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If You Let Facts Interfere You Lack Party Spirit

Arun Shourie



    The first thing that strikes one upon reading the books of these eminent historians, of course, is the double standard. Recall how, without an iota of evidence, our eminent historians advanced the most far-reaching assertions about ancient India -- about its having been a period riddled with tensions, inequity and oppression. And how, in cases such as Aurangzeb and the Sultanate, these very historians shut their eyes to what stares them in the face. In a word, their approach is set to a formula : pre-Islamic India must be presented as a land of discord, a land in the grip of a social and political system marked by injustice, extreme inequities and oppression; and the Islamic period must be presented as a period in which "the composite culture" flowered, a period in which the norm was a policy of "broad toleration", and such departures from it as took place were just the aberrations of individuals, aberrations which themselves can be tracked down to wholly secular causes.

    The second point is the brazenness with which our historians suppress the evidence and, having done so, slip in falsehoods. To take just one example, recall how Satish Chandra concludes the account of Aurangzeb's deeds vis-a-vis temples : The order for destroying temples was not a new one; the order was limited to new temples and not to existing structures; the order let a great deal of latitude to local officials; Aurangzeb adopted "a new stance" only when he encountered political hostility and when he came to conclude that the temples had become centres from which "subversive ideas" were being spread; that the destruction of temples was more or less confined to periods of hostilities. And finally that "it seems that Aurangzeb's zeal for the destruction of temples abated after 1679, for we do not hear of any large scale destruction of temples in the South between 1681 and his death in 1707."

    How does this assertion compare with what the Akhbarat of Aurangzeb themselves state, as well as other accounts recorded at the time? Here are some of the entries:

    25 May 1679 : "Khan-i-Jahan Bahadur returned from Jodhpur after demolishing its temples, and bringing with himself several cart-loads of idols. The Emperor ordered that the idols, which were mostly of gold, silver, brass, copper or stone and adorned with jewels, should be cast in the quadrangle of the Court and under the steps of the Jama Mosque for being trodden upon."

    January 1680 : "The grand temple in front of the Maharana's mansion (at Udaipur) - one of the wonderful buildings of the age, which had cost the infidels much money - was destroyed and its images broken." "On 24 January the Emperor went to view the lake Udaisagar and ordered all the three temples on its banks to be pulled down." "On 29 January Hasan Ali Khan reported that 172 other temples in the environs of Udaipur had been demolished."

    "On 22 February the Emperor went to look at Chitor, and by his order the 63 temples of the place were destroyed."

    2 August 1680 : Temple of Someshwar in western Mewar ordered to be destroyed. 10 August 1680 : "Abu Turab returned to Court and reported that he had pulled down 66 temples in Amber."

    September 1687: "On the capture of Golkonda, the Emperor appointed Abdur Rahim Khan as Censor of the city of Haidarabad with orders to put down infidel practices and (heretical) innovations and destroy the temples and build mosques on their sites." Circa 1690 : Instances of Aurangzeb's temple destruction at Ellora, Trimbaakeshwar, Narsinghpur (foiled by snakes, scorpions and other poisonous insects), Pandharpur, Jejuri (foiled by the deity) and Yavat (Bhuleshwar) are given by K.N. Sane in Varshik Iribritta for Shaka 1838, pp. 133-135.

    1693 : "The Emperor ordered the destruction of the Hateshwar temple at Vadnagar, the special guardian of the Nagar Brahmans."

    3rd April 1694 : "The Emperor learnt from a secret news-writer of Delhi that in Jaisinghpura Bairagis used to worship idols, and that the Censor on hearing of it had gone there, arrested Sri Krishna Bairagi and taken him with 15 idols away to his house; then the Rajputs had assembled, flocked to the Censor's house, wounded three footmen of the Censor and tried to seize the Censor himself; so that the latter set the Bairagi free and sent the copper idols to the local subahdar."

    Middle of 1698 : "Hamid-ud-din Khan Bahadur who had been deputed to destroy the temple of Bijapur and build a mosque (there), returned to Court after carrying the order out and was praised by the Emperor." "The demolition of a temple is possible at any time, as it cannot walk away from its place." -- Aurangzeb to Zullfiqar Khan and Mughal Khan. "The houses of this country (Maharashtra) are exceedingly strong and built solely of stone and iron. The hatchet-men of the Government in the course of my marching do not get sufficient strength and power (i.e., time) to destroy and raze the temples of the infidels that meet the eye on the way. You should appoint an orthodox inspector (darogha) who may afterwards destroy them at leisure and dig up their foundations" -- Aurangzeb to Ruhullah Khan in Kalimat-i-Aurangzib.

    January 1705 : "The Emperor, summoning Muhammad Khalil and Khidmat Rai, the darogha of hatchet-men... , ordered them to demolish the temple of Pandharpur, and to take the butchers of the camp there and slaughter cows in the temple .... It was done."

    The eminent historian did not need to trouble himself by going to the primary sources. He could have found these and other entries in a single compact Appendix in Volume III of Sir Jadunath Sarkar's well known History of Aurangzeb. That history has been in circulation since 1928! Our writer, writing in 1996, is conveniently oblivious of the evidence which even an elementary student of Aurangzeb's period would have come across!

    However, there is little mystery. For there are two pillars to progressive history-writing in India : first, one must fabricate evidence which will establish Hindus to be intolerant; second, one must respect and show an empathetic understanding of Islamic communalism. And the litmus test is : are you prepared to stand up for Aurangzeb ?!

    The third thing that strikes one in the tortured explanations our historians dole out is how closely they parrot the volumes of a person like Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi. As is well known, Qureshi taught History at the Delhi University. He migrated to Pakistan. There he became one of the early and ardent proponents of Islamisation : he is credited with having been one of the principal drafters of the "Objectives Resolution" which was passed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in 1949, and became the fount of Islamization; he became a Minister in the Government of Liaqat Ali Khan and later the President of the Pakistan Historical Society. He was eventually decorated with the high honour, Sitara-i-Pakistan.

    In his volume The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, Qureshi remarks about the reimposition of jizyah by Aurangzeb as follows:

    "When Alamgir I reimposed jizyah after a lapse of 115 years, no sudden spurt in the number of conversions is recorded. Without the availability of statistics a definite conclusion is difficult to reach; but even in the epistles of such an ardent advocate of the reimposition of jizyah as the Mujaddid-i-alf-i-Thani, the argument that the abolition of jizyah had in any way affected the propagation of Islam was not advanced; nor does Bada'uni, who bewailed Akbar's lapse from orthodoxy and disapproved not only of the abolition of jizyah but also of the growth of Hindu influence in the affairs of the Empire, say that the abolition of jizyah had hampered the spread of Islam. There is no record of any significant difference in the rate of conversion either as the result of the abolition of jizyah or of its reimposition....
    "If jizyah had been a crushing burden upon the non-Muslims, it could have led to conversions, but it was not too heavy a burden. It was levied only on able-bodied male adults who had a surplus of income after meeting the necessary expenses of maintaining themselves and their families. The religious classes like priests and monks were exempt.... The assessment seems to have been lenient because at no time did jizyah form an important source of revenue, and a very large percentage of the non-Muslim population was exempt for one reason or another. Even if a tax is heavy but bearable, people are averse to changing their religion to escape it; but when it is not heavy, there is little inducement for conversion. Therefore, it does not seem likely that jizyah helped, in any significant manner, conversion to Islam."

    And our eminent historian says :

    "We are told that after accession to the throne, Aurangzeb contemplated revival of the jizyah on a number of occasions but did not do so for fear of political opposition. Ultimately, in 1679, in the twenty-second year of his reign, he finally re-imposed it. There has been a considerable discussion among historians regarding Aurangzeb's motives for the step. Let us first see what it was not. It was not meant to be an economic pressure for forcing the Hindus to convert to Islam for its incidence was too light -- women, children, the disabled and the indigent, that is those whose income was less than the means of subsistence were exempted, as were those in government service. Nor, in fact, did any significant section of Hindus change their religion due to this tax. Secondly, it was not a means of meeting a difficult financial situation. Although the income from jizyah is said to have been considerable, Aurangzeb sacrificed a considerable sum of money by giving up a large number of cesses called abwabs which were not sanctioned by the shara and were hence considered illegal.

    "The re-imposition of jizyah was, in fact, both political and ideological in nature. It was meant to rally the Muslims for the defence of the state against the Marathas and the Rajputs who were up in arms, and possibly against the Muslim states of the Deccan, especially Golconda which was in alliance with the infidels. Secondly, jizyah was to be collected by honest, God-fearing Muslims, who were especially appointed for the purpose, and its proceeds were reserved for the ulama. It was thus a big bribe for the theologians among whom there was a lot of unemployment."

    The historian then notes the infirmities in implementing the tax but his final verdict remains as considerate as that of Qureshi :

    "Some modern writers are of the opinion that Aurangzeb's measures were designed to convert India from a dar-ul-harb, or a land of infidels, into dar-ul-Islam, or a land inhabited by Muslims. Although Aurangzeb considered it legitimate to encourage conversion to Islam, evidence of systematic or large-scale attempts at forced conversion is lacking. Nor were Hindu nobles discriminated against...."

    Similarly Qureshi emphasizes in the same volume that Aurangzeb had no option but to wage his campaigns against Golconda and Bijapur. He remarks :

    "The Sultanates were incapable of even keeping peace within their territories. The Marathas got their sinews of war by plundering them. Besides, the sultanates, in spite of the growth of Maratha power at their expense, were secretly in alliance with them and helped them with money and supplies. The situation in Golconda was even worse because the real power was in the hands of two Brahmin officials, Madanna and Akanna, whose obnoxious rule was resented by the Muslim population of the sultanate and who were even more enthusiastic supporters of the Marathas. Under such circumstances it would have been foolish to leave the sultanates alone."

    In his volume Ulema in Politics, Qureshi reverts to the same matter and remarks :

    "The Sultanates of the Deccan had been so weakened by the Marathas that they were fast sinking into a state of anarchy. They, because of this weakness, became almost the storehouse of Maratha resources who grabbed whatever they needed from their territories. Besides they were in alliance with the Marathas, because they perversely thought that after the threat from the Mughuls had been averted, the Marathas could be dealt with more easily. This was a gross underestimate of the potentialities of the Maratha activities. So far as Alamgir was concerned, he had no choice. The Marathas and the Sultanates constituted a single problem and could not be detached from each other. Those who suggest that the Sultanates could be persuaded to act against the Marathas or could become a bulwark against Maratha expansion ignore the realities of the situation."

    The verdict of our eminent historian is identical. He says :

    "Aurangzeb has been criticised for having failed to unite with the Deccani states against the Marathas, or for having conquered them thereby making the empire 'so large that it collapsed under its own weight.' A unity of hearts between Aurangzeb and the Deccani states was 'a psychological impossibility' once the treaty of 1636 was abandoned, a development which took place during the reign of Shah Jahan himself. After his accession, Aurangzeb desisted from pursuing a vigorous forward policy in the Deccan. In fact, he postponed as long as possible the decision to conquer and annex the Deccani states. Aurangzeb's hand was virtually forced by the growing Maratha power, the support extended to Shivaji by Madanna and Akhanna from Golconda, and fear that Bijapur might fall under the domination of Shivaji and the Maratha-dominated Golconda. Later, by giving shelter to the rebel prince Akbar, Sambhaji virtually threw a challenge to Aurangzeb who quickly realized that the Marathas could not be dealt with without first subduing Bijapur and possibly Golconda."

    And though Satish Chandra is inclined to concede, "perhaps Aurangzeb might have been better advised to accept the suggestion apparently put forward by his eldest son, Shah Alam, for a settlement with Bijapur and Golconda to annex only a part of the territories and let them rule the South Karnataka which was far away and difficult to monitor," his understanding of Aurangzeb's compulsions is no less than that of Qureshi!

    Qureshi is at pains to emphasize that Aurangzeb did not institute new laws, that, therefore, the collapse of the Empire after him cannot be attributed to his religious policies. As he puts it :

    "The Muslim Empire had endured in the subcontinent for several centuries. The orthodox laws of Islam had been imposed with varying degrees of thoroughness. Alamgir I did not bring into existence a new set of laws. In the course of these centuries the jizyah had remained in abeyance only for a period of one hundred and fifteen years. The order for the demolition of unauthorized temples had been given under Shah Jahan and Alamgir did not enforce it for the first time. If the Empire collapsed like a house of cards after the death of Alamgir I, the main causes must be sought elsewhere than in the religious policies of that emperor, though these also played some role in its disintegration."

    Our eminent historian emphasizes the same point in almost the same words in context after context : "Aurangzeb's order regarding temples was not a new one. It reaffirmed the position which had existed during the Sultanate period and which had been reiterated by Shah Jahan early in his reign... " And of course, jizyah was not being imposed for the first time, -- it was being re-imposed after a gap of 115 years !

    And so on. Thus the "explanations" for Aurangzeb's policies are identical, all that is missing is the adoration that Qureshi holds for Aurangzeb. Either the string of similar explanations are instances of great minds thinking alike, or of the fact that in the mind of one the test of intellectual daring and secularism is whether one can internalize and repeat the assertions of the one who went away!


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