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Each attempt to whitewash the sins of Aurangzeb appears farther removed from facts than the last one. And yet, the campaign continues.

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is more sinned against than sinning. This premise, so laboriously put forward by many leftist historians for decades now, is not new.

But it is difficult to find a more ridiculous and contrived apology than the one published in The Hindu on this ‘pious’ Mughal. Both the interviewer and interviewee seem to be happily on the same page in forcing a new twist to present as well as the past.

The very first question asked by the interviewer Anuradha Raman is preposterous, presumptuous and loaded. “The present Bharatiya Janata Party government believes,” she says with little or no hesitation, “Mughals are not part of India’s history.”

On what basis does Anuradha Raman frame such a question? Is it because Aurangzeb’s name was replaced by APJ Abdul Kalam for a street in Delhi? Is that enough to pose such a highly provocative, prejudicial question?
The way Anuradha Raman constructs the question it is very likely an ordinary reader would conclude that Mughal History has been erased from the educational syllabus in India!

What is more dumbfounding is that Audrey Truschke, Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, does not even pause for a moment against such an uncritical, presumptuous and leading question.

She happily latches on to the misdirection and further fortifies the reckless allegation by the rhetorical question, “what are the political reasons for the BJP wanting to erase the Mughals (or at least most of the Mughals) from India’s past?”

Now, there is no elaboration as to how the BJP wants to erase the Mughals from India’s past. With the eager help of the interviewer, the scholar pits this ‘fact’ against why we, Indians, should venerate Aurangzeb.

“We should not,” she advises the multitudes of ignorant Indians, “make the error of attributing Aurangzeb’s lack of interest in Sanskrit to his alleged bigotry”.

So, all of Aurangzeb’s dogmatism and intolerance is reduced to his ‘lack of interest’ in Sanskrit. And his bigotry is ‘alleged’! Can there be a more mischievous formulation than this?

And she goes on: “Aurangzeb is a severely misunderstood historical figure who has suffered perhaps more than any of the other Mughal rulers from present-day biases”

What is the present day bias against Aurangzeb? How is he ‘severely misunderstood’?

Aurangzeb was loathed by the people of this country because he was a fanatic, who treated the majority religious group with contempt, subjected them to untold misery and destroyed the Hindu culture with vengeance.

When the scholar says Aurangzeb was ‘severely misunderstood’, does she mean that he did not do any of these things? That he was no different from Akbar or his own father Shah Jahan in the treatment of the Hindus and their temples and their culture? (Interestingly, the scholar actually makes effort to show Akbar in poor light to throw some silver line around Aurangzeb!)

Well-known Historian Will Durant, in his much acclaimed ‘Story of Civilization’, narrates the religious fervour of Aurangzeb that led him to ‘smash every idol’ that his eyes fell upon:

“Aurangzeb cared for nothing for art, destroyed its ‘heathen’ monuments with coarse bigotry, and fought, through a reign of half a century, to eradicate from India almost all religions but his own. He issued orders to the principal governors, and to his other subordinates, to raze to the ground all the temples of either Hindus or Christians, to smash every idol, and to close every Hindu school.

In one year (1679 – 80) sixty-six temples were broken to pieces in Amber alone, sixty-three at Chitor, one hundred and twenty-three at Udaipur; and over the site of a Benares temple especially sacred to the Hindus he built, in deliberate insult, a Mohammedan mosque. He forbade all public worship of the Hindu faith, and laid upon every unconverted Hindu a heavy capitation tax. As a result of his fanaticism, thousands of temples which had represented the art of India through a millennium were laid in ruins. We can never know, from looking at India today, what grandeur and beauty she once possessed.”

Now, to praise Aurangzeb as ‘puritanical’ in his faith is one thing; but to justify the wholesale destruction of non-Islamic religious symbols of the majority of his subjects as a result of his puritanical beliefs is another.

And to say, he was ‘much misunderstood’ in his Hindu-bashing because he was only strictly following his religious beliefs is farcical.

In her overdone explanation, the scholar says that since Aurangzeb had to beat out Dara Shikoh – his brother, known for his broad views on religion and culture – to the throne, the poor usurper Aurangzeb was forced to break from the past – which, unfortunately for his population, translated into intolerance of the worst kind.

“Thus, from Aurangzeb’s perspective, breaking Mughal ties with the Sanskrit cultural world was a way to distinguish his idioms of rule from those of the previous heir apparent.”

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So, the entire pounding of indigenous Hindu culture is conveniently reduced to Aurangzeb’s ‘idioms of rule’ which were different ‘from those of the previous heir apparent’.

Another subterfuge used by the scholar – actually an old one – is to assert that any genocide, bigotry, fanaticism, religious persecution by the Mughals, more so by Aurangzeb, was only political. This kind of justification, used repeatedly to defend the violence and persecution against the non-Muslims during the Mughal period – is revolting, to say the least.

In what way is religious persecution acceptable, if it were to be motivated by political opportunism?
Can we apply to their favourite whipping boy – the BJP – the same yardstick – that the party was using religion only for its political gains? And does that absolve it of any wrongdoing?

Besides, the avalanche of evidence alludes to Aurangzeb’s religious impulse that led to the mindless temple destruction. Historians like Satish Chandra (Medieval India, NCERT) tried to show that Aurangzeb’s imposition of Jaziya against Hindus was ideological (meaning it was, somehow, not religious) and was meant to pay for the ulama. That is all the more reason to infer that it was in obedience to the Quranic injunction that Aurangzeb reimposed Jaziya.

Audrey Truschke’s new book Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court studies ‘cultural alliance between Muslim and Hindu elites in early Sanskrit texts’. Her findings, apparently, reveal how Mughals supported and engaged with Indian thinkers and ideas. From this, she makes this sweeping conclusion that there was no religious conflict in Indian history. The Mughals were lording over an empire whose subjects were from an alien faith, and naturally would have to engage with them at some level. But some cultural interactions or the interest of a few of the Mughal courtiers in Sanskrit could not be projected as if it were enough evidence that the Mughals were happy to let the Indian culture, art and religion flourish.

Curiously, while Truschke claims that Mughals were engaged with Sanskrit scholars to understand the Indian traditional knowledge and practices, she does not seem to have one example to show how Aurangzeb interacted with Indian culture or religion in any positive manner.

Many ‘secular’ scholars like Audrey Truschke accuse the others of distorting Indian history, especially the medieval period, while strangely resorting to whitewash it. Arun Shourie (Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud) has documented in detail how these eminent historians always strive to push the extreme religious bigotry of Mughal emperors under the carpet; and where it is not possible, cleverly try to ‘balance’ the atrocities against Hindus by listing out one lame excuse after another – from attributing to the pressure of orthodox elements, to legacy of old rulers, conflicts with local principalities or political exigencies!

While a mountain of evidence is available on Aurangzeb’s oppression and intolerance against his Hindu subjects, Audrey Truschke is audacious enough to say that ‘there were limited instances when the Mughals persecuted specific individuals over religious differences’! And as a case in point, she gives the example of Akbar ordering assassination of some Muslim ulama. A clever but fraudulent ploy to sanitise Aurangzeb’s role.

What is interesting is that Truschke, who feels Marxist history is limiting, says exactly the same things about the Mughal period or Aurangzeb’s monstrosities with which the Indian Marxist historians have filled the text books with!

She, like many of her predecessors in India and abroad, talks about ‘the dangers of rewriting history and subscribing to narrow interpretations of specific texts,’ in the backdrop of ‘rising intolerance going forward’.

But isn’t that what these scholars are actually doing? They are rewriting history and presenting misinterpretations in the perceived cause of fighting against religious conflicts. How come when Manusmrti is exposed for what it is, no conflict between the priestly Brahmin class and the shudras is expected in modern India, but fear of communalism is cited as a justifiable cause for not bringing out the Islamist ravages against Hindu religion and Indian culture during the medieval period?

The attempt should not be to cover up unpalatable parts of our history. The message should be that the past events do not and should not have a bearing on the current political and social realities of India in the post-independent era. Just because Aurangzeb was a fanatic who inflicted the most crushing onslaughts on Hindu religious symbols and temples does not mean the Muslims of present day India have anything to do with it. Like today’s Brahmins are not held accountable for making life of the majority of the people of this ancient nation miserable for centuries!