Begum Hazrat Mahal and Tantya Tope fought together against the British in 1857, the first war of independence — now their descendants could be fighting each other in the Kanpur Nagar constituency in the upcoming general elections.
Vinayak Rao Tope is the great-grandson of Tantya Tope and will be a candidate of Swarajya Party of India. "I will file my nominations next week," he said on the phone from Bithoor, a small town in Kanpur district where the family has lived since 1818. The British had banished the last Peshwa Baji Rao II to Bithoor, and several of his loyalists, including Tantya Tope, had accompanied him.
Tope is a purohit and ekes out a meagre living by presiding over religious ceremonies in the neighbourhood. He lives in a portion of the old mansion where his great-grandfather had lived. "We got a part of the house repaired two years ago and it is liveable now. The older part behind the house is falling to pieces," said Tope, whose major grouse is that he hasn't received anything from the politicians who came and promised monetary assistance. "Sriprakash Jaiswal, Vishnukant Shastri and even the prime minister all came in 2007 and promised Rs1 crore. Nothing has happened," said Tope.
Facing him in the electoral fray is advocate Mirza Mumtaz Bahadar, who claims to be a descendant of Begum Hazrat Mahal. "After the war, the British took away our jaagirs in Mallahwa in Hardoi and Para in Lucknow, for which we were given a sum of Rs65,000 a year. But even that was stopped in 1962," he said.
Bahadar is a candidate of Al-Hind, a new party registered in 2011, which has as its election plank the demand to implement a pension scheme for martyrs of the 1857 war. "These martyrs have been completely forgotten, especially the tribes which were notified as "criminal" because they participated in the 1857 war. We want the government to include them in the Swatantrata Senani Pension Scheme and give a pension of Rs15,000 a month for the descendants, and reservations for the former criminal tribes," Omkar Nath Katiyar, the party's president, said. Like the BJP's Narendra Modi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is Al-Hind's ideal because his grandfather had fought alongside Rani Laxmibai in 1857.
The martyrs of 1857, and the nationalist struggle against the British, are also on the mind of Anupam Mishra, president of Swarajya Party of India. He has already given a ticket to Rajiv Mishra, grandson of Chandra Shekhar Azad and is speaking to the descendants of Mangal Pandey, Bhagat Singh and Ram Prakash Bismil, who took part in several anti-British conspiracies in 1918 and 1925.