Gujjar politics and the Mihir Bhoj controversy

In her 2014 paper “Pastoral Predicament: The Gujars in History” Prof. Shail Mayaram -made the case for the Gujjars of Rajasthan and the NCR to secure ST reservation. In the same paper, Gujjars of Rajasthan and the NCR were clubbed together, not only with the Scheduled Tribe Vangujars of Himachal, but also (quite erroneously) with the Gurjara-Pratihars (a Rajput clan). In the same vein, another online publication also published an article, dated 14-02-2019, titled “Gujjar Quota Stir: Today’s protesters are descendants of the Gurjar-Pratiharas, once among India’s grandest empires” – echoing the oft-repeated and incorrect claim connecting Gujjars to the Pratihars of the ancient Gurjara region.

Yet, on 21-08-2012, Gujjar organizations led by Col. Kirori Bainsla and Himmat Gujjar had actually issued a memorandum to the Rajasthan Government, stating that 99% of Gujjars are nomadic and live in forests.

However, a decade later, the same Gujjar ‘leaders’ – including Mr. Himmat Gujjar – accompanied by Acharya Vikram and the Akhil Bhartiya Veer Gujar Mahasabha (ABVGM), are now militantly asserting that all pre-Mughal Rajput rulers and Rajput clans – notably the Chauhans, Pratihars, Parmars, Chandels, Bhatis, Chavdas, and Tomars – should be identified as Gujjars. A press conference was also held by the above-mentioned to this effect on October 18 th , 2021. Himmat Gujjar also threatened dire consequences if the makers of Akshay Kumar-starrer film Prithviraj Chauhan does not depict the Rajput ruler as a Gujjar. Such historical absurdities are not unique and found in abundance on rightwing portals. Concocted tales of a Rampyari Gujjar and Jograj Gujjar (characters created out of thin-air by Manoshi Sinha in her book “Saffron Swords”) who supposedly defeated Taimur Lang find ardent support among rightwing as well.

Remarkably, not only do these leaders and organizations vie for ST status to collect the same socioeconomic benefits accorded to Dalit and Adivasi communities, but also wish to be seen as Kshatriyas. Their claims go even beyond Rajput icons and include figures such as Shivaji Maharaj, Kanishk and all pre-Mughal era Rajput monarchs. Then why are Gujjar organizations simultaneously vying for ST reservations whilst claiming royal descent through the appropriation of a vast array of disparate historical icons? This is puzzling to say the least.

Their truth, however, lays somewhere in the middle of these contradictory claims. Firstly, the Gujjars of the NCR and Rajasthan were not a purely pastoral community. While their ethnonym has its roots in "gau-char", over the centuries, many acquired lands and chaudhriyats under various Rajput kings and Mughal Emperors. For instance, a Gujjar named Nunne Shah Khatana (who served as Dewan under Datia’s Bundela Rajput ruler) was granted the zamindari of Samthar by latter. A century later, Samthar was declared an independent princely state by the British in exchange for military support (The Golden Book of India, Roper Lethbridge, p. 475-476). The Rohilla Chief Najib Khan also granted Chaudhari Manohar Singh (a Gujjar of the Khubar gotra) the zamindari of Landhaura (near Roorkee) in 1759 AD (Atkinson, 1875, p. 199-206). His descendant Raja Raghubir Khubar was granted a further 11 villages by the British regime for his ‘good’ conduct during the mutiny of 1857 (Saharanpur Gazetteer, p. 121). BJP MLA Pranav Champion belongs to this zamindar family. William Dalrymple also mentions a Gujjar Raja of 14 villages, Devi Singh, who relentlessly looted mutinying soldiers and the British. Considering that many Gujjars had gradually become zamindars in the late Mughal & British era, conflating them with the Vangujars or other ST groups is both manipulative and unscholarly.

Secondly, District Gazetteers and other Census records show that Gujjars shared no clans with the Rajputs, except Bhati. Additionally, the Bhati Gujjars of the NCR claimed descent from the progeny of a Rajput Raja Kasan Bhati and a Gujjar woman. The same Gazetteers also reveal how Chamayan Gujjars adopted the Tomar surname, how Kalsan Gujjars of Kairana and Mavi Gujjars adopted the Chauhan name, how Khubar Gujjars claimed to be Parmars, and how Rawal Gujjars linked themselves to Khokhar Rajputs (William Crook, Tribes & Castes of North-Western Province of Agra & Oudh, vol.2, p. 442). Similarly, Chandila Gujjars also adopted the Chandel surname. This has also been attested to by, The Karnal Gazetteer and Saharanpur Gazetteer (Gazetteer Of The Karnal District 1892 – Pg 84, 111, 118). Evidently, there are no Rajput clans (i.e. Chauhans, Parmars, Pratihars/Parihars, Tomars, Solankis, Chavdas, Chandels, etc.) among Gujjars. Although the Gujjar community adopted Rajput clan-names, the rationale given by them to colonial ethnographers for doing so remained anchored in an unsubstantiated tale of being descendants of a Rajput father and a Gujjar mother. This is sociologically termed Rajputisation. Hence, when media houses and journalists portray the current controversy as a Rajput-Gujar conflict centred on the identity of a particular king, they are misleading and misinforming readers.

Further, Gujjar leaders’ contradictory stance on reservation and historical appropriation is becoming increasingly violent. A few days back, Himmat Gujjar made a public post inciting various communities (Jats, Marathas, Kurmis, Dalits, Brahmins & Adivasis) to attack Rajputs, who he, ironically, accused of stealing the history of other communities. Another video of Narendra Gujjar, the president of ABVGM, has also gone viral where he made misogynist remarks on Rajput women. Clearly, fringe theories and dirty caste politics have mixed to create a new mob-style politics of propaganda, intimidation and collective violence.

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