Comment

Rewriting history

We live in an age when we appear to be forgetting the unifying message of “Saare Jahan Se Achcha”, powerful words penned by Muhammad Iqbal. Is there an exclusionary politics at play leading to the creation of a world of ‘us’ and ‘them’? Of Saffron Flags and Skullcaps traces the growth of the Hindutva ideology from the time of Veer Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar to contemporary times, and describes how the Muslim community in India is now undergoing a churning within. An excerpt:

None of us has ever met Akbar. All of us know him well though. After all, he was Akbar the Great, the man who gave us a stable administration for close to 50 years — it was a no mean accomplishment considering [that] before him, north India had at least five rulers in 25 years, with wars for conquest as also succession being a frequent phenomenon. Through a mix of military prowess and acumen, Akbar brought stability at the top. Having defeated the top Rajput kings, including Rana Pratap, he brought the Rajputs virtually into the ruling class through matrimonial alliances with them. A man way ahead of his times, Akbar respected each individual’s right to practise any faith.

Even marriage to the emperor did not mean a change of religion for Rajput women. Of course, he sought to give the nation a glue-like concept of Deen-e-Ilahi, a new religion incorporating concepts from all religions. A contemporary of Akbar, Fr Monserrate, a Jesuit, opined that by tolerating all faiths, Akbar was dismissing all religions. He was a hero none could hate.

Portrait of Akbar

Fortunate are we who were told these realities of a shared past in our school days. It is courtesy our NCERT books that all Indians have a ready and enviable portrait of Akbar. Akbar was always held at par with the best. And an expression ‘Akbar the Great’ is indelibly written on our mind, much like ‘Ashoka the Great’. The next generation, though, may not be as fortunate. Efforts are under way to project Akbar as a diminutive ruler who lost the Battle of Haldighati to Rana Pratap. In turn, Rana Pratap is being hailed as the man who inspired the revolutionaries of 1857! Not just that. All accomplishments of Akbar are being questioned in a sinister manner.

In early 2017, an attempt was made to rename Akbar’s Fort in Ajmer as just Ajmer Fort by erasing his name from the gate of the fort. That it went against what the Gazette of India said seemed to matter little. Within no time, a new blue board was put up at the fort without a mention of Akbar. The fort, it seems, sprouted after rainfall in monsoon. If we believe Abul Fazl, the structures within the fort were constructed in 1570. It remained an important fort under Jahangir who also stayed there for long periods as Prince Salim.

Turning a story on its head

Not content with rewriting the Akbar ka Quila story, the Hindutva brigade got support from dubious historians to turn the good old Battle of Haldighati story on its head. Generations of students have talked of the valour of the Rajput king Rana Pratap, yet always concluded that for all his bravery, Rana Pratap lost the Battle of Haldighati to the Mughals. Importantly, Akbar is said to have stayed away from the battle himself, leaving the responsibility to Rajputs such as Man Singh. An attempt is being made by the Rajasthan government to rewrite textbooks where Rana Pratap, not Akbar, is declared the winner of Haldighati. That the claim flies in the face of historical evidence matters not a dot; it is perception rather than reality which matters. Akbar is the new age Aurangzeb — a man dubbed an invader by none other than the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath. Of course, the fact that Akbar was born in Amarkot was considered superfluous to the argument.

Undermining Akbar’s contribution

These attempts to project Akbar in a sad state are not new. For the past four years, constant efforts have been made to belittle his contribution to the country. In May 2016, a proposal was aired to rename Akbar Road in New Delhi as Maharana Pratap Road. What was said was obvious — give the Rajputs a place of honour; what was left unsaid was critical and objectionable — the greatest of Mughals had no business having a road named after him in Delhi, which was once an important component of his empire.

The Indian government seems keen to undermine the contribution of Akbar towards nation-building and indeed project him as the New Age Aurangzeb.

Excerpted with permission from Sage

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 9:17:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/rewriting-history/article24794589.ece

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