Iis it a lingam of Shiva or an oversized fountain spout in the wuzu reservoir of the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi?
Did the court-ordered investigation find vermilion-colored idols, lotuses, swastikas, sheshnag (the mythical multi-headed serpent king) on its walls?
Does the mosque in the Qutub Minar compound have an inverted slab with a Ganesha?
Was the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura built by Aurangzeb after the demolition of the Keshav Deva temple to mark the birthplace of Lord Krishna?
Suppose the answer to all of these questions is yes. Because that’s mostly the case, not to mention the Shivling Fountain problem.
Three other questions arise:
* This is all true, but what does it matter?
*If this infuriates you, the Hindu majority, what can you do in 2022?
*And if you are an angry and fearful Indian Muslim, how do you react?
As we explore the answers to these life and death questions for Indian nationalism, we must ask one more.
Why does the Prime Minister, from Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1947 to Narendra Modi from 2014, address the nation on Independence Day from the Red Fort (Lal Qila) in Delhi?
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DElhi’s Red Fort, or Lal Qila, is accepted as a symbol of India’s sovereign authority across political and ideological divide. Is this considered a Muslim monument?
The early 17th century fort is a good symbol of the fascinating – and intriguing – complexities of the evolution of Indian nationalism over 300 years. Or, dare we say, India’s secular nationalism. Entirely Indian, Shah Jahan ordered its construction in 1638 AD when he decided to move his capital from Agra to Delhi.
Even in the eyes of the Hindu hard right, Shah Jahan is considered one of the least worst of the Mughals. He was also a victim of the “evil” son Aurangzeb who killed his brother and Shah Jahan’s favorite successor, Dara Shikoh, and imprisoned the “decadent” father.
Nothing is simple with our story, by the way. It was this “less worse” Shah Jahan who ordered the destruction of the magnificent temples of Orchha because its ruler Jhujhar Singh had rebelled. Footnote: The prince he sent on this “punitive” raid was Aurangzeb. Race horses.
If the Mughals are considered foreigners by some sages, the first looting of the Red Fort was carried out by a real foreign and Muslim invader: Nader Shah in 1739. The Mughal Empire was then in vertical decline, I would say comparable to this Boeing 737 which crashed in China in March. And apparently for the same reason. As, apparently for the Chinese pilots, the Mughal descendants of Aurangzeb were also often suicidal.
Nader Shah destroyed the decrepit Mughal Mohammad Shah (he suffixed “Rangeela” or “colored” in popular history), destroyed large parts of the Red Fort, took away most of its wealth and the Peacock Throne.
Why did he do it? The Red Fort was not a Hindu monument nor did it house a temple. It was a symbol of the sovereign power of the ancient great Indian Empire. He, even as a Muslim conqueror, had to sack it in typical medieval marauder style. This is why he had to remove his Mughal throne. The next sacking of the Red Fort took place 44 years later and it was neither by Muslim invaders nor by Hindus seeking revenge. It was now conquered by one of the warrior Misls (factions) of the Sikhs.
Legendary commanders Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Baghel Singh, hailed as heroes not only among Sikhs, spearheaded this enterprise. The Sikhs returned with their considerable tribute, the privilege of garrisoning Delhi and restoring the Red Fort and all that remained of the throne to another weak Mughal. Just like Nader Shah had done.
Importantly, part of the deal for the Sikhs to leave the Red Fort was the mandate to build seven Gurdwaras in Delhi. It was then that Gurdwara Sis Ganj was built in Chandni Chowk where Emperor Aurangzeb had the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur beheaded. Religion was essential to medieval conquest. Prime Minister Modi addressed a Sikh congregation at the Red Fort on April 21 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Guru’s birth.
And the Red Fort was not finished yet. Freedom fighters or mutineers, whatever you call them, fought in 1857 for Bahadurshah Zafar and his flag, though he was only a nominal ruler now. For them, the titular emperor and the Red Fort represented the sovereign authority of India.
This is why the last looting of the Red Fort was carried out by the British after crushing the rebellion. If Nader Shah’s was the most destructive in terms of loot, it was the worst destruction of royal buildings.
Very few survived the East India Company. Royal quarters, harem areas were all reduced to rubble and barracks were built there instead.
Tell us about symbolism? Even later in 1945-46, the ‘mutiny’ trial of captured Netaji Indian National Army (INA) soldiers was held at the Red Fort.
Between 1739 and 1857, that is 118 years, the Red Fort, built by a Mughal, suffered depredations from Muslims, Sikhs and Christians if one describes the British as such. The reason they were all obsessed with this landmark was that it symbolized the power of the Indian state.
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OWe had already accepted that the answer to all the questions we originally asked was yes. The fact that the temples of Kashi and Mathura were demolished on the orders of Aurangzeb and that a mosque and an idgah built on the ruins are also recorded by historians considered by the Hindu right as a devious liberal left.
Audrey Truschke, attacked for the alleged crime of “normalizing” Aurangzeb, recognizes this. Richard Eaton of the University of Arizona, widely respected for his masterful work on medieval India, records them in detail.
For easier reading, you can access his two-part essay from 2001 in First line magazine here (Part 1, Part 2). Not just Mathura and Kashi, he lists many other Hindu temples and places since the arrival of the Muslims, first as mere invaders like Ghazni, then as colonizers and finally as native and Indian-born rulers, especially the Mughals.
So there is nothing new that any court-mandated investigation can “find out”. That’s the whole undisputed story. The three questions we posed earlier need to be addressed now. What do we do with this story?
If there is no argument that these destructions occurred, what remains to be fought is the motive of the destroyers. One side thinks it was purely – or primarily – political and economic. The other thinks it was pure religious bigotry and violent iconoclasm. It’s an intellectual debate for scholars on both sides.
It is also impossible to change that past under our current constitutional structure. The Places of Worship Act 1991 prohibits any such revisionism. Certainly, the 2019 judgment of the Supreme Court in Ayodhya, composed of five judges, placed it unambiguously in the basic structure of the Constitution.
I don’t even see a Modi majority rejecting this law and being so destructive to our national interest.
Three decades ago, Nelson Mandela gave us an idea as powerful as Mahatma Gandhi’s Ahimsa, and more contemporary: Truth and Reconciliation. It follows that there can be no reconciliation without the truth.
At this point in the 21st century, Hindus can stop digging for evidence of their victimization in the past. It is already available from the sources that even the other side considers credible. Muslims and leftist secular elites alike should overcome their denial of past wrongs, regardless of the motives of the wrongdoers.
It’s counterproductive now to hang the secular cause on arguments like ‘Was Aurangzeb a nice guy?’. No medieval ruler of any kind was a nice boy in the 21st century. Some were just worse than others.
Once both sides accept the truth, a slow reconciliation will be possible.
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