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Prime Minister Narendra Modi playing up the “Aurangzeb-Shivaji binary” is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s meticulous and well-choreographed exercise to strengthen the party’s divisive agenda in the run-up to the assembly elections in several states next year – particularly in Uttar Pradesh.
The prime minister’s remarks that “whenever an Aurangzeb invades, a Shivaji rises” while launching the incomplete Kashi Vishwanath corridor project on December 13 (Monday) might have sounded spontaneous, innocuous and even justified to the people who are unaware of historical facts.
But it was neither spontaneous nor factual. It was the culmination of what the UP chief minister Yogi Aditynath and many other BJP and Hindutva leaders have been leading up to for about a month to divide the Muslims and the Hindus in the name of the masjid and mandir ahead of the polls.
Recently, Adityanath and the BJP national president J.P. Nadda, while addressing booth workers in various parts of UP, said that the nationalist forces were “duty-bound” to defeat the supporters of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Soon after Modi announced the repeal of the three contentious farms laws, under pressure from a spirited stir that united the Hindu and Muslim farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, the state’s deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya and the BJP MP from Salempur Ravindra Kushwaha demanded the repeal of the Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act 1991. The law prohibits “conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947”.
Concurrently, the Hindu Mahasabha – which describes itself as separate from the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP – made it clear why Maurya and Kushwaha were asking for the repeal of the 1991 Act: The Mahasabha announced it would hold aarti at the Shahi Eidgah Mosque at Mathura – the place associated with Lord Krishna’s birth.
Modi’s description of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb as an “invader” and the Maratha king Shivaji as the “saviour” of the Hindus’ religiosity and their shrines does not stand the scrutiny of history. Historian Mohammad Sajjad said, “First, it is downright false to describe Aurangzeb as an invader. He was a sixth-generation Mughal king who was born at Dahod in present-day Gujarat, where Narendra Modi was himself born. Aurangzeb was born, brought up and lived and died in India.”
Sajjad, who is a professor of modern Indian history at the Aligarh Muslim University, said, “It’s a historically deduced fact that the Aurangzeb-Shivaji binary was a British construct that the colonial rulers played up to divide and rule. The way the British rulers used this binary for their own end, the BJP leaders are doing it to keep the Hindus and Muslims divided to further their political interests. It is the time for public intellectuals from both communities to play a proactive role in exposing and explaining this falsehood.”
“Aurangzeb and Shivaji were kings of different territories and were locked in a territorial battle. As rulers, neither did Aurangzeb represent every Muslim nor did Shivaji represent every Hindu. Of course, history should maintain the accounts of the religious shrines desecrated or vandalised during the reign of Aurangzeb or for that matter any other ruler. But there is no justification whatsoever to create animosity among Hindus and Muslims in the name of Shivaji or Aurangzeb today,” the historian said.
Divisive narrative to counter farmers’ stir’s gains
The ill-conceived and now aborted three farm laws have, apparently, proved to be the biggest strategic failure for the prime minister. His decision to drop the laws has heavily dented his image as an “omnipotent” personality.
Moreover, the movement has united the Jats, Yadavs, Muslims and other backward classes (OBCs) involved in farming in UP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. The movement has also expanded to include other demands such as a legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP), paying sugarcane dues, controlling the prices of fertiliser, diesel, petrol and other issues associated with life and livelihood.
Asked what the main gain of the movement was, Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said, “The biggest gain is the farmers’ unity. For many years, the farmers stood divided in the name of language, state, caste and religion. The farmers’ family has got its unity back and this is the biggest gain.”
In fact, the unity of the farmers has created the ground for Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Choudhary to bury their hatchet and strike an electoral alliance. The two leaders are working in tandem to cement the unity between the Jats and Muslims who were estranged in the wake of several RSS engineered riots in western UP in the past seven years. Such developments, rooted in the unity of the people on the basis of real issues of life and livelihood, have, apparently, compelled the BJP to push its divisive narratives with more venom and ferocity.
Professor Sajjad said, “Whether Hindu or Muslim, many shrines are not taken care of for centuries. Many ancient shrines like the Vaidyanath temple at Deoghar in Jharkhand, Ajmer Sharif dargah, Ram-Janki temple in Buxar, Patan Devi in Patna and even shrines in Mathura, Vrindavan and many other cities are in a state of neglect. It will be a matter of pleasure for both the Hindus and Muslims if the government restores these shrines to their past glory. But talking about Aurangzeb and Shivaji in the name of rejuvenating the Kashi Vishwanath shrine or for that matter any other shrine is wrong.”
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communication at Invertis University, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.