India on the Eve of Babur’s Invasion: The Communal Interpretation

Apart from what has been written by Babur himself on the conditions of Hindustan in his Baburnama, there is a communal interpretation which has been forwarded according to which Babur was a Muslim conqueror who came to India to defeat the infidel faiths and establish Islam. Secondly that India too was divided on the basis of religion and that, had Babur not come, Hinduism would have triumphed and the Muslim Sultans and Sultanates would have been replaced by Hindu kingdoms.

This was first articulated by Rushbrooke Williams who wrote the first detailed biography of Babur in English. According to his thesis there existed conflict between Hindu and Muslim states and that had Babur not intervened, there was every likelihood of Rana Sanga to establish Hindu Supremacy.

Let us examine this thesis. How far does our evidence support it?

The evidence, which perhaps Williams kept in mind while formulating his views are of two kinds:

First,those which have  been derived from Baburnama, mainly from the  Fathnama of Kanwa composed by Shaikh Zain Khawafi

Second those Evidences derived from Mirat-i Sikandari, the account of Muzaffar Shah II and the invasion of Malwa in 1515

Babur had at one place referred that Hindustan was divided into a number of states, 5 Muslim: i.e., Kingdom of Bengal (Lodis), Gujarat, Malwa, Bahmani and the Kingdom of the Deccan. Then there were two kafir states, viz. Mewar and Vijayanagar. Rushbrooke Williams takes cue from here.

Then Babur’s description of the Sisodias under Rana Sangram Singh is yet another piece of evidence taken by Rushbrooke to hold that the Sisodias under Rana Sanga were capable of annexing territory of neighbouring Muslim powers. Babur says that Sanga had succeeded in conquering strongholds in Malwa – Ranthambhore, Saranpur, Bhilsa & Chanderi.

Shaikh Zain in his Fathnama mentions 10 pagan chiefs, each a leader of pagans who had rallied around Rana Sanga. At another place, Zain mentions that just before Kanwa, Rana Sanga had succeeded in over-running 200 cities inhabited by people of faith and that he oppressed the Muslims.

Other kind of evidence is Mirat-i Sikandari. Here are statements which the author makes in the context of Muzaffar Shah II’s invasion of Malwa in 1515. Muzaffar had invaded to suppress Medni Rai. The ruler of Malwa had fled to Gujarat. In this context the author of Mirat says this was a Hindu revolt and Muzaffar invaded to put down the kafirs.

At another place he says that Medni Rai was getting support from Rana Sanga (who wanted to annex Malwa).

Let us examine the other side of the picture.

Evidence of a different nature is not lacking but has been completely ignored by Rushbrooke Williams. Much of this kind of evidence can be derived from some passages of Baburnama and Mirat-i Sikandari itself.

For example, the passage in which Babur talks of Muslim & non-Muslim states in Hindustan: he at no place place hints that these were arraigned against each other or fighting over religious differences.

Then, in the passage testifying expansion of Sisodias towards Malwa, Babur says that thre existed a large number of rais & rajas in Hindustan who can be divided into two groups: (a) those obedient to Islam & allied to Muslim states, & (b) those independent of any affiliation.

Thus the same passage admits fact of existence of smaller chieftains allied to Muslim states. Thus there was no clear-cut Hindu-Muslim difference!

Then, in the list of the 10 kafir chiefs who rallied around Rana Sanga in 1527, Sh.Zain also includes Hasan Khan Mewati, who commanded 10,000 Muslim troops & Sultan Mahmud Lodi, again with 10,000 Afghan troops in the same battle. So how can Kanwa be labelled as a Battle of Islam & Kufr?

Before the battle, the Rana had formally arranged the proclaimation & accession of Sultan Mahmud Lodi as the Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate at Mewar. Coins were also struch at Mewar to this effect. One gold coin proclaiming Mahmud as ‘Sultan of the Lodi Empire’ at Mewar has also survived. This has also been mentioned by Babur. Rana Sanga, thus it seems, had no design or desire to establish himself as the Supreme ruler: He was ready to accept the Delhi Sultanate by the Afghans under Mahmud Lodi, while he controlled Mewar and parts of Malwa which he had capture in 1514.

Then, the author of Mirat-i Sikandari, in the same passage where he describes the attempts of Muzaffar Shah II in 1514 to re-establish Islam & destroy Hindu chiefs, includes a list of Malwa chiefs killed in the battle. This list includes names of both Muslim & Afghans side by side with the names of Hindus. Thus he mentions Fateh Khan & Malle Khan.

Thus on both sides the Muslims were fighting & they still constituted a sizeable chunk of nobles & ordinary soldiers!

Lastly, one interesting evidence: Risqullah Mushtaqi in Waqi’at-i Mushtaqi makes a statement regarding Rana Sanga’s move to oppose & challenge Babur. He says it was Hasan Khan Mewati who persuaded the Rana to take up arms against Babur. We may conclude that it was on Hasan Khan’s initiative that the “confederacy of the kafir chiefs” was established.

The impression that the conflict or political tussle in Hindustan on the eve of Babur’s invasion was a religious issue is not supported by our evidences. The specific evidence does not correspond with the general statements made in this regard quoted by Rushbrooke Williams.

It seems that so far as Rana Sanga was concerned, he had no imperial pretensions: He had neither the capacity nor the will to establish himself as a Ruler of India.

In 1514 the Rana had invaded Malwa. During this period he occupied the frontier-outposts like Ranthambore. He had also captured Mandu, the capital of Malwa & the Khalji king had been taken prisoner. This was a golden opportunity to annex the territory. But he carried the Khalji King to Chitor as prisoner, had him treated & then allowed him to return back to Mandu & be re-established as the King. The only precaution taken by Rana Sanga was to persuade him to maintain friendly relations with Mewar in future. This indicates, of course, Mewar’s interest in frontier strongholds to ensure the secure territory of Mewar – but beyond this the Sisodias were not interested.

The only state having this capability was the kingdom of Gujarat. The tussle was only on frontier adjustments.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi