The attacks on medieval Muslim rulers by the Hindu right wing constitute not only an attempt to rewrite the past but also to interpret the present in a way that demonizes Muslims and their culture.
ZIYA US SALAM
ABOUT two years ago when Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam breathed his last, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government decided to live up to tradition in paying tribute to the former President. Kalam, who was famously called a “nationalist despite being a Muslim” by a Union Minister, had a road named after him in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi. There was a catch, though: Aurangzeb Road was renamed A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road. It was the latest instance of the time-worn “Good Muslim/Bad Muslim” binary, the liberal, nationalist Muslim versus a bigot. A few eyebrows were raised, but nobody complained. Kalam deserved to be remembered by posterity. No questions were asked.
Now it seems the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim binary is being given a public burial. There are no good Muslims left, at least in history. Or that is what right-wing leaders would have us believe with concerted attempts to paint all Muslim heroes in negative hues. Earlier in the year, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister Rajnath Singh claimed that Rana Pratap was the victor of the famous Battle of Chittoor, and the media faithfully reproduced their comments. No questions were asked about their credentials to speak on history or their criteria for reinterpreting events past. History books have always praised Rana Pratap for his valiant fight, not for winning the battle.
Historians on the Left and the Right agreed that the Mughal army of Akbar won the battle and entered into an alliance with the Rajputs for a more broad-based, inclusive administration. But Yogi and Rajnath Singh felt it necessary to hail the Rajput prince as the victor. The motivating factor was not their love for Rana Pratap but hatred for Akbar and, by extension, all contemporary Muslims. Soon, a BJP leader demanded that Akbar Road in New Delhi be renamed after the Rajput prince. Akbar was no longer a leader ahead of times who sought to build bridges between Hindus and Muslims. If the modern-day Muslim had to be humiliated for the alleged actions of Aurangzeb, the modern-day Indian, cutting across all religions and regions, had to live with the diminution of Akbar, his unifying tactics very much an anathema to the Hindutva brigade with its divisive politics.
-Ziya Us Salam is Senior Deputy Editor, The Hindu. A noted film and literary critic, he has contributed to anthologies Being Young in the Worlds of Islam and Present Tense: Living on the Edge. He edited the book Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema, published by Om Books International. His books Delhi 4 Shows and Strands of Commonality: Postcard of Islam in the subcontinent are due to be released shortly.