Leadership Lessons from Maharana Pratap of Mewar

The Maharana’s relentless fight in the 16th century CE was for independence.

Maharana Pratap Singh
The Maharana's relentless fight in the 16th century CE was for independence. Image: Media Office, The City Palace, Udaipur

By Raju Mansukhani

Five lessons that have stood the test of five centuries

As our Republic celebrates its 75 years since Independence, and Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav presents the awe-inspiring saga of our freedom struggles, the iconic name of Maharana Pratap is heard over and over again. The Maharana’s relentless fight in the 16th century CE was for independence and freedom from imperial designs of the Mughal Empire. Hidden in these chants and calls of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ are key leadership lessons that have stood the test of time. The test of five centuries that have rolled by…

 Respect your Roots: Your strength lies in your spiritual legacies, heritage and people

With tribals, peasants, farmers and priests, Rana Pratap maintained close, compassionate ties. He was hailed as ‘Rana Kika’, a friend for all seasons. He was a man of the people, who as a young adult, spent years working and allying with Bhil tribals and Meenas in the Mewar region. There are innumerable songs and stories dedicated to Rana Kika who devoted years to motivating and mobilising people around him: tribals, peasants, soldiers, priests, landed gentry and mercantile classes alike. No wonder the Bhil leader Rana Punja remained a confidante of Rana Pratap, spearheading guerilla campaigns and leading a contingent of tribal warriors onto the battlefield of Haldighati. A leader is as good and as strong as his roots.

“Rana Pratap emerges in an age when the entire Kshatriya identity or asmita was lost, drowned as it were in a sea of convenience-seeking,” said Pandit Shri Narendra Mishra, one of India’s greatest ‘veer-ras’ poets living in Chittorgarh. “When there was shameless slavery to dependence, Pratap rises as a synonym of self-respect and self-pride. He was instrumental in breathing new life into the concepts of self-respect and independence,” said Panditji, whose poetry captures the spirit of those times.

 Self-Independence is Sacrosanct; so is self-reliance

Rana Pratap opposed Mughal imperial policies, wanting to retain the centuries-old independence of the Kingdom of Mewar which was neither the richest nor the most powerful among the Kingdoms of the 16th century CE. Historians emphasize this independence was a core value for which he lived and fought in his lifetime, not for self-aggrandisement nor extending the kingdom. A case study titled ‘India’s Mewar Dynasty: Upholding 76 Generations of Service and Custodianship’, conducted by Prof John L Ward and Prof K Ramachandran of Kellogg School of Management and Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, noted: “The battle (of Haldighati) was typical of those Mewar fought over its long history: a defensive one. Mewar maintained a powerful military force, but it was not a mercenary army…most soldiers acted as volunteers who believed in their king’s leadership and were ready to lay down their lives for the sovereignty of their State.”

Tableau of Rana Pratap and his warrior-leaders at the Parliament House, New Delhi, unveiled on August 21, 2007. Sculptor-artist: Faqir Charan Parida. Photo-courtesy: Media Office, The City Palace, Udaipur.

Kellogg-ISB study quoted the present head of Mewar family, Arvind Singh Mewar, “Mewar’s army fought on the issue of principle, not for an empty stomach for which the Rana had to pay. The majority of the people who worked in the army and fought with the enemies did not have any salaried income from the army. Mewar had no money to afford a professional army.”

To these values of self-reliance, self-respect, and respect for mankind which the age of Rana Pratap exemplified, Pandit Mishra’s poetry paints colours of powerful emotions: “If independence is a mantra for the land of Bharat, then Rana Pratap is its singer or gayak / In the fight for Freedom, he remains unconquered, continuing to rule over Time.” He is the ‘kaal vidhayak’. One who rules over Time.

Statue of Maharana Pratap in the premises of the Udaipur airport, named after Maharana himself. Photo-courtesy: Media Office, The City Palace, Udaipur

Have the Courage to face and resolve larger-than-life issues

With soldiers and resources far fewer than the Mughal armies, Rana Pratap demonstrated his undying courage in taking on forces much larger and more powerful. He inspired Rajput clans to come together; families of Mehtas and Shahs who were not traditional warriors took to the battlefields. It was a value-driven proposition, highly inspirational. It was the ‘big picture’ for which he lived and, through his life, he never lost this focus. Rana Pratap’s core team comprises a spectrum of men whose achievements have also withstood the test of time. Bhamashah is one towering personality hailing from a Jain Oswal family which had served the Ranas of Mewar for generations. He was not only the Diwan of Chittorgarh but became the chief financier for Rana Pratap’s battles against the Mughal Empire and even took to the battlefield! His loyalty to the Rana was matched by his multidimensional management skills.  As a tribute to Bhamashah’s memory, the government of Rajasthan launched the Bhamashah Yojana in 2008, a direct benefit transfer scheme for women’s empowerment; while the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, Udaipur instituted Bhamashah annual awards for meritorious students of Rajasthan. These iconic personalities of the past continue to remain inspirational and relevant till date.

 Honour those Weaker than you; this includes the defeated enemy.

Rana Pratap was steeped in the centuries-old military culture where honour, valour, duty and sacrifice were paramount and sacrosanct.  Women and children, tribes and peasants were never attacked nor harmed. In 1580, the capture of the Mughal general Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan’s family exemplified this value system. Khan-i-Khanan, a brilliant warrior-poet himself, was among the Navratnas of Emperor Akbar’s court. During the tumultuous battle years, his family-members were captured and brought before the Rana Pratap. The Rana treated the family-members with honour and had them escorted safely back home. Historians like GH Ojha have recorded that Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana spoke very highly of the Maharana of Mewar, being grateful for this honourable deed. In this code of military conduct, enemy-forces defeated in battle were spared, even honoured. It remains a unique hallmark of leadership. Infact historians have showcased these acts as ‘respect for humanity’ demonstrated by the battle-hardened Rana.

Maharana Pratap– a famous painting of Raja Ravi Varma, now housed in the Shiv Niwas Palace, Udaipur. Photo-courtesy: Media Office, The City Palace, Udaipur

 Be the Best and get the Support of the Best.

It is a timeless hallmark of professionalism with no compromises on quality, as is often taught in B-schools today. Way back in the 16th century CE, troops, horses, arms and armouries were best-in-class, or else how could one survive fighting for decades? As Maharana Pratap prepared for the military campaigns against the Mughal Armies, there were scores of Afghan and Muslim soldiers, generals who joined him. For the Maharana, as a military leader, it was a professional decision to work with the best soldiers and trust them on the battlefields against the Mughals. Hakim Khan Sur, his Afghan general, was one such warrior who died fighting on the battlefield of Haldighati. Behind Rana Pratap’s guerilla tactics was the critical resolve to live and keep on fighting the enemy, rather than attain martyrdom on the battlefield one heroic day, said Dr Rima Hooja, the Jaipur-based historian whose book on Maharana Pratap is titled ‘The Invincible Warrior’.

Leadership lessons from the life and times of Maharana Pratap continue to unfold and inspire. “The United Service Institution (USI) of India is now collaborating with the Maharana Pratap Smarak Samiti, Udaipur, to research and publish military history of the pre-modern era for new and young audiences,” said MrLakshyaraj Singh Mewar, who heads the Samiti and is a direct descendant of Maharana Pratap. “The USI has dedicated a Chair of Excellence on Maharana Pratap. We have much to learn from our historical legacies,” he added.

(The author is a researcher-writer-filmmaker specializing in history and heritage management.) 
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