Another Flagrant Mischaracterization of Indian History by a Financial Times Writer? – Journalistic Negligence, Misconduct or Sheer Anti-Indian Prejudice?

Editor’s Note: The FT article discussed in our article below was sent to us by a reader of the Blog. We thank him for it.

We have written critical articles about many newspapers and editorial boards on this Blog, including the New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. In our opinion, these newspapers suffer from a general lack of non-Western knowledge as well occasional cases of cultural supremacitis

But in our opinion, the Financial Times of London seems to stand alone in the ability of its writers to display historical ignorance and cultural-religious prejudice. 

In May 2009, we drew our reader’s attention to a virulently biased article in the Financial Times and wrote our rebuttal titled Flagrant Foul on FTs Joe Leahy and on Editors of Financial Times for Journalistic Misconduct and Religious Prejudice . We also compared the British Financial Times with American Wall Street Journal in our article Wall Street Journal vs. Financial Times.

This time, we see the same attitude at work in a travel article about the central Indian city of Gwalior. We appreciate the efforts of FT writers to write about the charms of India’s cities. But we do expect them to do the barest amount of research about their subject matter and to shelve their deep-seated prejudices about patriotic Indian regions that opposed British annexation.

What bare amount of research do we mean? Simply a search of Wikipedia! How difficult can that be? Very tiresome actually, if the intention is to distort Indian history.

We refer here to a tourism related article titled Gwalior’s historic splendour. In this article, Jan Dalley writes about attacks on Gwalior “Then came the usual – 10th-century Rajput clans, burned out by12th-century Muslim invaders, then more Rajputs, then Mughals, some Afghans, plenty of marauding Marathas“.

The article goes on to imply that Daulat Rao Scindia rescued Gwalior from these “marauding Marathas“. Dalley notes that Muslims attacked Gwalior from 12th to 15th century (Mughuls) but that does not qualify as “plenty” to Dalley. Only the “marauding Marathas” were “plenty” for Dalley.  From Dalley’s article, a reader might imagine these “Marathas” to be bandits, thugs, barbarians or something equivalent. 

Now look at what a simple search of “Scindia” on Wikipedia reveals:

  • Scindia (Marathi: शिंदे), anglicized from Shinde, and also spelled as Sindhia, Sindia, is a Maratha family in India which included rulers of the Gwalior State in the 18th and 19th centuries, collaborators of the colonial British government during the 19th and the 20th centuries until India became independent, and politicians in independent India.

Whoa! So Dalley’s savior of Gwalior from “marauding Marathas” was himself a Maratha? Does Dalley know this and more importantly does Dalley care? How distorted is this writing?

The FT article by Jan Dalley makes no mention of the Maratha lineage of the Shindes and omits the entire glorious history of the Shinde family. Dalley does not tell you that Daulat Rao Scindia was the son of the great Maratha general Mahadaji Shinde. Such utterly distorted writing seems to us be a characteristic of the British Financial Times, especially when British annexation of India is concerned. The Financial Times seems to go out of its way to distort Indian history, especially Maratha history. Witness our article about FT’s Joe Leahy’s comments  in May 2009.   

Let us tell you why we think so. First take a look at the map of India in 1760 from wikipedia. The areas in Yellow represent the territories of Maratha Empire. Gwalior is near the top of the central yellow region. So it was a part of the Maratha Empire. Actually the Gwalior region was given to the Shinde family as their fief by Baji Rao, the Prime Minister of the Maratha Empire.  

(Maratha Empire territory in yellow – Gwalior is the northeast part of the yellow region)
(India in 1760 – Source Wikipedia)

Let us be clear. The Shinde or Scindia family served India in the most heroic and selfless manner. Just look at the basic history of the Shinde family: 

  • Peshwa (Prime Minister) Baji Rao was a young man of 20 years when Emperor Shahu of the Maratha Empire named him Peshwa. Baji Rao became the greatest general of his era. He won every single of his 40 battles and the Maratha reign spread all over North India. His supremacy was accepted by the then Mughul Badshah of Delhi.
  • The Maratha Empire delivered upward social mobility to young men of all castes. Baji Rao chose a few young men as his plenipotentiaries. The two most famous of these were Ranoji Shinde , a young man from a peasant family, and Malharrao Holkar,  a young man from a shepherd’s family.  These two young men proved to be great warriors and empire builders.
  • The Shinde family had a glorious role in the history & conquests of the Maratha Empire. Very few families have given so many of their men to their country. Jankoji Shinde, Dattaji Shinde died in the great battle of Panipat. Only Mahadaji Shinde survived that destructive battle. He proved to be a great general and a diplomat. He supported the young Peshwa Madhav Rao. Under Madhav Rao’s direction and under Mahadaji Shinde’s generalship, the Maratha Empire reached its zenith with its reach all over North India.
  • The early death of Peshwa Madhav Rao weakened the central authority of the Maratha Empire. But Mahadaji Shinde labored alone in “solitary grandeur, a ruler of (North) India, without an ally, without a party, without even able and reliable civil and administrative service“, in the words of a British historian.
  • The vision of Mahadaji Shinde was to build a confederacy of North Indian states. To achieve this plan, Mahadaji Shinde modernized his army and hired a a noted French general Benoit De Boigne to build divisions for specialized artillery warfare.
  • This was deeply troubling to the far reaching aims of the new emerging coastal power, the British. The last few years of Mahadaji’s tenure saw battles with the Indian forces commandeered by the British.
  • Unfortunately for India, Mahadaji died during a state visit to Maharashtra after an attempted assassination. His son Daulat Rao Shinde was a far cry from his father. He was defeated by the scion Yeshwant Rao of the other great Maratha clan, the Holkar. After a bad defeat by Yeshwant Rao Holkar, Daulat Rao Schindia allied with the British and essentially became a British suzerain. This was the beginning of the end of the Maratha Empire.
  • The British led Indian forces then met each of the Maratha Generals in single battles and defeated them. The weak Peshwa surrendered. Yeshwant Rao Holkar won a few battles but was defeated in the end.

Jan Dalley writes about the rewards showered on Daulat Rao Schindia & his descendants by the British:

  • The Scindia family, the Maharajas of Gwalior, were good friends to the British, supporting them in 1857, and so were accorded the highest ranking in the strange hierarchy that was imposed – Gwalior was named one of only five “21-gun salute” states. And the rulers lived up to it,building in the 1870s the immense Jai Vilas Palace – quasi-Italianate,though designed by a Lt-Col Sir Michael Filose – made of white-painted sandstone, with a huge courtyard, Tuscan loggias and Corinthian columns, and filled with furniture commissioned from factories in Birmingham, Paris, Berlin or Calcutta.

The British never acknowledged the greatness of Mahadaji Shinde, the valor and heroism of Mahadaji’s cousins, uncles and father. No. The British made a hero of Daulat Rao Scindia, the man who surrendered to them and made their defeat of the Maratha Empire possible. Is this why Jan Dalley and the Financial Times only write about Daulat Rao Scindia and not about his glorious family?

This was deliberate British strategy. All over India, you find families who surrendered to the British living high life as Maharajas and Nawabs in huge palaces. The great and victorious Indians who could remind the Indian people of their military heritage were systematically ignored and their palaces destroyed in a campaign of anglicization.

(Shaniwar Wada – Wikipedia picture)                                       (Gwalior Palace – FT Picture)

Look at the above pictures of the Scindia palace at Gwalior and compare it with the state of Shaniwar Wada, the seat of the Peshwa Dynasty in Pune. Shaniwar Wada was burnt in a mysterious fire shortly after the British annexed the Maratha Empire.

The gorgeous palace at Gwalior represents the success of those who collaborated with the British and the pitiful state of Shaniwar Wada shows the plight of those who fought for India. We could not even find a picture of the seat of the Holkars in Indore.

Today, a descendant of Daulat Rao Scindia is a minister in Indian Government and no can find the descendants of either the Peshwa or Holkar families. We have no quarrel with any descendants of Daulat Rao Scindia nor do we resent their success in the slightest. But we do wonder whether their palace in Gwalior makes any mention of the Maratha Empire or of any of the great Shindes, Ranoji, Jankoji, Dattaji, who gave their lives for Maratha Empire. We also wonder whether the Scindia palace at Gwalior has any portraits of Peshwa Baji Rao, the man who gave a common young man named Ranoji Shinde his chance at greatness. Does the Scindia Palace even have portraits of the great Shivaji Maharaj, the man who launched the Maratha Empire and without whom no Maratha would have been successful? We don’t know but somehow, we doubt it.

Jan Dalley’s article in the Financial Times

We find it disturbing that Jan Dalley would make such a disparaging comment about Marathas, a defamation of the entire state of Maharashtra and its glorious history. To call them “marauding Marathas” is not just defamatory but seems almost racist to us.  

How did Jan Dalley miss the basic fact that Daulat Rao Scindia was a Maratha? It seems evident to us that Jan Dalley did not even bother to find the facts, facts that Dalley could have found by a quick search on Wikipedia. To us this seems to us a clear case of Journalistic Negligence.  
In our opinion, the above facts show that Jan Dally and her newspaper the British Financial Times are engaging in the same perversion of Indian history that the British began two hundred years ago. To call this sheer prejudice seems fair, we think.

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