Dhanda nee vaat versus Mughal-hate in poll-bound Gujarat

“Congress leaders have yet again proved they are no different from Mughals when it comes to handing over power. We don’t want their Aurangzeb rule,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a Dharampur rally in South Gujarat’s Valsad on December 4th. Tearing into the Congress which he called a family-run party he said: “I congratulate the Congress for their Aurangzeb rule, but we don’t want it,” in his remarks which have now become the signature flavour of this Gujarat campaign.


But the BJP’s Islamophobic Mughal-hate was well established two years ago in September 2015 when it picked on Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to rewrite New Delhi’s history by renaming a road named after him. Like all things un-nuanced about the political right, Aurangzeb was made out to be the archetypal villain in the Hindu nationalist imagination — a cruel ruler who put a sword to people’s heads, offering them a choice between Islam and death, a tyrant who hated music and imposed jiziya (a religious tax on Hindus). The said road was renamed after late missile-man and President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, a Veena player who visited temples and someone the large Hindu majority could be brainwashed (given the Hindu supremacism = hyper-nationalism mood of the country) into contrasting with Aurangazeb as ‘a good Muslim.’

This Mughal-hate became further emphasised in October this year when Yogi Adityanath government removed Taj Mahal from Uttar Pradesh’s tourism list. Following outrage, his party MLA Sangeet Som, had said the monument was built by “traitors” and called it “a blot on Indian culture.” Wondering why people were worried that the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places in the UP tourism booklet he had asked in a Meerut rally: “What history are we talking about? The man who built Taj Mahal imprisoned his father. He wanted to massacre Hindus. If this is history, then it is very unfortunate and we will change this history, I guarantee you.”

He was soon joined by BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao who chose to further add fuel to the fire by describing Mughal rule as “barbaric” and “a period of incomparable intolerance.” As if this were not enough, a BJP Upper House parliamentarian Vinay Katiyar went on to insist Shah Jahan destroyed a Hindu temple to build the monument. “The Taj Mahal is actually a Hindu temple that was known as Tejo Mahalaya. It was a Shiva temple demolished by Shah Jahan to build the Taj Mahal.”

While the BJP’s own not-so-bright track record can hardly hold up to the high standards of nuanced and enlightened tolerance and humanity its leaders espouse while holding the Mughals up to scrutiny, it is nobody’s case that the Mughal empire was not a feudal, aristocratic regime as was the case with several rulers of that contemporaneity. The selective picking up of Mughals to highlight for barbarism will not, for example, look further back into history to speak of Emperor Ashoka who is guilty of the largest genocide in the history of this subcontinent, if not the world.

But let’s get back to Gujarat which the Narendra Modi government wants us to believe is all that is there to India. Historically this state which enjoys a 1,200 km plus coastline has always thrived on trade and business. “The famed Gujarati love for pacifism is more practical than noble. They have truly been more worried about dhanda nee vaat than anything else making peace with whoever took over the region as rulers, even Mughals” laughs cultural historian Mukul Joshi.

After Emperor Akbar (1573-1605), captured Gujarat defeating Muzaffar Shah III of the Gujarat Sultanate in 1573 and was able to thwart an attempt by Muzaffar to regain the Sultanate in 1584, this subah (province) which generated a lot of revenue was governed by representatives appointed by the emperors in Delhi says, Joshi. “Akbar, for example, had appointed his foster brother Mirza Aziz Kokaltash as the viceroy who helped consolidate Mughal sway over the region. Kokaltash and his successors quelled revolts by nobles loyal to the former Sultanate during both Akbar’s and the reign of his successor Jehangir (1605-1627).”

Joshi points out how Jehangir’s permit to the British East India Company to establish factories in and around Surat saw the traders’ businesses boom. “When Shah Jahan (1627-1658) came to power his and his viceroys (Aurangzeb, Dara Shikoh and later Murad Bakhsh) took over the Kathiawar peninsula including Nawanagar. This region continued to prosper after Aurangzeb (1658-1707) ascended the Mughal throne. Traders from towns like Surat continued to support him in the hope that he would help maintain peace and trade did not suffer. Many of them were patrons to musicians, weavers and painters.”

He points out how the warrior king Shivaji decided to raise funds for his battles after a three-year siege by the Mughal governor of Deccan Shaista Khan, by raiding Surat. Joshi cites the accounts of captain in the British India Regiment James Grant Duff of January, 5th 1664, when Shivaji led the sack of Surat. “Remember that this was one of the wealthiest port cities in Mughal empire thanks to the sheer volumes of sea trade and apart from the few Muslim officials representing the Mughal empire Hindus formed the majority,” he says and adds, “The attack was both sudden and intense in both the violence and crushing injustices perpetrated. The locals had no chance or place to flee. For six days, the city was plundered of all its wealth, and most of its impressive mansions were burnt to cinder leaving a dense smoke cloud over Surat for nearly a week as the Marathas rode back with the loot to Shivaji’s capital, Raigad.”

In fact, Joshi points out how the petitions to Aurangazeb for exacting revenge and gathering back of the loot by the traders was led by a Hindu trader Virji Vora.

Despite some glaring exceptions (as was the case with most medieval empires across the world then) the Mughal empire too stood out for its tolerance, syncretism and cosmopolitanism. While singling out the Mughal era to demonise the reality of feudal and premodern India where Hindu rulers fought Hindu rulers; Muslim rulers fought Muslim rulers, often with help from Hindu lieutenants; and yes, Muslim rulers fought Hindu rulers too. “But this won’t play into the convenient bigoted narrative of a Hindu monolith standing up to a Muslim one. The British did it before. The BJP is doing it now,” says Joshi lamenting, “All it does is keep tearing up the syncretic core. One shudders to think what Frankenstein will unleash when all of it is gone.”

Only blinded by the idea of winning the Gujarat assembly elections, one is unsure either the PM Narendra Modi or his party even think of these things? 




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