Guwahati: When the politics of the past is happening in the present, it becomes pertinent to look at the past through the present lens, said Manimugdha Sharma on his book, Allahu Akbar: Understanding the Great Mughal in Today’s India.
A journalist from Assam and now settled in New Delhi, Sharma launched his first book on the Mughal emperor on his birth anniversary, that is, October 15, and also recently at the 21st North-East Book Festival in Guwahati on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, the history buff spoke about the relevance of his book at a time when icons of the past have suddenly become villains. Sharma said, “My book essentially is an attempt to understand Akbar by placing him in his own situation and at the same time, analyze where exactly the politics around him and the Mughals stand today…and also placed him in a global context.”
He added, “In the past, there was definitely some kind of friction between different communities, specifically Hindus and Muslims. But religion was never a factor for conflict. It was never a uniting factor behind conflicts like you cannot rally people together because they are Muslims or Hindus. [But] that’s not the case today, because today, your identity is defined by your religion.”
Citing the example of the Rajput ruler of Merta, Jaimal Rathore, who once went to Akbar seeking help to take over Merta Fort and fought with his army, and later switched sides and fought against Akbar, Sharma said, “Back then, religion was never considered an identity. It was one of your identities, but it was never the primary identity…”
He explained that communal conflicts begin in India prominently from the 19th century onwards when the colonial administration which was ruling India tried to peddle this narrative that the British have rescued the Hindus from the tyranny of the Muslims.
Replying to a question on communal politics in India, the journalist cum author said, “In modern times, we do see that our politics has become mostly about, you know, religion and dividing the society based on religion. And it is because you have parties that have come into existence just because of their religion. And when you have that, then it’s quite obvious that it is going to be based on religion, and on creating differences between different communities based on religion. It is a very unfortunate reality, but we know that it happens globally, not just about India. It is just that in India religious identities are very strong. And I would not like to confine it only to India. It’s the entire Indian subcontinent in the whole of South Asia.”
He remarked that Pakistan is trying to emerge out of the path it had taken after partition and is creating an environment for all kinds of people in their country by opening up the Kartarpur corridor, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan celebrating Diwali with Hindus, unlike ever seen before. However, on the other hand, India seems to be going towards the 1947 path taken by its neighbour, refusing to learn lessons from it.
On the name for his book Allahu Akbar: Understanding the Great Mughal in Today’s India, Sharma said, “Allahu Akbar… Akbar loved the ambiguity of this phrase. And I noticed that because in all the accounts this was coming up again and again.”
The phrase Allahu Akbar means ‘God is Great’, however, it can also be used for equating Akbar to God.
Recounting a time when after a victory, Akbar’s entire entourage started shouting Allahu Akbar, he said that in a way they are invoking God, but at the same time, they are also pleasing their master by saying what he wants them to say or what he wants to hear.
The journalist said, even today political leaders try to use religion in a similar way. He reiterated the time during 2014 General Elections when PM Narendra Modi was a prime ministerial candidate and fighting from Banaras (Varanasi), and during one of his visits, Modi’s followers start raising the slogan, ‘Har har Modi’.
“So that’s the invocation of a religious slogan and modification of it for a specific political purpose. You are raising him to the status of God. So that is an aura, around him, and people tend to worship him. The same thing happens with Akbar because by doing that you are coming closer to divinity. And that also creates an impression among the subject… our Emperor is like God,” explained Sharma, adding, “So that’s why I chose the name. And I hope that would make people curious to pick it up and read and figured out more about Akbar.”
Also, the history buff is writing a biography of Alauddin Khalji and another on the warfare from 17th to 19th century in India which are likely to be out in 2020.