Mughals Are the Latest Villains of BJP and the Hindutva Brigade

Politicians usually boast about their economic and social welfare policies. Devendra Fadnavis proudly recalls bringing the Babri Masjid down.

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The Mughals have a special place in the bigoted minds of the Hindutva parivar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often talked about “1,200 years of servitude”.

Soon after his government took over in 2014, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Delhi asked for the name of Aurangzeb Road to be changed to Abdul Kalam road — from a ‘cruel’ Muslim to a patriotic one — and the local Municipal Committee was quick to oblige. 

Since then, though, the Mughals were put on the back burner, and the party and its storm troopers went after India’s Muslim citizens. The word ‘Mughal’ became a proxy for Indian Muslims, but in the last few years, going after the latter – economically, socially even physically – has been a top priority among not just stray mobs but also governments.

Now the Mughals are back to centre stage. Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who happens to have a law degree, has claimed that he was among those who brought down the Babri Masjid in 1992.

Politicians usually boast about their achievements in bringing more investment or their economic policies and social welfare schemes. This is probably the first time that an ex-chief minister is speaking so proudly of his part in a patently illegal act which led to communal mayhem that tore the secular fabric of India. Fadnavis’s statement has led to a verbal tussle between him and the Shiv Sena, which is also proud of its participation in bringing down the mosque. Uddhav Thackeray declared that had the somewhat portly Fadnavis actually climbed the Masjid’s dome, it would have collapsed on its own.

Demolition of Babri Masjid, December 6, 1992.

Meanwhile, a BJP worthy in Delhi has asked the state government to change the names of ‘Mughal-era’ villages, ignoring the fact that many were often named after those who were given land grants.

In Uttar Pradesh, another office bearer of a local unit of the BJP wanted the courts to allow the opening of the sealed rooms in the Taj Mahal — built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal — to check for Hindu idols. The Allahabad high court mercifully threw out his plea.

And not to be left behind, Amish Tripathi, the author of several mythology novels, has proclaimed that the Mughals were foreigners and that they “did not look Indian”, but Chinese. This ridiculous statement can be challenged on several grounds. 

First, the ‘Indian look’ does not exist – that is the beauty of India’s diversity.

He is merely feeding the prejudice against people of the North East, who in any case face discrimination from their fellow Indians. Second, after Humayun, all the Mughals were born in Hindustan and at least one, Akbar, had a Rajput wife whose son was Jehangir. They assimilated fully in India and if they were so intent in spreading Islam, a much larger number of Indians would have been Muslims. 

Most of all, Tripathi’s perverted logic would mean that the millions of people of Indian origin in other countries could be asked to go back to India. Many of them, such as Leo Varadkar in Ireland and Rishi Sunak in Britain, have top political jobs and others, such as Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai head big tech companies. 

Tripathi is no historian, but even he would know that the Mughals became fully Indian – whatever it meant at the time – and their contributions to culture, architecture and society have enriched us. He heads the Nehru Centre in London that is run by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. This is a government job. That NDTV, a prominent television channel which prides itself on its journalism, should offer him a platform and allow his views to go unchallenged despite knowing his credentials speaks a lot about the debasement of our public conversation.

Also read: ‘Waste of Time’: Delhi HC Refuses to Entertain PIL on Removing NCERT Book Passage on Mughals

The surround sound of the attacks on the Mughals indicates that there is a well thought out strategy to once again raise the communal temperature. A politician, sundry office bearers from local units, an author who writes in English and thus can reach a different demographic and not to forget the television channels that spread the hate-filled message far and wide – all this cannot be a coincidence. 

The forthcoming elections in Gujarat could be one reason, of course. Muslims in the state have already been marginalised, and Hindus are big supporters of Narendra Modi and the BJP. Mahmud of Ghazni, who, the legend goes, destroyed the Somnath temple on the coast of modern Gujarat and carted away a lot of booty. This saga, whatever its historical veracity, is embedded among not just the people of the state but elsewhere too. Mahmud, of course, was not a Mughal and his raids took place in the 11th century, much before Babar set foot in this land, but what’s a few centuries when it comes to vilifying Muslims?

Mahmud of Ghazni receiving a richly decorated robe of honor from the caliph al-Qadir in 1000. Miniature from the Rashid al-Din’s Jami‘ al-Tawarikh. Photo: Edinburgh University Library/Public domain

The term ‘Mughal’ has now become an all encompassing term to denigrate and hit out at modern day Muslims, just like the occasional use of words like ‘biryani’ and many other blatantly obscene ones. It is ‘they’ who have to pay the price of any alleged sins and crimes of historical kings who they have no connection with. The code is well understood not just by the Hindutva brigade but others too, and the BJP would like to hope that even other Hindus would pick up the connection, thus paying handsome electoral dividends.

Also read: By Attacking the Mughals, Adityanath Is Erasing the History of His Own Nath Sampradāy

The constant din of anti-Muslim rhetoric reaching people through the media, WhatsApp and even casual conversations with friends, at the very least sows doubt in the minds of otherwise rational people who then slowly get convinced that there must be truth in some of those allegations. A very common question that is asked in drawing rooms is, “Why do liberal and intellectual Muslims not condemn fanaticism in the community?”

No amount of evidence that they do convinces the neo-skeptics.

Yet, it goes far beyond mere electoral considerations. It fits in well with the larger Hindu Rashtra project. For the BJP and its ideological font the RSS, the presence of Muslims, and their culture is anathema. All greatness lies in ‘Hindu culture’, whatever that means. For the Hindutva promoters, it is imperative that the Mughals, and by extension, Muslims, are seen as interlopers and outsiders who interrupted the golden age of Hindu civilisation and that the entire community is effectively branded as treacherous. History does not bear out this theory – but history is not a strong suit of the Hindutva mind which operates in a parallel universe of fake narratives. 

Muslims and Islam and by extension the Mughals are seen as villains and that is the golden truth. On its part, with the Mughals, the BJP has hit a rich vein that can be mined for years and decades, with a potent mixture of myth, legend and resentment.