Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aurangzebs Of Today

An exhibition on Mughal emperor Aurangzeb at the Lalit Kala Akademi in Chennai was abruptly closed down and the paintings taken away by the police, ostensibly to avoid a law and order problem. What gives? ...
B. Raman

In a statement made after the July, 2005, blasts in London organised by suicide terrorists of Pakistani origin, Mr.Tony Blair, the then British Prime Minister, spoke of the need to counter jihadi terrorism not only operationally through better intelligence, better physical security, better counter-terrorism operations etc, but also ideologically in order to draw the attention of the public to the pernicious ideas being spread by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda jihadi organisations and counter them energetically.

Amongst such pernicious ideas are that there was no civilisation in the world before the advent of Islam, that the Muslims have a right to re-capture all lands which historically belonged to them, that the Muslims do not recognise national frontiers and ,therefore, have a right to wage a jihad anywhere in the world where Islam is in danger and that the Muslims have the religious right and obligation to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and use them to protect their religion, if necessary.

The Pakistani jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), which are members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), project Aurangzeb as the greatest ruler in the history of the Indian sub-continent and describe their aim as the "liberation" of the Muslims of India and restoration of what they view as the golden era of Aurangzeb in the sub-continent.

This glorification of Aurangzeb was actually started by the Pakistan government after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. The text-books got written and prescribed in schools by different Pakistan governments depicted that there was no civilisation or culture in India before the Muslims came to the sub-continent and glorified Aurangzeb. In September 1996, Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir Bhutto, was allegedly killed by the police of Karachi after he had returned from Islamabad, where he allegedly had a fierce quarrel with Benazir and her husband Mr.Asif Ali Zardari over his demand that he should be appointed as the Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party. In a piece on the rule of Benazir, the Economist of London compared her to Aurangzeb.

This created a lot of interest among analysts over the influence of the Aurangzeb model on the minds of Pakistani rulers--political and military-- who grew up after its independence and studied the text-books, which glorified him. It is now recognised by imany that one of the reasons for the spreading prairie fire of jihadi terrorism in Pakistan is the pernicious influence of the Aurangzeb model on the mind-set of the Pakistani youth. Many of them, who are spreading havoc across Pakistan, see themselves as the Aurangzebs of today. Aurangzeb as well as bin Laden are their role models.

The overwhelming majority of the Indian Muslim youth, who remain intensely patriotic, have not let themselves be influenced by this pernicious veneration of bin Laden and Aurangzeb and their ideas, but recent events such as the involvement of one or two Indian Muslims in the UK with Al Qaeda, the role of two Indian Muslim youth in the attempted terrorist strikes in London and Glasgow in June last and the recent arrests of some Muslim youth of the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in Karnataka indicate that some of these pernicious ideas might have started winning adherents in the India Muslim community too-- in India as well as in the diaspora in the Gulf and the West.

Before this spreads further, it is important to counter this phenomenon ideologically. This is what some respected Muslim clerics and scholars, who had met recently at Deoband, have done.

One must welcome their initiative in condemning terrorism. That is also what some activists against terrorism under Mr Francois Gautier, a well-known French journalist living in India for many years, have been doing. Whereas the appeal of the Deobandi congregation was addressed to the Muslim community specifically, the anti-terrorism campaign of Gautier and his small, but devoted band of associates is addressed to all people--whatever be their nationality, religion, ethnicity etc. It seeks to educate them not only on the evils of terrorism, but also on the mental origin of it.

To understand the mental origin of the jihadi terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it is important to identify not only their present-day mentors such as bin Laden, the Pakistani jihadi leaders and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but also their historical idols. Aurangzeb is one of their topmost historical idols. It is important to educate the people of India on the real nature of Aurangzeb, his policies and actions so that they do not get easily carried away by the way Aurangzeb's rule is depicted by the jihadi terrorists.

An exhibition organised by Gautier and his associates as part of this education process had a successful run in New Delhi, Pune and Bangalore. In Pune, over 100,000 people visited it. In none of these places, did the members of the local Muslim community view the exhibition as anti-Muslim or anti-Islam. Unfortunately, some members of the community in Chennai viewed it as anti-Muslim and demanded that the exhibition be discontinued. This has reportedly been done on the advice of the Police.

[As we post this, the exhibition in Chennai was abruptly closed down and the paintings taken away by the police--" to avoid a law and order problem" -- after protests that some of the depictions were objectionable and a distortion of history--Ed]

I had attended the inauguration of the exhibition on the opening day (March 3, 2008) and spoke on the importance of understanding the pernicious ideas about Aurangzeb being spread by Pakistani jihadi organisations. I had seen all the exhibits before the inauguration and did not find any of them of a provocative nature. More than the paintings, what was so eloquent in the exhibition was the collection of scanned copies of the various orders issued by Aurangzeb during his rule. These documents were authentic and the scanned copies were made over a period of three years from a Mughul Archive in Rajasthan which, I was told, contain a wealth of documents relating to the Mughul period.

One of the contentions of those, who protested against the exhibition, was that raking up the past would create a communal divide in Tamil Nadu, which has been relatively free of it. One of the lessons of history has been that remaining silent on unpleasant periods in history leads to a repetition of such unpleasant experiences. That is why Western school children are taught about the evils of rulers like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin etc. That is why the Jewish people keep reminding themselves and the rest of the world about the holocaust. That was why some years ago Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French rightist leader, was severely criticised for denying the reality of the holocaust.

When we deny harsh truths of history, we are only playing into the hands of jihadi terrorists, who see themselves as the Aurangzebs of today.

The links below show what foreign scholars, including scholars in Pakistan itself, have been saying on this subject of what a Pakistani scholar described as a creation of myths regarding the real nature of Muslim rule. When Pakistanis have themselves started realising the damage done to their society and country by this myth-making, leaders of our Muslim community should refrain from starting a similar myth-making exercise in India about the past.

B.Rman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.


1. From: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | Date: 2007

"Aurangzeb or Aurangzib , 1618-1707, Mughal emperor of India (1658-1707), son and successor of Shah Jahan . He served (1636-44, 1653-58) as viceroy of the Deccan but was constantly at odds with his father and his eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent. When Shah Jahan fell ill in 1658, Aurangzeb seized the opportunity to fight and defeat Dara and two other brothers in a battle for succession. He imprisoned his father for life and ascended the throne at Agra with the reign title Alamgir [world-shaker]. A scholarly, austere man, devoted to Islam, he persecuted the Hindus, destroying their temples and monuments. He executed the guru of the Sikhs (see Sikhism ) when he refused to embrace Islam. Although the Mughal empire reached its greatest extent under Aurangzeb, it was also fatally weakened by revolts of the Sikhs, Rajputs, and Jats in the north and the rebellion of the Marathas in the Deccan. From 1682, Aurangzeb concentrated all his energies on crushing the Marathas, but his costly campaigns were only temporarily successful and further weakened his authority in the north. The Mughal empire fell apart soon after his death."

2. Pakistan Studies

3. BBC on Pakistan's missile symbolism -- commentary by Zaffar Abbas, BBC correspondent in Islamabad

4.An article carried by the Dawn of Karachi on March 27, 2005: The myth of history by Prof Shahida Kazi

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