Aurangzeb isn’t turning in his grave in the spartan courtyard of a shrine in Aurangabad. The Mughal emperor, whose name has just been lopped off the nameplates of the Capital streets he once ruled, was an austere, orthodox Muslim who hated ostentatious adulation.
The Delhi government’s decision to
change the name
of a leafy road dedicated to the great Mughal to honour the late President APJ Abdul Kalam seems to have finally slayed the ghost of the ghoulish ruler much hated by the Hindu right.
With it, the Arvind Kejriwal-government has made its first notable attempt to appropriate the right-wing space. Aurangzeb was a tyrant, an oppressor of Hindus and killer of the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur and someone who slapped jiziya, an Islamic tax on non-Muslims. But then, did he not incarcerate his father, Shah Jahan, killed all his three brothers, including the heir-apparent to the throne, Dara Shukoh? In an era of palace intrigues, when royal ambitions could be fulfilled only by ruthless authority, Aurangzeb’s reign isn’t an outlier. However, there are more myths than facts that surround the great Mughals, especially Aurangzeb, in the popular imagination. The impact of Mughal rule in shaping India politically, socially, culturally and economically has been profound.
Sure, Aurangzeb wasn’t a bleeding-heart liberal. He was a conservative Muslim of his time, deeply religious and upheld Islam’s prohibition of materialism in his personal life. The Quran repeatedly warns against hoarding of wealth and encourages charity.
One common story told to children in Muslim households is about his piety. That he sewed skullcaps and wrote copies of the Quran for a living. Aurangzeb’s personal piety did not mean he was a champion of Islam. He was, in fact, a champion of his empire. Like any king, his ambition was worldly. (Islam did not spread by the sword in India but by the syncretic message of Sufis). Aurangzeb is despised as a tormentor of Hindus. Yet, he was no anti-Hindu fanatic. He destroyed temples when it suited him and built temples when it was helpful to do so. In fact historian Richard Eaton’s seminal work “Temple Desecration and Muslim States in Medieval India” has shown how there was no systemic religious agenda by Muslim invaders to vandalise temples. Aurangzeb built several Hindu temples in Bengal.
The renaming of Aurangzeb road has nothing to do with Aurangzeb. It has got everything to do with the Hindu right’s warped view of the past as present. The purpose of studying history isn’t to right of the wrongs of past, but to prepare for a better future.
Read: Rename Aurangzeb Road after Kalam, BJP MP urges PM Modi