Aakar Patel & History as tool for revenge – Part 1

Bharatpur, the royal house of former foreign minister Natwar Singh had only one king, Suraj Mal Jat.

Suraj Mal won a little land south of Delhi as the Mughals rapidly declined in power after the death of Aurangzeb. The family was promised they would be made rajas by Syed Hassan Ali Khan of Barha (one of the two famous/infamous Syed brothers). The Syed had no authority to do this and was killed before he could try. But the Jats were desperate for the title of king. Suraj Mal’s father, Badan Singh sent Rs 5,000 to the defeated and bankrupt, but still proud former governor of Gujarat, Sarbuland Khan, to please address him in his letters as ‘raja’.

Khan returned the money, addressing Singh only as ‘thakur’. This was in the 1730s. Suraj Mal made his money mainly from robbery. He died a rich man, leaving behind a full, bursting treasury and an army of peasant Jats, whose wages were 18 months in arrears.

It is not surprising that the heir to such a history is equally colourful. One of the Congress party’s most literate leaders (which may not be saying much in these days), Natwar Singh has become a rebel at age 83. Despite decades of service to the Nehru-Gandhi clan, his ministry was taken away a few years ago after a United Nations report on an oil scandal. His son later joined the BJP.

 Aakar Patel wrote an article on Natwar Singh and the above paras are the first few from that article. The article can be read in full here.

There is one person who comes out smelling sweet in the above story narrated by Aakar Patel – Sarbuland Khan. I had never heard of this Paragon of Virtue, so I immediately searched for him, till I located him in the book *Later Mughals – Vol 2* written by William Irvine. The book was later edited and augmented with the portions relating to *History of Nadir Shah’s Invasion* by Jadunath Sarkar and the volume I have was published in the year 1922.

At page 213 of the book, the incident of Rs. 5,000 mentioned above by Aakar Patel finds a place. The previous pages actually gives a much better picture of this Sarbuland Khan, who had had a very ordinary career before he ended up as Governor of Gujarat. The Mughal Emperor sent Maharajah Abhai Singh of Marwar to replace him as Governor of Gujarat but Sarbuland refused to move out. From Irvine’s records it is clear that Sarbuland gave a good fight to Abhai Singh and finally moved out after extracting Rs. 100,000 from Abhai Singh to vacate. Abhai Singh paid him Rs. 80,000 and cheated him out of the rest.

Sarbuland meanwhile had reached Agra and was detained indefinitely by his troop who mutinied because they had not been paid. This forced Sarbuland to borrow from Money lenders. It was at this point, Badan Singh sent two of his officers with a promised present of Rs. 1,00,000 if he would take up residence in Jat territory till Sarbuland gained the Emperor’s favour. Sarbuland made them wait for a week and laughed at them when they made their offer. He replied that he had not reached such a stage of destitution that he should apply to his equals. He sent a horse and jewelled sword to Badan Singh along with a letter addressing him as *Thakur*. Inexplicably the, Badan Singh sent a letter (along with Rs. 5,000) pleading he be called Raja as he had been promised so. Sarbuland returned it with another letter saying he did not need it and would press Badan Singh’s claim when he had the favourable ear of the Emperor.

It is not clear why Badan Singh sent Rs. 5,000 when his offer of Rs. 1,00,000 had been spurned. Also at this point of time, Sarbuland was not in the good books of the Emperor. In fact per R. C. Majumdar, he had amassed a fortune of close to Rs. 10 crore by the time he died (1756). Also by 1752 Emperor Ahmad Shah made him Raja, with a title Mahendra. It is not clear from where Aakar Patel gets his information that Badan Singh had kept his soldiers in arrears.

But more about Sarbuland Khan. After a long stay at Agra, he finally managed to endear himself to the Emperor but he could not leave his house, because of his creditors. Whenever the Emperor needed to see him, he sent an Imperial letter with Imperial Attendants to ward off the violent Creditors. But the story doesn’t end here. In February, 1739 Nadir Shah of Persia invaded India and defeated the Mughal army. Nadir Shah spent nearly 60 days in Delhi and collected a ransom worth anywhere around Rs. 70 Crores. Of this an amount of Rs. 2 Crore was collected from the public of Delhi. It is that Rs. 2 Crore that is relevant to Sarbuland Khan.

Nadir Shah divided the city of Delhi into 5 sections and called 5 nobles and gave them a list of citizens with their details and amount to be collected from each of them. The five nobles were – The Nizam, The Wazir, Azim-Ullah Khan, Sarbuland Khan and Murtaza Khan. In the two sections, assigned to the Nizam and the Wazir, the citizen were treated humanely and the Wazir, in fact paid most of the amount from his own treasury. But in the other three the treatment was inhuman, especially by Sarbuland Khan. Most people in these sections killed themselves out of desperation.

The Wazir was tortured and paid Rs. 1 crore along with jewels and elephants. His Diwan Majlis Rai was handed over to Sarbuland Khan to be tortured and money extracted from him. The ears of Majlis Rai was cut off in the Court and he went home only to commit suicide. So much for the *Proud Former Governor of Gujarat*.

Not much is known from Irvine of what Badan Singh was doing during this period . But when Nadir Shah went back to Persia, the Sikhs and Jats en route harassed the rear guard of his army and plundered a part of the wealth Nadir Shah had plundered from India.

But Sarkar gives a bigger picture of Badan Singh in a later book – Fall of the Mughal Empire (Vol 2). Badan Singh was the nephew of Churaman, the first Jat who wanted to weld that community into a kingdom and obviously wanted to be its king. Churaman arrested Badan Singh who managed to escape and lie low till the death of Churaman and the subsequent failure of his cousin Muhakam Singh. His only asset was his cunning. He had no inherited wealth or was not the descendant of a family that ruled.  He got into the good graces of Sawai Jai Singh who had razed the city of Thun built by Churaman. His humuility unlike that of Jats endeared him to Jai Singh who gave him the tika, nishan, kettle drum, five coloured flag and the title Braja Raj (Lord of Holy land of Mathura). Despite this he preferred to be called the vassal of Raja of Jaipur and called himself Thakur, never using the title Raja. (Contradictory to what Irvine says).

Badan Singh, reduced all the rich Jats to those of commoners and usurped all their wealth. He soon became very rich and was no longer a Zamindar but a petty Rajah. But the disruption caused in Delhi by the Sayyid brothers helped him amass more wealth by plundering Delhi. He used all this wealth to build large forts and towns.

R.C. Majumdar has this to say about him:

He organized a strong army, consisting of infantry and cavalry, constructed four strong forts, viz., Dig, Kumbher, Ver and Bharatpur, and provided them with ample provisions and sufficient artillery.

It was Badan Singh who laid the foundation of a new ruling house, viz., that of Bharatpur, with an enlarged territory. In 1752 he was created “a Raja with the title of ‘Mahendra’ by the Mughul emperor Ahmad Shah”

Badan Singh was also a patron of architecture. He constructed a temple at Vrindavan, known as Dhir Samir, fine palaces in the fort of Dig, a beautiful house with a large garden in the fort of Ver (Wair), and palaces at Kamar and Sahar.

But in spite of all his infantry and wealth, he refused to attend the Emperor’s Court calling himself a vassal of the Raja of Jaipur. He attended the Dasahara Durbar of Jaipur every year till old age curtailed his movements. So it is not clear why Irvine says he sent a request to Sarbuland Khan to call him Rajah. But both the books referred here – Later Mughals – Vol.2 and the Fall of Mughals – Vol.2 has a common thread. The first was edited by Jadunath Sarkar and the second written by Jadunath Sarkar.

One thing is clear – Sarbuland Khan was not the paragon of virtue that Aakar Patel makes him out to be. He after all collaborated with an invader who murdered and plundered so much in a short period of 57 days. Badan Singh again was not as bad as Aakar patel makes him out to be. A man who had his army in arrears and at the same time sent Rs. 5,000 to be called a Rajah.

But for the body blow – Was Suraj Mal the son of Badan Singh as claimed by Aakar Patel?  



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