Explained: Why Jats are upset over Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Panipat’

Sukhbir Siwach
Explained: Why Jats are upset over Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Panipat’

Policemen during a protest by Jat community members over a controversial scene in the film 'Panipat', outside the Rajmandir Cinema Hall, in Jaipur, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (PTI Photo)

The Jat community is not happy with the portrayal of 18th Century ruler of Bharatpur, Maharaja Suraj Mal, in Bollywood film ‘Panipat’ that was released last week. Several outfits representing Jats have staged protests in Rajasthan, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi against the movie and several ministers, MLAs and MPs have demanded a ban on the film’s screening. Here's why the controversy erupted.

Panipat move: What’s the contentious issue?

The film is based on the Third Battle of Panipat fought between the Marathas and the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1761. Marathas lost the battle and the film depicts Maharaja Suraj Mal’s denial to help the Maratha army as one of the factors for the defeat. The film shows commander-in-chief of Maratha army Sadashiv Rao Bhau reaching out to Suraj Mal for help against Abdali. Suraj Mal, however, is shows as insisting that he be given the control of Agra Fort in lieu of the help, before entirely distancing himself from Maratha campaign against the Afghans.

Jat leaders have termed the depiction “factually incorrect” claiming that the Bharatpur ruler never insisted for the Agra Fort. Yashpal Malik, president of All India Jat Aarakshan Sanghrash Samiti that has been leading the protests, claimed that Suraj Mal had already conquered the Agra Fort, “so there was no question of bargaining for it”. Malik has also contended that in the film, Suraj Mal “has been shown speaking Haryanvi and Rajasthani dialect instead of Braj (a western Hindi dialect)”.

What do the Jat leaders say?

The Jat leaders believe that Maharaja Suraj Mal had distanced himself from the Marathas after differences erupted over strategical matters. When the Maratha army had moved to Panipat, women family members had also accompanied them. According to Rajya Sabha MP Chaudhary Birender Singh, Suraj Mal had then suggested to the Marathas to leave their families at Bharatpur before moving to the Panipat’s battle field. Birender Singh further says that Suraj Mal had also suggested that Marathas opt for guerilla warfare, something in which they had expertise, instead of taking on Abdali’s forces in an open battle. According to Singh, the Bharatpur ruler did not extend help to Marathas when his suggestions were not accepted.

What do the historians say?

Founder director of Haryana Academy of History and Culture KC Yadav says he “never heard from any established historian nor I read anywhere in the standard books” that Maharaja Suraj Mal ever sought Agra Fort from the Marathas. “Bharatpur Fort itself was so strong that nobody could conquer it,”says Yadav. “There is general belief that Suraj Mal advised the Marathas to go for guerilla warfare in place of field battle. When they did not agree to his point of view, then he (Suraj Mal) refused to extend help telling them that “you play your own game”.Further, the Marathas could not mustar support and help from the local population in Haryana. On the other hand, Abdali had secured support from many including Rohilas, Siraj-ud-Daula and Afghans. He had no shortage of food supply even as several in Maratha forces died of hunger. There were strategic mistakes (on part of Marathas). After the defeat in the battle of Panipat, Suraj Mal helped the Marathas with food, clothes and money,” says Yadav, who earlier taught history at Kurukshetra University and has authored several books on history and culture of Haryana.

On the hand, professor of history at Panjab University, M Rajivlochan, says that most of the kings were ambitious and aspired for more and were ready to do anything for the same. “There was no support for Marathas in the North India including from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. They were collecting taxes from this region. Initially Suraj Mal helped Marathas as he wanted to get rid of Mughals. But eventually, the Marathas did not get any help from Jats, Sikhs and Rajputs”.

Read | Panipat producers to remove controversial portions on Maharaja Surajmal

What do the politicians say?

Many senior leaders in Rajasthan and Haryana, particularly from the Jat community, have objected to the movie’s content related to Maharaja Suraj Mal. While Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij says that producers should deeply study the history before making such films on history and desist from “hurting the sentiments of people”, Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi demanded that the film be banned till the removal of its controversial parts from the movie. Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the filmmakers “should not twist historical facts for commercial gains” and “Maharaja Surajmal is known as a brave and generous ruler”. Earlier, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot had urged the Censor Board to take note of allegations against Ashutosh Gowariker’s film while his Cabinet colleague Vishvendra Singh had demanded a ban on screening of the film in North India to avoid any law and order situation.

What next?

The Jat organizations have announced to continue with their protests till the government imposes ban on the movie. Meanwhile, the producers of the historical drama, as per the PTI, have agreed to edit out the controversial portion of the film. “We have deleted the scenes related to Maharaja Suraj Mal ji. Also, we have got the censor certificate with 11 minutes less length,” a source close to the makers was quoted by PTI as saying.

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