Calling Mughals invaders is Adityanath's way of othering Indian Muslims
Stereotypes and biases lead to distorted understandings of the past, which negatively affects the present and haunts the future.
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On the 477th birth anniversary of the famous Rajput ruler, Maharana Pratap, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath gave people "a lesson in history" masqueraded as an advice.
He argued regarding the nature of the rulers that India had in the past, calling Akbar and Babur of the Mughal dynasty as invaders, and urged people to follow Maharana Pratap, Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh as their role models.
While hints of communalisation of history cannot be missed in this argument, he went on to add to this narrative the fact that a country which does not cherish its rich history, cannot save its geography.
The definitions of invaders and settlers need to be put into question to understand our history better. If we go back in history long enough, we'll stumble upon the Aryans, crossing over the river Indus moving into the land of the seven rivers along with beginnings of the religious ideals of the to-be majority religion of future India.
Most historians are of the view that the origin of Aryans lies outside the geographical limits of what we now identify as India.
The concern here is about the difference between invaders and settlers. If we look at these people who migrated to the land beyond Indus, starting from the Aryans, we would see that except for the British, none of the so-called "invaders" had any other home-country, interests of which they were serving and in the process harming the land of their settlement.
Most of these settlers were fleeing hostile circumstances and were looking for home. Indian subcontinent gave them this home. And the settlers reciprocated this acceptance in innumerable ways.
The multi-cultural existence that has been rendered to India because of the migrations can now be called the defining feature of the idea of India. The many things that India boasts about today are mostly from people who came to India and made it their abode.
To give a few examples, from the Indo-Greeks who ruled India following their arrival around 200 BC, we have Milinda-Panha, an extensive treatise on Buddhism; from Rudradaman I (AD130-50), the most famous of the Sakas, who followed Indo-Greeks to India, we have the first-ever long inscription in chaste Sanskrit; The Kushanas, who ruled India for the major part of the beginning of the Christian era, have given us the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art. The list is endless.
The Mughal dynasty, whose nature of association with India is being put into question, provides abundant examples of the pluralistic nature of its rulers. Babur came along and settled in India, establishing his own dynasty. He wasn’t Mahmud of Ghazni, who came, plundered, gained economic benefits from India and left. Babur came, stayed, ran the country, defended it and enriched it.
Following the battle of Khanua in 1527, Babur made this choice clear to his nobles and gave leave to all those who wished to go back. Babur not only made his stand clear, but took steps to consolidate his rule and to become a part of his new homeland.
He himself writes in his autobiography, Baburnama, that he had started a custom to eat from Hindustani hands, this can be seen as a clear attempt at getting better understanding of his new home.
In his memoirs, when he writes about his visit to Gwalior, he not only mentions the beauty of the palaces of Raja Man Singh and Bikramjit, but he also mentions in great detail the Hindu temples in Gwalior, and how the sight of these places of worship was pleasurable to him.
As far as Akbar is concerned, it is evident that this monarch isn’t accepted for his tolerant and progressive leanings by any side of the right. For Hindutva forces, Akbar is an invader, simply because of his identity of being a Muslim monarch of a Muslim dynasty.
On the other hand, the Muslim right denounces him as the harbinger of the fall of the mighty Islamic orthodoxy due to his heterodox and multi-cultural approach.
The Mughal dynasty provides abundant examples of the pluralistic nature of its rulers.
Not surprisingly, in Pakistan, there is no mention of Akbar in history textbooks from Class 1 to Class 10, as he doesn't fit into the well-defined category of neither a good Muslim nor a kafir (infidel). Same goes with the Hindu right, which can’t place Akbar in the bad Muslim category, but has to demonise him due to his Muslim identity.
The problem with the invader rhetoric is that it immediately “others” the rulers of the Mughal Empire (having Muslim identity) from the Indian idea, and attempts at legitimising the othering of the present day counterparts of the same identity.
To outdo this notion of “the other", it would suffice here to mention a few things Akbar left for the country: The economic and administrative excellence of India was at its peak during the Mughal Empire and the gross domestic product of India in the 16th century was estimated at about 25.1 per cent of the world economy.
Moreover, Akbar commissioned the translation of several texts of Sanskrit into Persian, that were mostly of religious nature and included Mahabharata, Ramayana, Yogavashishtha, Harivamsa, Atharvaveda etc.
It was only due to Akbar’s tireless work on Sanskrit and his efforts at keeping the translations objective that a better understanding of the Hindu religion could be developed by the Muslim ruling elite and other Persian-reading population. Akbar was so particular about keeping the translations objective that he reprimanded Badauni, one of the translators, when he thought that concept of the Judgement Day was being brought into the translation of Mahabharata by him. Furthermore, the attempt at developing a common platform in which every religion was assimilated, if executed properly, might have solved many problems of religious bigotry.
Following the spiritual religious bent of Akbar, there arose during the reign of Jahangir, the idea of the religions of Islam and Hinduism being the same. The influence of the Hindu saint Jadrup Gosain was immense on the emperor, Jahangir. There was so much communal amity that it was argued by Jahangir that Jadrup had excellently mastered the science of Bedant (Vedanta), which is the science of Tasawwuf (Sufism).
The ultimate attempt at bringing about the common grounds of the two religions of the Indian country was made by Dara Shikoh. The compilation of Majma-ul-Bahrain, a comparative study of Sufi and Vedantic speculations, by him was an exceptional work on its own where the name of the book meant mingling of two oceans, these two oceans being Hinduism and Islam.
The fact that Dara is pitched against his bigot brother Aurangzeb is also problematic as Aurangzeb’s actions were politically motivated and myopically executed. But this doesn’t hide the fact that the greatest works on music were composed during his reign. The list that would piece by piece shatter the stereotypes against the Mughal rulers of India is endless. If they wouldn’t have thought of India as home, there wouldn’t have been such thorough enrichment of this land by their presence.
Just to give a contrast, one should look at the nature of exploitation undertaken by the British who came to the richest state of the world and left it one of the poorest. The harm and hunger with which India was left with, after the British exited, was very different from the economic condition that prevailed during the Mughals.
To better understand history, one has to, at any rate learn the differences and objectively attempt at reading the past, the stereotypes and biases lead to distorted understandings of the past, which negatively affects the present and haunts the future.