September 01, 2015

India: BJP's Culture war and the Road Re-Naming Game (Editorial, Daily News and Analysis)

DNA, 31 August 2015, Editorial

The naming game

Delhi’s BJP Members of Parliament have been unfair to APJ Abdul Kalam by using him as a pawn in the vitiating culture wars while claiming to pay tribute to him


New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC)’s decision to rename Aurangzeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road is not really an innocent tribute to the late President. Naming a road after Kalam would not have raised eyebrows, nor would it have caused an uneasy flutter, but for the fact there is a tacit argument underlying the exercise. NDMC vice chairman Karan Singh Tanwar revealed that there were requests from the BJP Members of Parliament (MPs) Meenakshi Lekhi and Maheish Girri to rename the road. A national daily had quoted Girri’s letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about renaming the road saying it was time to “correct the wrongs of history”.

The communal-minded colonial British historians had created the image of a Muslim Aurangzeb and a Hindu Shivaji, and mindless people swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker. It is not surprising that right-wing Hindu political and, ostensibly, cultural organisations have viewed Aurangzeb as “änti-Hindu” and Shivaji as “Hindu”. Right-wing Muslims, on their part, refused to acknowledge the brilliant political career of Shivaji, who created a Maratha empire even as the Mughal empire was standing on its last legs, as it were, under Aurangzeb.

The clash of Aurangzeb and Shivaji was a political contest and the two protagonists saw it that way. Aurangzeb saw Shivaji as a challenger to Mughal power and nothing else. Shivaji fought the Mughals and the Deccan sultanates as part of his bid to gain political supremacy. Shivaji did not perceive Aurangzeb as a Muslim predator, nor did Aurangzeb treat Shivaji as a Hindu icon. It is in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the communal twist was given to these two heroes of 17th century India. Jadunath Sarkar, who is dubbed as a “communal historian” by the secularists, had written multi-volume histories about Aurangzeb and Shivaji, and assessed their achievements and limitations. Sarkar understood that the two were the colossi of their time. So, it would be quite puerile to think that the late President Kalam is a historical counter to the puritanical Aurangzeb. It amounts to trivialising history.

As a matter of fact, there are uncanny similarities between Aurangzeb and Kalam. Both led frugal lives — one as an emperor and the other as the President of the Indian Republic. Aurangzeb was a conscientious ruler, who copied the Quran and wove prayer caps to earn his livelihood instead of drawing money from the state exchequer. Kalam paid for his family’s — his brothers and their children — stay in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The BJP minions need to be rapped for their cheap politicking.

The BJP and other right-wing Hindu ideologues would be doing great injustice to the simple man from the temple town of Rameswaram if they try to project him as the ideal Muslim of Hindu India, who was Muslim by religion and Hindu by culture as understood by the blinkered right-wingers. Kalam had never allied himself in these superficial and wasteful culture wars. He was focused on a technologically equipped India which would improve the lives of all Indians, where caste and creed did not count. To drag an apolitical and pan-Indian Kalam into the vitiating Hindu-Muslim rivalry is contemptible.

It would have been much better if the admirers of Kalam had asked the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) where the late President spent a great part of his professional tenure to be named after him. That would have been a more fitting tribute to the man who focused on making India a strong and prosperous country.

Published Date: Aug 31, 2015