Aurangzeb, Modi and Bihar

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CHILDREN break toys they get bored with. Adults invent more ingenuous ways of venting their ennui. Like the deranged people blowing up prized heritage in the Middle East. Can you undo the past with such actions though? If it were that simple, the world would be a different place.

Man can try his best to wreak vengeance on his own creation or that of his own kind. But he cannot always play God, even if he wants to. Only someone who has the power to proclaim ‘Kun’ (Be) has the power to undo it all. And He will, when the appointed hour arrives. He will also sit in judgement on all those playing the divine today. 

By destroying the past and rewriting history according to their worldview, if some think they can change the present, they’ve got another thing coming. You cannot alter the past by demolishing a mosque or temple. Nor can you change the course of history by renaming streets or cities.

Hindutva rabble-rousers haven’t stopped cheering the renaming of Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road after APJ Abdul Kalam. It’s a no-brainer that while the Mughal emperor is despised for his ‘anti-Hindu’ policies and actions like the imposition of Jiziya and numerous wars he fought against various Hindu rulers, the humble fisherman’s son who went on to become the president of the republic is loved for building the successful Indian missile programme and scripting India’s leap into the elite nuclear club.

Some of them have been abusing poor Nehru, who is being held responsible for most of independent India’s woes, for naming the popular street in Lutyens’ Delhi after the Mughal emperor. But it wasn’t Nehru but the British who had named the leafy boulevard after Aurangzeb.

Indeed, as Prof Ravindran of Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture suggests, Aurangzeb Road wasn’t named so in isolation. It’s part of a cluster of roads named after Mughal emperors, from Akbar to Shah Jahan.

The British had inherited power from the Mughals, who ruled the Subcontinent for nearly four centuries. They had understandably no love lost for their predecessors. We all know what happened to the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and his progeny. After the 1857 War of independence, Zafar was banished to Burma where he died in ignominy. Before he left his beloved Delhi, the poet king was offered the heads of his slain sons on a platter as a parting gift.

The British were nearly wiped out when they first challenged the last Great Mughal, Aurangzeb, in what is known as the Child’s War. For the first and only time, the English were brought to their knees by an Indian or Asian ruler. Subsequently, when his ships Ganj-e-Sawai and Fateh Muhammed were looted by English pirate Henry Every, Aurangzeb forced Britain to conduct the first-ever international manhunt in history, resulting in many arrests and five executions.

Yet while laying the foundations of a new capital in New Delhi, the British couldn’t ignore the influence of the Mughal rule in shaping modern India. This is how the most iconic roads and landmarks of the British Indian capital got named after Mughal rulers, including Aurangzeb who nearly threw them out of India. All that must change now that India has decisively turned Right.

The sixth Mughal emperor is said to have seldom lost a battle. But in the new war of perceptions and distorted realities, he stands no chance. In any case, he has been so systemically vilified and demonised over the past century and more in official narrative and popular discourse that even a child would tell you he was no do-gooder. Most of us grew up believing he was a bigot and tormentor of Hindus because that’s what we were taught in textbooks.

It hardly matters if the accusations and slurs thrown repeatedly at the man who ruled India for more than 50 years and who united the Subcontinent, from Afghanistan to Bengal and from Kashmir down to the Indian ocean, stand independent, objective scrutiny.

Aurangzeb’s was the largest empire India ever saw. With 29.2 percent of the world’s population under its flag (175 million of 600 million in 1700 AD) it was one of the richest states the world ever saw, with a world GDP of 24.5 percent ($90.8 billion out of $371 billion in 1700).

Aurangzeb was of course no saint. He was as complex as his realm. He may have committed many excesses in the course of ruling a vast empire, including taking on his own brothers and father Shah Jahan, the architect of the iconic Taj Mahal, Delhi’s Jama Masjid and Red Fort.

Many of his actions such targeting Sikh gurus and the Bohra spiritual leader were unfortunate and indefensible. But then there are many such actions by many rulers of the yore that are unfortunate and indefensible. Apparently everything was fair to enforce order and perpetuate their reign. It’s therefore wrong to view their actions through a religious prism.

But was Aurangzeb indeed a villain and Hindu-hating bigot? He couldn’t have survived 50 years in power by targeting his own people, 90 percent of whom were Hindus. Doubtless, he fought long and pitched battles with Hindu chieftains. But then he also fought similar battles with Muslims. Who can forget his long siege of Golconda and wars with other Deccan sultanates?

He is famously accused of demolishing a part of Kashi Vishwanath temple at Varanasi. It’s seldom explained why. According to historian and former Orissa governor B N Pande, who spent a lifetime studying the Mughal history, an enraged emperor got a part of the temple razed when he learnt that the wife of a Hindu raja who was part of the emperor’s convoy was dishonoured in a temple cellar.

By the way, he also had a beautiful mosque in Deccan demolished apparently suspecting it to horde the sultan’s riches. Just as the Somnath temple was mined by Mahmud of Ghazi for its fabled wealth.

If Aurangzeb had been a Muslim fanatic, the Mughal army wouldn’t have been led by a Hindu commander-in-chief. Indeed. He had more Hindu commanders in his army than those under his great grandfather Akbar, known for his proximity to Hindus.

Responding to the accusations of bias against Aurangzeb, historian BN Banerjee writes: “No one should accuse Aurangzeb of being communal minded. In his administration, the state policy was formulated by Hindus. A number of non-Muslims including Hindus, Sikhs, Marathas and Jats, were employed by him in his court.”

Banerjee also rejects the oft-repeated charge of forced conversions of Hindus by Muslim rulers by arguing that if that were the case, there wouldn’t be nearly five times as many Hindus in India today as compared to Muslims despite the fact that Muslims ruled the country for nearly a thousand years.

As for the much reviled jiziya, there’s a simple explanation. If the state collected jiziya from non-Muslims, it also collected similar amount from Muslims in the form of 2.5 percent zakat. Indeed, Muslims paid more in the form of ushr to the state, 10 percent of their crop revenues.

All this of course wouldn’t make sense to those who are inseparable from their tinted blinkers. The renaming of Aurangzeb Road isn’t just unfair to someone who united India but it’s also an affront to Kalam who worked all his life to harmonise all faiths and people.

But the move has little to do with the saffron reverence for the missile man and more to do with the BJP’s cynical politics of expediency. From releasing religious census figures and sparking the scare about the multiplying Muslim ranks (Muslim rate of growth has actually slowed down in comparison to the 1980s and 1990s) to the renaming of a Delhi street, everything is nicely timed with the critical Bihar elections.

The supreme leader just cannot afford to lose to someone who so contemptuously dumped the BJP over its choice for the PM’s job.

Aijaz zaka Syed is Dubai based author of Indian origin. He can be reached at: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

While laying the foundations of a new capital in New Delhi, the British couldn’t ignore the influence of the Mughal rule in shaping modern India. This is how the most iconic roads and landmarks of the British Indian capital got named after Mughal rulers, including Aurangzeb who nearly threw them out of India. All that must change now that India has decisively turned Right.

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