the BJP regime, we celebrated the birthdays of great saints and personalities such as Lord Parashuram, Maharishi Kashyap, Kabir Das, Maharishi Valmiki, Guru Gorakhnath, Dhanananda Bhagat, Jyotiba Phule, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and Guru Ravidas ji at the state level. We have named our educational institutions after them so that society and the nation remember and honour them,” Khattar said. 

According to Bansal, there’s nothing new in the political parties holding events for different caste groups, especially since Khattar’s predecessors have been known to hold such ‘sammelans’ (meetings). What is striking, however, is that the BJP always looks for Hindu kings who have fought wars with or defeated the Mughal rulers, he said. 

As an example, he cites the 8th-century ruler Mihira Bhoja of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty, who is believed to have ruled a significant portion of north India between the 8th and the 11th-century.

“Take the example of Emperor Mihira Bhoja who was considered a bitter enemy of the Arab invaders. The BJP brought him from nowhere and started installing its statues in Gurjar-dominated areas, where he’s often referred to as Gurjar Samrat Mihira Bhoj,” Bansal told ThePrint. “Hemchandra Vikramaditya was a Hindu ruler who defeated the armies of Akbar. He is best suited for the BJP to pursue its vote bank agenda.”

But Raghvendra Tanwar, chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) — a body under the Ministry of Education that provides financial assistance to historians and scholars through fellowships, grants, and symposia — welcomed the Haryana government’s move. 

History has often been unkind to Hemu, Tanwar, professor emeritus of Kurukshetra University and a recipient of Padma Shri — one of India’s highest civilian awards — told ThePrint. Hemu, he said, nearly defeated Akbar but was wounded and captured.

“His end is too horrible to be described in words. He was beheaded and his head was hung on a tree. His 80-year-old father was also captured and asked to convert to Islam. When he said that he had been a Hindu for 80 years of his life and how could he convert in the twilight years of his life, he, too, was beheaded. And unfortunately, this man didn’t find a mention in history simply because he was a Hindu,” he said, adding that he was one of the most “prolific opponents of the Mughals”.

But he also clarified that he was talking only about the Mughals, and “there is no communal angle or Hindu-Muslim context”.

“It’s about the Mughals, the foreign invaders. Mughal history is very interesting. But see what Guru Nanak Dev (the first Sikh Guru) said about Babar. He compared Babar with a demon,” Tanwar told ThePrint.

‘Selective reading of history’

In its press release that the state government issued about the event says that Hemu won 22 battles — including one against Akbar’s “mighty army” in the Second Battle of Panipat.  

What it fails to mention is that all of those battles were fought for Adil Shah Sur, the fourth ruler of the Sur empire — a medieval Afghan dynasty founded by Sher Shah Suri that ruled large portions of north India, including Delhi, from 1540 to 1556.

Bansal believes that the BJP always “selectively” presents the lives of their “heroes”.

Hemu, he said, served Sher Shah Suri’s son Islam Shah in various capacities such as  supervisor for the royal kitchen and superintendent of market for the better part of his life, he said. 

“But this will go against the BJP’s agenda so it will not be highlighted. Not only this, after Islam Shah’s death, his 12-year-old son Firuz Khan, who succeeded his father was killed by his uncle Adil Shah Suri in just three days, and Hemu served Adil Shah too, and went on to become his chief minister. However, all these facts won’t be highlighted,” Bansal said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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