Benevolent ‘bad’shahs!

It is not often that you have ghosts of past Mughal emperors calling on you in succession. After Babar, who has been hanging around for quite some time now, sternly refusing to be exorcised, Akbar and Aurangazeb are currently in our midst, bestowing their munificence even posthumously. And we the subjects are asked to be not just grateful for our past masters’ grace but also grovel before their glories and greatness. This is the latest version of secularism on parade, duly upheld by a secular State.

Bharat’s hoary history actually belonged to the distant past and virtually ended with the Islamic incursions of the 9th century. Since then, for over thousand years, it has been one long unbroken story of ignominy and ignorance for an entire people and of enslavement and emasculation of an ancient civilisation by the worst form of aggressions.Of course, this could not have happened without certain inherent weaknesses within and again, even this period was not without its highpoints too. And of all the aggressors, the Mughals were a class apart in terms of intolerance and sheer barbarism. And Aurangazeb’s monstrosities marked the zenith.

But we will go by protocol and hierarchy: So, to Akbar first. Romanticising Moghal rulers and scouting for virtues in them is not just a Bollywood pastime but an infectious infirmity deeply ingrained in the Indian masses too. And no one has benefitted from this see-no-evil attitude of Indians than Akbar. So Jodha’s Akbar was a ‘doting’ husband, we are told; sure, but he was so for scores for other women too. A New York Times review wants to know whatever happened to the other 199 wives! And we can bet even that is a very conservative estimate; Mughal records proudly claim that, ‘households’ apart, Akbar had a harem of 5000! It included those abducted and those offered as ransom. Is there anything even remotely romantic about the scenario? But we have an entire nation drooling over it. If indeed Hindu-Muslim unity had to be captured in a historic setting on celluloid, why not a story-line of a love affair between a soldier in Akbar’s army and a maid in Jodha’s palace? Rahman’s music would have still scored, H-M unity soared and secularism too been served! Why trouble history and distort Akbar’s ‘image’ as well?

Again filmy fantasy and history textbooks portray Akbar as a benign, compassionate and tolerant monarch who yearned for peace. Listen to Akbar’s boast, that I am poaching in public interest, from something I read somewhere: ‘…with the help of our blood thirsty sword we have erased the signs of infidelity from their minds and have destroyed temples in those places and also all over Hindustan’. Peace? Of the graveyard, indeed. If one counts Jallaludddin Akbar’s mass massacres, it is a wonder that India has a population at all. This is not a Birbal joke but a brutal reality.

Of Shahjahan, the ultimate romantic for all seasons, less said the better. But we can say this: If all his Mumtaz Mahals were to be entitled to a Taj Mahal apiece, the planet would have run out marbles in the seventeenth century itself. Nothing wrong, per se, for polygamy and promiscuity are signs of all times, more so for the Mughals who had an extra passion for amassing not just wealth but wives too. But should we be so enamoured as to adore all those amorous Alampanahs as sterling symbols of such finer things as love and peace? We never thought secularism had a sensuous side to it.

But as we said, Aurangazeb’s reign tops the charts when the Mughals were at their marauding best. The recent exhibition in Chennai by a French journalist had sought to showcase this super Shahenshah ‘as he was’. The pictures displayed were authentic, drawn from genuine Mughal records. The exhibition faced no problems elsewhere in India. But in rational TN some ‘secular’ Muslims found it wholly unfair on A’ Zeb and raised a stink. The secular than thou State promptly descended on site with all its might and lo, the ‘offending’ exhibits and the exhibition itself, vanished in a jiffy! And not just the works of art, but the usually conspicuous and vocal apostles of artistic freedom too had disappeared. For, this was no secular art, to be defended zealously in prime time and print. Neither were the artists MF Husseins; the paintings themselves were not of disrobed Hindu deities that are covered under artistic license but naked truths about a tyrant that simply cannot be exposed to public scrutiny. What hypocrisy!

But even more apalling were the arguments put forth by the modern apologists of medieval A’zeb. What of the good deeds of A’zeb? Particularly his ‘munificent contributions of lands and grants to Hindu temples’. Even if A’zeb had indeed done that, whose land were those in the first place? But really tales of such charity are long lasting lies, next only to Akbar’s fidelity. On the contrary, A’zeb was the most prolific destroyer of temples and Hindu idols among the whole horde. The Mughal literature is littered with brick-by-brick accounts of the looting and dismantling of hundreds of temples, carried out under his direct decrees. And in their place, rose Masjids. Again, A’zeb’s s advocates claim that he had to destroy temples to flush out rebels a la Op Blue Star? Then why desecrate idols and worse, bury them under footsteps in Mosques, to be trampled upon for eternity? Now these are not communal concoctions but confessions of A’ zeb and his contemporary cohorts themselves.

Should A’zeb be exhumed and exhibited now? A’zeb represents an ideology that is inimical to India. How many know that this foremost villain of our history is a hero in Pakistan? Or that he is the most favoured mascot of jihadis world over? Or that it is his glory days and his brand of ‘compassion’ that they all want to reinstate in infidel India? Well, that goal may be a bit over the top, but can we take chances, now that we have been formally introduced to A’zeb’s fan club? Is it not a bit unnerving to see that the Aurangazeb aura still hangs and his legacy quite active right in our midst? Does forgiving and forgetting mean we must also forfeit our core sensitivities?

Digesting Aurangazeb is not as easy as swallowing a Lucknowi kebab. India can never be proud of its Mughal past. It cannot also approve of those who praise it. Never the twain shall meet!

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Jawahar T R