Emperor Akbar, not Mahatma Gandhi, is the father of our nation

Markandey Katju
Markandey KatjuSep 27, 2018 | 12:00

Emperor Akbar, not Mahatma Gandhi, is the father of our nation

In India, Mahatma Gandhi is known as the 'father of the nation', and in Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is regarded the same.

However, the truth is that the real father of both nations, which are, in fact, one and are bound to reunite (see my article, 'India and Pakistan must reunite for their mutual good ', Huffington Post) is the great Mughal emperor Akbar.


Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) 

What we Indians are today is largely because of the solid foundation laid by Akbar, who (along with emperor Ashoka) was perhaps the greatest ruler the world has ever seen.

Because of Akbar, we are Indians today, not just Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis, etc.

And yet the tragedy is that many Hindus call Akbar a Muslim, while many Muslims call him a Hindu (because he observed many Hindu festivals and ceremonies), which proves my point that 90 per cent of Hindus and 90 per cent of Muslims in India are fools. The truth is that while being a Sunni Muslim, Akbar was a true Indian.

Akbar saw that India was a country of great diversity (see my article, 'What is India?', on my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in and the website, kgfindia.com). Hence, the only way to keep India united was by giving equal respect to all communities and sects.

It was because of this realisation that Akbar adopted the wise policy of Suleh-e-Kul, that is, universal toleration of all religions (his attempt to found a common religion called 'Din-e-Ilahi' was a failure, but 'Suleh-e-Kul' was a grand success).


Emperor Akbar holding a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri. (Credit: Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh/Wikimedia Commons)

In this respect, Akbar was far ahead of his times, and far ahead of even Europeans who were at that time massacring each other in the name of religion, Catholics massacring Protestants, Protestants massacring Catholics, and both massacring Jews. For example, the St  Bartholomew Day massacre in 1572 by Catholics of the minority Protestant community (called Huguenots) in France, the massacre of Protestants by the Spanish Duke of Alba in Holland, the burning at the stake (auto de fe) of heretics during the inquisition, etc, the subsequent massacre of Catholics in Ireland by Cromwell, and the mutual massacre of Catholics and Protestants in the Thirty Year War in Germany (1618-1648) as well as the killing of Jews by Christians throughout Europe (culminating in the Holocaust in the Second World War, 1939-1945).

In my judgment in the Supreme Court in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh Vs Mirzapur Moti Koresh Jamaat, 2011, I observed: "The architect of modern India was the great Mughal emperor Akbar who gave equal respect to people of all communities and appointed them to the highest offices on their merits, irrespective of their religion, caste, etc."


Emperor Akbar held discussions with scholars of all religions and gave respect not only to Muslim scholars, but also to Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, etc. Those who came to his court were given respect and the Emperor heard their views, sometimes alone, and sometimes in the Ibadat khana (Hall of Worship, which still exists in Fatehpur Sikri), where people of all religions assembled and discussed their views in a tolerant spirit.

Akbar's philosophy of religious tolerance and giving equal respect to all communities is even more relevant today when people of the minority community are being lynched and often victimised or terrorised.

The emperor declared his policy of Suleh-e-Kul, which meant universal tolerance of all religions and communities. He abolished Jizya in 1564, and the pilgrim tax in 1563 on Hindus and permitted his Hindu wife to continue practising her own religion even after their marriage. This is evident from the Jodha Bai Palace in Fatehpur Sikri that is built on Hindu architectural pattern.

In 1578, Parsi theologian Dastur Meherji Rana was invited to the emperor's court and he had detailed discussions with emperor Akbar and acquainted him about the Parsi religion.

Similarly, Jesuit priests Father Antonio Monserrate, Father Rodolfo Acquaviva and Father Francisco Henriques etc., also came to the emperor's court on his request and acquainted him about the Christian religion.

The emperor also became acquainted with Sikhism and came into contact with Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das (see, The Mughal Empire by RC Majumdar).

Thus, as stated in the Cambridge History of India (Vol IV The Mughal Period), emperor Akbar conceived the idea of becoming the father of all his subjects, rather than the leader of only Muslims, and he was far ahead of his times.

As mentioned by Pt Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India, "Akbar's success is astonishing, for he created a sense of oneness among the diverse elements of India."

Pt Jawaharlal Nehru too believed Akbar's success was astonishing. He created a sense of oneness among the diverse elements of India. (Credit: IndiaToday.in)

In 1582, the emperor invited and received a Jain delegation consisting of Hiravijaya Suri, Bhanu Chandra Upadhyaya and Vijayasena Suri. Jainism, with its doctrine of non-violence, made a profound impression on him and influenced his personal life. He curtailed his food and drink and ultimately abstained from flesh diet altogether for several months in the year.

He renounced hunting, which was his favourite pastime, restricted the practice of fishing and released prisoners and caged birds. Slaughter of animals was prohibited on certain days. And ultimately in 1587, it was prohibited for about half the days in the year.

Akbar's contact with Jains began as early as 1568, when Padma Sunder who belonged to the Nagpuri Tapagaccha was honoured by him.

As mentioned in Dr Ishwari Prasad 's The Mughal Empire, the Jains had a great influence on Akbar.

A disputation was held in Akbar's court between the Jain monks Buddhisagar of Tapgaccha and Suddha Kirti of Khartargaccha on the subject of Jain religious ceremony called Pansadha (probably Paryushan, which is the most important Jain function) in which the winner was given the title of 'Jagatguru' by Akbar.

Having heard of the virtues and learning of Hiravijaya Suri in 1582, the emperor sent an invitation to him through the Mughal viceroy at Ahmedabad.

Suri accepted it in the interests of his religion. He was offered money by the viceroy to defray the expenses of the journey, but he refused. The delegation consisting of Hiravijaya Suri, Bhanu Chandra Upadhyaya and Vijaya Sen Suri started on their journey and walked on foot to Fatehpur Sikri (begging alms on the way, as was their custom), and were received with great honour befitting imperial guests.

Hiravijaya Suri had discussions with Abul Fazl. He propounded the doctrine of Karma and an impersonal God.

When he was introduced to the Emperor he defended true religion and told him that the foundation of faith should be daya (compassion) and that God is one though he is differently named by different faiths.

The emperor received instruction in dharma from Suri, who explained the Jain doctrines to him. He discussed the existence of God and the qualities of a true Guru and recommended non-killing (Ahimsa).

The emperor was persuaded to forbid the slaughter of animals for six months in Gujarat and to abolish the confiscation of the property of deceased persons, the Sujija tax (Jizya) and a Sulka (possibly, a tax on pilgrims) and to free caged birds and prisoners.

He stayed for four years at Akbar's court and left for Gujarat in 1586. He imparted a knowledge of Jainism to Akbar and obtained various concessions to his religion.

The emperor is said to have taken a vow to refrain from hunting and expressed a desire to give up meat-eating for ever as it had become repulsive to him.

When Suri was leaving for Ahmedabad, the emperor presented to him Padma Sundar scriptures which were preserved in his palace. He offered them to Suri as a gift and he was pressed by the emperor to accept them.

Emperor Akbar abstained from eating meat on Fridays and Sundays and on some other days, as has been mentioned in the Ain-I-Akbari by Abul Fazl. It was because of the wise policy of toleration of the great emperor Akbar that the Mughal empire lasted for so long, and hence, the same wise policy of toleration alone can keep our country together despite so much diversity.

Emperor Akbar was greatly attached to dargah Ajmer Sharif, the shrine of the great saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. The first time he went there, he travelled on foot in plain white clothes all the way from Agra, and went on annual pilgrimages to the shrine for many years, travelling on foot for the last 10 or 12 miles to Ajmer.

Apart from that, he had great faith in the great living saint Sheikh Salim Chishti, who used to live in a cave in the Sikri hill. On his first visit (when Sikri was just a forest on a hill), the emperor walked the 40 miles to it from Agra in the plain clothes of a pilgrim, and told the saint of his sorrow because he had no son to carry forward his dynasty.

The saint said that God would give him four sons, and when the first was born (of Jodha Bai) he was named Salim, after the saint, and a new capital called Fatehpur Sikri was built at Sikri.

Akbar had great respect for all religions, and there was not a trace of communalism in him. Hindus like Todar Mal, Man Singh, Birbal, etc., held high positions in his court, and were often military commanders as well.

The tragedy is that the 90 per cent fools and idiots living in India today do not even know who is the real father of their nation.

It is said that Gandhi gave us Independence in 1947. This is totally false. In fact, by regularly preaching Hindu religious ideas like Ram Rajya, gau raksha (cow protection), varnashrama (caste system), brahmacharya (celibacy), etc., in open public meetings, and, thus, constantly injecting religion into politics, he was driving Muslims towards a fundamentalist organisation like the Muslim League.

This served the British policy of divide and rule. By diverting the genuine revolutionary Independence struggle against the British in India, started by great freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Surya Sen (Masterda), Ashfaqulla, Ram Prasad Bismil, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Khudiram Bose, etc to harmless and nonsensical channels like 'Satyagraha', Gandhi was ensuring that India should not become independent.

Why then did the British leave?

Surely, it was not because of the dramas Gandhi was doing (fasting, salt march, etc).

Does anyone give up an empire because of this? A genuine freedom struggle is always an armed struggle, because no imperialist gives up his empire without an armed fight.

Did the Americans fight their War of Independence against the British (1775-1781) by presenting flowers and bouquets to the British, or with a Continental Army under George Washington? Did Bolivar (called the Great Liberator) fight the Spaniards in Latin America with his battalions, or by Satyagraha?

Did Ho Chi Minh fight the French with guns or by salt marches? Did the Chinese fight the Japanese by fasting and singing "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram"?

No, it was because Germany attacked England in the Second World War and considerably weakened it (in fact, Germany would probably have conquered England if America had not helped it) that England, realising that she could not continue holding on to India politically, withdrew.

Also, there was American pressure on the British to withdraw.

It is high time that Indians realised the truth and know who is the real father of our nation.

India is a country with tremendous diversity. To remain united and progress the only policy which can work is the policy of Akbar, that is, giving equal respect to all communities and sects. That is why he is the real Father of the Nation.

His importance is even more today when we see the prevailing atmosphere of lynching, atrocities and oppression of minorities and caste and communal strife.


Last updated: September 27, 2018 | 12:03
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