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Lal Quilla - a citadel with a cursed history


The Lal Quila or Red Fort was in the news recently when a tractor rally by farmers, against three contentious farm laws of the Modi government, turned violent after protesters deviated from the route approved by the Delhi Police, entered the city and reached the Red Fort located in central Delhi and one of the protestors put the Nishan Sahib on the dome at Red Fort.

The Lal Quila has an interesting history; the Fort was built by Shah Jahan, who in the struggle for succession, was imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. Subsequently, the Mughal Dynasty declined rapidly after Aurangzeb.

After Mughal decline, Jahandar Shah took over the Lal Quila in 1712 - within a year of beginning his rule, Shah was murdered and replaced by Farrukhsiyar.

In 1739, Persian emperor Nadir Shah defeated the Mughal army, plundering the Red Fort, including the Peacock Throne. Less than a decade after that, (upon return to Persia) Nadir Shah was assassinated (probably) by his own nephew Adil Shah who replaced him. Adil Shah was then overthrown within a year by his own brother and nephew following which almost all provincial governors declared independence, established their own states, and the entire Empire of Nader Shah fell into anarchy.

The fall of Mughal power made the Mughals titular heads of Delhi, and a 1752 treaty made the Marathas protectors of the throne at Delhi and the Lal Quila. In 1760, the Marathas removed and melted the silver ceiling of the Diwan-i-Khas to raise funds for the defence of Delhi from the armies of Ahmed Shah Durrani and a year later Marathas lost the third battle of Panipat to Durrani. While the Marathas later recaptured Lal Quila, shortly after it fell to British after the 1857 rebellion and was a place of imprisonment for the last Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was the symbol of the 1857 revolt. Apparently, the Red Fort was not defended during the 1857 uprising against the British.

Almost 90 years later, the fort had lost its value as a military Garrison and a strategic citadel. Yet, in 1945, the British, hubristic upon winning the Second World War decided to hold 'treason trials' for INA officers (ex British Army officers) at the Lal Quila to make it a public spectacle which would teach Indian subjects of her Majesty a lesson! Within a year of this, they had to concede to Self Government leading to full independence by 1947.

Interestingly, when the Mughals were on decline, both the Sikh and the Maratha empires held power in their respective areas but in 1788, when a Maratha garrison occupied the Red fort and Delhi alongside providing protection to the Mughal Emperor, the Marathas signed a treaty with the Sikhs where the Sikhs were warned not to enter Delhi / Lal Quilla. So most likely, the Nishan Saheb was not hoisted at the Red Fort ever before 2021. 

I am not sure what outcome will the hoisting of Nishan Sahib at the Red Fort lead to - but history related to the Lal Quila is not very kind.

Source of information above is Wikipedia unless an external reference link has been provided.

Header image credit: Nemichandra Hombannavar


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