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Is Yogi scared of the Mughals?

By Mohammad Sajjad
October 19, 2018 09:37 IST
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'The Mughals became completely Indian in every sense and united the vast Indian subcontinent, not only territorially, but also the hearts and minds of people with multiple religio-cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversities'
'The Mughals, arguably, made India an enviable superpower in the then world.'
'Are the Hindutva rulers of today scared of acknowledging Mughal accomplishments?' asks Mohammad Sajjad.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht also known as Yogi Adityanath.

IMAGE: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht also known as Yogi Adityanath.

Ancient Prayag was destroyed in a flood.

Long after that, the fort and the city of Allahabad was founded in 1583 by the Mughal ruler Akbar.

Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, my colleague and an expert in Medieval Indian History, informs us: "Akbar had named it Ilah bas, which during the reign of Shahjahan became popular as Illahabad. The British started writing it as Allahabad, the City of Allah!"

"Why did Akbar give the name Ilah bas? Two reasons are forwarded, one by contemporary Persian sources, the other a legend based on local mythology," says Professor Rezavi.

"According to the contemporary chronicles, like the account of Abdul Qadir Badayuni, when Akbar was informed about the devotion of the Hindus to the sacred site of Sangam and their wish to die there, as a death there would mingle their soul with the spirit of God, he instantly decided to rename the place as Ilah bas, the Abode of God! He was in fact honouring the Hindu sentiments by acknowledging its divine status!" the historian explains.

"But then there is a legend. Ila is actually the mother of Pururvas, the progenitor of the Aila tribe. The Mahabharata mentions the name also as a river (variously identified) or as a king. Vas means abode. Again the meaning comes to Abode of Ila! Which of the above is Yogi negating?" Professor Rezavi asks.

"Remember Akbar never called it Allahabad," Professor Rezavi emphasises, "the British masters with whom Hindutva forces collaborated, did!"


A memoir of a British civil servant John Beames (1837-1902) tell us that in 1858, the British added an extended portion to the (Mughal) city of Allahabad, the Civil Lines and the military Cantonment, and called it 'Canning Town'.

This name did not survive.

Yet, let us note the fact that something was added to the physical part of the city with a concrete purpose.

It therefore also inevitably added to the infrastructure of the city as well.

This is not something being done in Yogi's politics of renaming cities.

Thus, what Yogi (Ajay Singh Bisht also known as Yogi Adityanath, currently the Uttar Pradesh chief minister) is doing is a kind of poaching.

In academics, it would be called plagiarism.

Steal away another's creations and name it after your own.

Politically speaking, this erasure of the past is symptomatic of the inability to build anything on the same scale for the future.

They are trying to overcome the embarrassment of not being able to do better than what they hate.

Yogi and his extended Sangh Parivar could have thought of modernising Allahabad, improving urban amenities, providing much better facilities to the huge humanity of pilgrims who visit the confluence of the rivers (Sangam).

Erasure of the past is also done by the custodians of Mecca.

This too is vandalism.

Ziauddin Sardar's book Mecca: The Scared City (2014) elaborates upon it beautifully and intelligently.

Sardar argues that the holiest site in Islam has become a centre of brash consumerism and architectural folly.

Notwithstanding this valid argument, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia also improves the urban infrastructure for best possible stay of the Haj pilgrims from across the globe.

We as a secular State, unlike Saudi Arabia, may or may not spend public money for that.

If not, then there could be many more ways of attracting people's and corporate houses' funds to do that.

Neither Banaras, now the parliamentary seat of the prime minister, nor Allahabad has been able to see an urban facelift despite the media hype of the massive Smart City project launched by the incumbent regime in New Delhi.

A few months ago, they re-named Mughalsarai after Deen Dayal Upadhyay.

On February 11, 1968, this Hindu nationalist was found dead at that railway station.

They also re-named Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi and some hot-headed majoritarian reactionaries wish to rename Akbar Road as well.

In the directory of Hindu extremist organisations, there is a long list of towns and cities to be renamed.

Earlier, non-Hindutva regimes also renamed cities like Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore, etc.

But there is a slight difference here between the politics of renaming places by the two different groups.

While the renaming of these mega-cities was not motivated by anti-Muslim hatred, the saffron politics of re-naming has explicit anti-Muslim hatred.

Why are these reactionaries scared of the huge accomplishments of the rulers of India's past who happen to be Muslims?

Why do they hate everything (perceived to be) carrying something 'Muslim'?

In what ways does this resemble Hitler's hatred against the Jews in Germany?

Can such a huge minority be exterminated, the way Hitler did?

Lynching on the pretext of cow protection, staging fake police encounters to kill Muslim youth, and framing terror charges against Muslim youth and incarcerating them for long years (against most of whom eventually no evidence is produced in the court of law), all these are part of such majoritarian politics.

Is it because the Mughals became completely Indian in every sense and united the vast Indian subcontinent, not only territorially, but also the hearts and minds of people with multiple religio-cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversities?

The Mughals, arguably, made India an enviable superpower in the then world.

Some credible historical research make a comparative assessment of Mughal India and the Europe of the 16th-17th centuries.

These works demonstrate that in various indices, India was far ahead of Europe.

Some European travellers to India in that era would make comparisons of London and Paris with Indian cities quite favourably.

Are the Hindutva rulers of today scared of acknowledging such accomplishments?


Is it because such acknowledgements will not let them 'otherise' India's Muslims today?

They would not then be able to create an atmosphere of polarisation through a communalised consolidation of Hindus against Muslims.

Is it an attempt at deflecting people's attention from the issues of corruption, unemployment, inflation, etc?

Are they basically scared of the polychromatic composite culture which was fostered and entrenched deeply by these rulers of India's proud past, who happen to be non-Hindus?

The saffron project of a majoritarian, hegemonistic, assimilative, Hindu Rashtra finds a great obstruction in the composite culture of India.

They are like the Islamists of Pakistan and elsewhere who try to erase past memories.

Just as chauvinistic Islamists deny the literary-cultural accomplishments of pre-Prophet Arabia, and just as such elements within Pakistan tend to forget the accomplishments of the Indus Valley civilisation, of the Vedic era, of the Mauryan and Gupta eras.

Forces of retrogression are scary of diversities. Yogi and his cohorts wish to do just that.

Human history teaches us that such ideas and practices of erasing the past end up destroying nations before such forces themselves meet their nemesis.

Professor Mohammad Sajjad, who is at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, is the author of Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours and Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857.

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Mohammad Sajjad