When BJP didn't even spare Nehru, Akbar's days are limited

Our cavilling administration wants to emulate Burma in their bid to be Muslim negative.

 |  7-minute read |   23-05-2016
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In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote one his most memorable lines: "What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." The bard wouldn’t have survived a day in Rising India because a mob would force him to refer to the rose as gulaab. If a scholar were to politely inform them that gulaab is derived from the Persian language, he would be promptly labelled a presstitute. 

Also read: Move over Aurangzeb, Khakhi Knicker Marg zindabad

Last week, while the country was busy discussing elections, two stories didn’t get as much coverage as they perhaps would have in a more uneventful news cycle: (1) Rishi Kapoor calling out the Congress party for naming so many public assets under their family name, and (2) VK Singh calling out Akbar for having a Delhi road named after him. While the Congress party is rebuking Rishi Kapoor’s charge, Akbar is unable to defend himself (mostly because he’s been dead for four hundred and eleven years).

Kapoor, an actor who won a National Film Award for Mera Naam Joker, was perhaps not joking when he tweeted that "Change Gandhi family assets named by Congress. Bandra/Worli Sea Link to Lata Mangeshkar or JRD Tata link road. Baap ka maal samjh rakha tha?” When I read that tweet I was happy that someone was voicing a thought that had occurred to me in the past as well. Like Mr Kapoor, I too am tired of seeing the Gandhi family name plastered on every airport, park and roadway across the country. 

While I agree with his sentiment, I don’t necessarily agree with his suggestion to rename these public assets after film stars or musicians. "Film City should be named Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar ya Amitabh Bachchan ke naam? Rajeev Gandhi udyog Kya hota hai? Socho doston!" Kapoor wrote. He went on (rather cryptically), "Imagine Mohamad Rafi Mukesh Manna Dey Kishore Kumar venues on their names like in our country. Just a suggestion." He ended his fulmination by stating that "Raj Kapoor has made India proud over the years all over even after his death. Certainly more than What has been perceived by politics."

While I respect all the people that Mr Kapoor mentioned, I do think a country like India, which has a diverse history, should be naming its public assets after rich historical figures and not entertainers. America, which has a no dearth of movie stars or musicians, has never commemorated them by naming things after them.

Only Culver City, a mini suburb built on what was the parking lot of the classic MGM Studio in Los Angeles, includes a cluster of roadways named after some of the movie house’s most famous stars — (Fred) Astaire Avenue, (Judy) Garland Drive and (Katharine) Hepburn Circle. Of course, the Hollywood Walk of Fame does honour the entertainment industry by embedding names of stars into the sidewalks but we all know that the fragile ego of the average Indian celebrity would be mortified by a similar memorial.

By chiding the Congress for treating Indian assets like their "baap ka maal" and then slyly suggesting that perhaps we should name these public assets after his baap (Raj Kapoor), Rishi is being a tad hypocritical. Entertainers are already immortalised by their work and enjoy the spotlight throughout their lives.

Also read: Aurangzeb or Kalam: Where the streets are shamed

akbar-bd_052316011700.jpg It is well documented that Akbar laid the foundations of a multi-cultural empire because he was a patron of art and culture.

The people we need to memorialise are the ones whose deeds we Indians would otherwise forget. Men like Kailash Satyarthi, Bishnu Shrestha and Jadav Payeng; women like Pooja Taparia, Priti Patkar and Reema Nanavati. India is full of individuals who work tirelessly in the shadows and it is their selfless focus that we need to honour. I don’t know about you but thirty years down the line, I’d rather be walking down Kailash Satyarthi Road than Tiger Shroff Marg.

During his tirade, Mr Kapoor had also asked "If roads in Delhi can be changed why not Congress assets/property ke naam? Socho? Why?" The moment I read that tweet, I began to socho. I began to socho why the hell did we ever rename Aurangzeb Road to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Road. Giving that inch was a bad precedent because panjandrums like VK Singh are now, literally, taking a mile.

The minister of state for external affairs asked the government to rename Akbar Road as Maharana Pratap Road because the Rajput king "has not been given his due" despite being "truly secular and a man of masses". While there already is a Maharana Pratap road in Karol Bagh, I find it amusing how vague Mr Singh’s complaint is.

By calling the Maharana "truly secular", he is insinuating that Akbar wasn’t so. It is well documented that Akbar laid the foundations of a multi-cultural empire because he was a patron of art and culture. While the Rajputs were using their perceived manifest destiny to rule over Dalits and make their opium-addled wives dive into pyres, Akbar created a forum at the Ibadat Khana and invited people of all religions (even atheists) for open discussions on spirituality, the validity of the Quran and the nature of God.

Akbar had to later discontinue the debates because instead of the TED talk he had envisioned, the end result was like the debates on The Newshour with the representatives of each religion denouncing other faith systems. Not only was Akbar the first secular king of India, he was also the country’s first Arnab Goswami.

Also read: The nation wants a show

Shaina NC, an official spokesperson of the BJP, agreed with Mr Singh and tweeted "Imagine Hitler road in Israel! No other country honours its oppressors like we do!" This constant demonisation of the Mughals as oppressors is something the BJP really needs to stop doing. Everyone at that time was either conquering or getting conquered. The reason why the Hindu dynasties had to submit to the Mughals was because they had chinks in their armour. 

We can’t see the 16th century through 21st century values because if we are going to do that then we need to talk about the how the Rajputs subordinated Dalits and women. For all their purported valour, if they upheld the caste system then they were just as oppressive as the Mughals. When a Shudra was being hit with a stick, he didn’t care if the stick was being held by a Hindu or a Muslim; he just didn’t want to be hit.

Also read - Akbar got Mahabharata translated into Persian: A lesson in tolerance

When the Left came to power in West Bengal in 1969 (at the height of the Vietnam War), they changed the name of Harrington Street to Ho Chi Minh Sarani in order to vex the Americans as their consulate stood on this road (and continues to till this day).

One can’t discount the theory that the BJP is sending a similar signal to the Congress whose party headquarters are located on Akbar Road. Between Rishi Kapoor’s tirade and VK Singh’s complaint, it seems the Congress family name is seen by some as being as oppressive as the Mughal Empire.

Jawaharlal Nehru was recently erased from Rajasthan’s history text books. History, after all, belongs to the victors. When the BJP has not even spared the first prime minister of India, then Akbar should count his days in Delhi. It is interesting to note that while our neighbour Bhutan has gone carbon negative, our cavilling administration instead wants to emulate Burma in their bid to be Muslim negative.

Only time will shine light on the futility of playing with history in the times of the internet. Meanwhile, Indian students and citizens would do well to pay heed to Alvin Toffler’s advice that "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn".

Writer

Abhishek Sikhwal Abhishek Sikhwal

Abhishek Sikhwal is a Calcutta-based writer.

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