Jat groups have opposed Panipat: The Great Betrayal, a recently released movie on the third battle of Panipat. The leaders claim Maharaja Suraj Mal, the Jat king of Bharatpur state, has been portrayed as a greedy emperor. Former Union minister and diplomat Kunwar Natwar Singh, a native of Bharatpur and author of Suraj Mal’s biography, shares his views on the controversy, the king and contemporary politics with Salik Ahmad. Excerpts:
Jat groups are saying Suraj Mal has been depicted poorly in Panipat.
I have only seen excerpts. There is no historical basis to the way they’ve shown him—that he didn’t help Maratha leader Sadashiv Rao Bhau, that he wanted the Red Forts of Agra and Delhi…. Suraj Mal was a wise statesman. He had good relations with Rajputs, Marathas, Rohillas and Sikhs. Bhau was headed for a battle with Ahmad Shah Abdali when Suraj Mal met him in Mathura. He advised Bhau to leave the women, baggage and animals in Bharatpur, but Bhau went to battle with all the people and baggage and lost. The entire Maratha leadership was killed. Tens of thousands of Marathas were killed, tens of thousands fled. Suraj Mal sheltered those leaving for a year. Belittling him is unfortunate and outrages history. The producer or the director has not done the necessary research. That’s my objection.
Many films have run into controversy, from Jodha Akbar to Manikarnika, Padmaavat and Panipat.
Filmmakers are realising that films on love are not attracting the audience they used to. So they think let’s go back to historical figures. That’s fine, but they should be serious about the film and make a detailed study of the lives of people they are depicting—not just Suraj Mal, but the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali too.
Can’t creative liberty be taken with a historical figure?
You have seen the results. Jats are vandalising cinemas in Jaipur. Now the CM should ensure objectionable parts are removed from the film. Long ago I told some Jats to read books on Suraj Mal and Jat history. You go on shouting, but why don’t you read to know what the man was like—how wise, what a good soldier, what a good diplomat....
Neighbouring Alwar has become notorious for cow-protection vigilantism.
These incidents happened during BJP rule. The BJP didn’t come down heavily on the vigilantes. I am 90 years old and this is the first time I am seeing something like this in Alwar, otherwise a very peaceful place.
In 1947, about 80,000 Meo Muslims were killed in Alwar and Bharatpur. Did that change the region’s character?
No, it did not. Pakistan’s representative in the UN Security Council cited Alwar and Bharatpur in the debate on Kashmir and what happened during Partition. The communities had lived peacefully for so many years. Of the four cabinet ministers in Bharatpur state, one was always a Muslim.
You had a long association with the Congress. Do you think it has lost its hold at the grassroots?
There is a Gandhi-fatigue, especially among youngsters. They don’t know and they don’t care. The Congress should seriously study why this is happening. Sheila Dikshit once told me she got the impression during her Lok Sabha campaign that people won’t vote for her as they thought she was the Gandhi parivar’s nominee.
You have worked closely with Indira Gandhi. Many people liken her to Narendra Modi….
She was a completely secular person. That’s the fundamental difference. And she had a much deeper understanding of foreign affairs, not just touring here and there. In 1971, Nixon and Kissinger tried their best to help Pakistan, but she outwitted them.