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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A long-dead Muslim monarch haunts India’s Hindu nationalists

A long-dead Muslim monarch haunts India's Hindu nationalists

NEW DELHI ( Associated Press) – Narendra Modi rose from his chair and hurried to the podium to deliver another night’s address to the nation. It was expected that the speech would include a rare message of inter-religious harmony in a country where religious tensions have risen under his rule.

The Indian prime minister was speaking from the historic Mughal-era Red Fort in New Delhi, and the event marked the 400th birth anniversary celebrations of the ninth Sikh guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who is remembered for religious freedom for all .

The occasion and venue were appropriate in many ways.

Instead, Modi chose the April event to turn back the clock and remind us of India’s most despised Muslim ruler, who has been dead for more than 300 years.

“Aurangzeb beheaded many, but he could not shake our faith,” Modi said during his address.

His call to the Mughal emperor of the 17th century was not just a setback.

Aurangzeb Alamgir is deeply buried in the annals of the complex history of India. The country’s modern rulers are now reviving them as a rallying cry for the ruthless tyrants of Hindus and Hindu nationalists who believe that India must be saved from the scourge of so-called Muslim invaders.

As tensions between Hindus and Muslims There has been a growing disdain for Aurangzeb, and India’s right-wing politicians have invoked him like never before. This often comes with a caveat: India’s Muslims should distance themselves from them as retribution for their alleged crimes.

Audrey Truschke, historian and author of the book “Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth”, said, “For today’s Hindu nationalists, Aurangzeb is a dog whistle to hate all Indian Muslims.”

The hatred and disdain for Muslim rulers, especially the Mughals, is typical of India’s Hindu nationalists, who have for decades attempted to re-form an officially secular India into a Hindu nation.

They argue that Muslim rulers such as Aurangzeb destroyed Hindu culture, forcibly converted, defiled temples and imposed harsh taxes on non-Muslims, although some historians say such stories are exaggerated. Popular thought among nationalists traces the origins of Hindu-Muslim tensions to the medieval period, when seven successive Muslim dynasties made India their home, each falling apart as their time passed.

This belief had inspired him to capitalize on India’s Hindu past, correcting perceived wrongs that had been going on for centuries. And Aurangzeb is at the center of this sentiment.

Aurangzeb was the last powerful Mughal emperor to ascend the throne in the mid-17th century after his father was taken prisoner and his elder brother was murdered. Unlike the other Mughals, who ruled a vast empire in South Asia for over 300 years and enjoyed a relatively uncontested legacy, Aurangzeb is undoubtedly one of the most hated figures in Indian history.

Richard Eaton, a professor at the University of Arizona who is widely regarded as an authority on pre-modern India, said that even though Aurangzeb destroyed the temples, available records show that it was a little over a dozen. was more and not thousands, as has been mostly assumed. This was done for political reasons, not religious reasons, Eton said, adding that the Muslim emperor also provided protection and security to people of all faiths.

“In a word, he was a man of his time, not ours,” said Eaton, reducing the Mughal emperor to “a comic book villain”.

But to Aurangzeb’s detractors, he assumed the form of evil and was nothing but a religious fanatic.

Right-wing historian Makhan Lal, whose books on Indian history have been read by millions of high school students, said that merely ascribing political motives to Aurangzeb’s actions tantamounts to “betrayal of India’s glorious past”.

This has been claimed by many historians who support Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, also known as the BJP, or its ideological mother, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a radical Hindu movement that has been widely criticized as anti-Muslim. The views have been accused of inciting religious hatred. , They say that India’s history has been systematically whitewashed by leftist distortions, primarily to cut off Indians – mostly Hindus – from their civilizational past.

“Aurangzeb demolished the temples and it only shows his hatred towards Hindus and Hinduism,” Lal said.

The debate has spread from academics to angry social media posts and noisy TV shows, where India’s modern Muslims are often insulted and referred to as “Aurangzeb’s children”.

Last month, when a Muslim legislator went to offer prayers at Aurangzeb’s tomb, a senior leader of Modi’s party questioned his lineage.

“Why would you go to the grave of Aurangzeb, who destroyed this country,” Hemant Biswa Sarma, the top elected official of the northeastern Assam state, said during a television interview. Referring to the MLA, he said: “If Aurangzeb is your father, I will have no objection.”

The humiliation has raised further concerns among the country’s significant Muslim minority, who have been on the receiving end of violence from Hindu nationalists in recent years.Encouraged by a prime minister who has been mostly silent on such attacks since he was first elected in 2014.

Modi’s party denies using the name of the Mughal emperor to defame Muslims. It also says that it is only trying to bring out the truth.

“The history of India has been manipulated and distorted to please the minorities. We are destroying that ecosystem of lies,” said BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal.

The distaste for Aurangzeb extends far beyond the Hindu nationalists. Many Sikhs remember him as the man who ordered the execution of his ninth guru in 1675. It is generally believed that the religious leader was executed for not converting to Islam.

Some argue that Modi’s invocation of Aurangzeb’s name on the Sikh guru’s birth anniversary in April serves only one purpose: to further broaden anti-Muslim sentiments.

Historian Truschke said, “In doing so, the Hindu right pursues one of its major goals, namely, discrediting India’s Muslim minority population in order to try to justify the oppression and violence of the majority against them.”

Despite the regular reference to Aurangzeb, Hindu nationalists have simultaneously tried to eradicate him from the public sphere.

In 2015, New Delhi’s famous Aurangzeb Road was renamed after opposition from leaders of Modi’s party. Since then, some Indian state governments have rewritten school textbooks to give it importance. Last month, the mayor of North Agra city described Aurangzeb as a “terrorist”, whose traces should be removed from all public places. A politician called for his grave to be leveled, forcing the authorities to close it to the public.

A senior administration official, who did not wish to be named due to government policy, likened efforts to erase Aurangzeb’s name to the removal of federal symbols and statues in the United States – seen as a racist relic.

“What’s wrong if people want to talk about the past and right historical wrongs? Really, why should places be named after a fanatic who has left behind a bitter legacy?” the officer asked.

This sentiment, which is fast resonating across India, has already touched a raw nerve.

A 17th-century mosque in Varanasi, the holiest city of Hinduism, has emerged as the latest flashpoint between Hindus and Muslims. A court case will decide whether the site will be given to HindusThose who claim that it was built over a temple destroyed on the orders of Aurangzeb.

Over the decades, Hindu nationalists have claimed several famous mosques, arguing that they were built on the ruins of major temples. Many such cases are pending in the courts.

Critics say it could lead to a protracted legal battle like the Babri Masjid, which was demolished by a Hindu mob With spades, crowbar and bare hands in 1992. The demolition led to widespread violence across India and left over 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. In 2019, Supreme Court of India The place of the mosque was given to the Hindus.

Historians like Truschke also feel similar concerns.

He said the “demonicisation” of Aurangzeb and India’s Muslim kings is “bad faith” and promotes “historic revisionism”, often backed by threats and violence.

Truschke said, “Hindu nationalists do not think of the real historical Aurangzeb.” “Rather, they invent villains they want to hate.”

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