By Amulya Ganguli
“East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.” What Rudyard Kipling said about India and England is applicable to the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the secular and the Hindutva camps in Maharashtra where they have constituted an unlikely alliance to keep out the BJP.
It is no secret that if the BJP had conceded Uddhav Thackeray’s wish to be the chief minister after the 2019 assembly elections , the two saffron allies would have stayed together to form a government.
But since the BJP’s hauteur came in the way of granting a higher status to what it had come to regard as a junior partner, the Shiv Sena left the BJP’s company and joined hands with its former adversaries such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and come to power with Thackeray at the head.
Till now, the two groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum have managed to run the government with a reasonable degree of comfort and success. So much so that the Sena’s Sanjay Raut even suggested that all anti-BJP parties should come under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). There was even talk of the NCP supremo, Sharad Pawar, heading the UPA if Sonia Gandhi was willing to step down.
Although the Congress had shot down both the ideas, saying that its alliance with the Sena was confined to Maharashtra and that there was no question of Pawar heading the UPA, the MVA nevertheless appeared set for its full term. But, now, suddenly, it is facing some road bumps.
The issue of contention is the Sena’s desire to emulate Yogi Adityanath by erasing the Muslim name of Aurangabad and call it Shambhaji Nagar after Shivaji’s son. The Sena’s argument is that this had been the desire of the party’s founder, Bal Thackeray.
Uddhav Thackeray has brushed aside the Congress’s objection that such renaming is not part of the common minimum programme which was agreed on by the two groups which stressed the concept of secularism. The chief minister’s argument is that the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, after whom the Maharashtra town is named, was not secular.
Aurangzeb, of course, is the most vilified of the Mughal rulers by the Hindutva camp, which is why the BJP lost no time to rename Aurangzeb Road in the heart of New Delhi after former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam about whom the party’s then minister for culture, Mahesh Sharma, said that he was a nationalist despite being a Muslim.
But Aurangzeb is not the only Mughal emperor who is maligned by the Hindutva lobby. In their eyes, only Dara Shukoh passes muster perhaps for being Aurangzeb’s great adversary. Otherwise, even Akbar has been compared to Hitler and claims have been made that Rana Pratap should be called “great” and not Akbar.
The Sena’s objective is understandable. It does not want to cede the entire Hindutva space to the BJP in Maharashtra lest the latter should team up with Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Sena to lay claim to Bal Thackeray’s legacy.
The Shiv Sena is also aware that it will be difficult for any of the secular parties – whether the NCP or the Congress – to go too far in supporting the retention of Aurangabad’s name in case they are accused by the BJP with its old cry of “tushtikaran” or minority appeasement.
For the BJP, Muslims are Babur (or Aurangzeb) kiaulad, as the saffronites used to say at the height of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and, therefore, cannot be trusted. The secular parties, on the other hand, regard them as captive vote banks in the BJP’s opinion and will bend over backwards to keep them in good humour.
In an atmosphere of such fixed notions, there is hardly any possibility of a reasoned debate based on recent research on Aurangzeb as in Audrey Truschke’s biography of “the man and the myth” in which the professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University at Newark in the US has looked at the emperor in a new light.
According to her, “Aurangzeb never oversaw a large-scale conversion programme … did not destroy thousands of Hindu temple (a few dozen is a more likely number). He did not perpetrate anything resembling a genocide of Hindus. In fact, Aurangzeb appointed Hindus to top positions in his government. He protected the interests of Hindu religious groups, even ordering fellow Muslims to cease harassing Brahmins”.
For the historian, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Aurangzeb’s “wonderful capacity, strength of character and lifelong devotion to duty had generated a force which held together the frame of the Delhi government seemingly unchanged for thirty years after him”.
But, according to Sir Jadunath, “he lacked that warm generosity of the heart, that chivalry to fallen foes and that easy familiarity of address in private life which made the great Akbar win the love and admiration of his contemporaries and of all posterity”.
It is Aurangzeb’s lack of “sympathy, imagination, breadth of vision” which are grist to the mills of today’s politicians with a tunnel vision of India’s history and politics which lacks as in the case of the Great Villain a “breadth of vision”. (IPA Service)