Archive for March 12th, 2009

March 12, 2009

A Ghazi turned Kafir: the Case of Akbar’s U-Turn – 1

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Driving down that famous ancient road which stretches out from rugged gAndhAra to lush va~Nga, while returning from mathurA after spending this shivarAtri with parents, our vehicle took an unplanned halt at sikandarA, where laid buried (actually no more!) the remains of the Great turuShka. We were overhearing the discussion that our fellow passengers were engaged in about him, and noted with satisfaction that while the make-belief about his iconic status for composite culture remains commonplace, there was also growing awareness among folks about his ghazi stripes of the pattern same as that of his predecessors and successors, and credit for this public awareness, we think, is to the bestirring bells rung by Sita Ram Goel.

Our mind was however captivated soon by a conflict of competing impressions that had remained in us about Akbar, after reading different accounts of his life, especially about his religious outlook. So we recalled the different sources we had come across so far, in parts or in full. The first one we were exposed to after the school texts, was the pseudo-history of chAchA, followed by it seems “Akbar” of the communist tripiTakAchArya, which must have been one of our first real introduction to rAhula sAMkR^ityAyana, then “Who Says Akbar Was Great” of P N Oak, the only title from the author in which we ever invested our money, then the account in Sita Ram Goel’s sleep-depriving “The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India”, some peripheral readings in Ram Chandra Verma’s thoroughly-researched “Akbari Darbar”, and some works from Aligarh’s apologist historians which were educative in no less measure if one knew how to distill out the polemics and rhetoric. And then of course at some point we had also gone through the angrezI translations of A’in-i-akabarI of abul fazl in parts, as well as the fragments of tawArIkh by bigoted badAyunI and the accounts of his equally zealous IsAist contemporaries of Jesuit persuasion, who were earning their grades from saving thousands of souls, by their own admission through baptizing the children dying in disease and starvation through plague and famine. Besides this, the remote and countless unconnected remnants of hearsay we had accumulated from miscellany, the sources of which we would never be able to place in our mind.

What stood very evident to us was that each of the sources had a very definitive, certain and absolute view on Akbar’s alleged attitude towards religious liberalism. chAchA, sAMkR^ityAyana, and a majority of their contemporaries such as AL srIvAstava and tArA chanda were absolutely sure about Akbar’s outlook to have been an inherent part of his personality, who is for them the very fountainhead of the Hindu-Moslem syncretism, secularism and composite culture. For nehrU, Akbar “created a sense of oneness among the diverse elements”, and therefore is the first builder of Indian Nationalism founded upon unity-in-diversity. For tArA chanda he is a beacon light of secularism: “He looked upon all religions alike, and regarded it his duty to make no difference between his subjects on the basis of religion.” In sAMkR^ityAyana’s assessment Akbar is the only notable milestone on the highway of religious tolerance that began with Emperor ashoka and concluded in mahAtmA gAndhI.

The Moslem contemporaries of these authors however have a lot less jubilant and fantastic attitude towards Akbar’s grandeur of religious tolerance, and in tradition of badAyUnI and sheikh ahmed sarhindI, they have generally and severely denounced him as an abominable heretic. abul kalAm AzAd, the mawlAnA, therefore frowns upon him as a villain who had all but finished Islam in India, so also ishtiyAq husain qureshI who alleges Akbar to be a kAfir and an enemy of Islam.

The modern authors from AMUs and JNUs have taken a clever turn from the position of their earlier generation on the subject. While the earlier generation was categorical about Akbar having become a kAfir by the end of his reign, many modern authors from this group have belaboured to show that either Akbar had returned to Islam in the end, or that his attempts to promoting an equal respect for all religions was something which needed no turning away from Islam at all, rather the tendency was indeed a continuation of chingiz khAn’s policy of religious tolerance, ‘yasA-i-chingizI’, that came into Akbar’s genes all the way through taimUr-the-lang, bAbUr and humAyun. More creative of these authors manage to suitably window-dress Akbar’s case for Hindu consumption as a magnanimous hero of Islam the religion of peace.

Oak on the other hand considers Akbar’s syncretism a hogwash effort by apologists, and his concessions to Hindus a cunning maneuver so as to set up a stable foundation for his empire. Sita Ram Goel considers Akbar’s alleged secularism a myth too and declares, “Akbar was every inch an Islamic bandit from abroad who conquered a large part of India mainly on the strength of Muslim swordsmen imported from Central Asia and Persia. He took great pride in proclaiming that he was a descendant of Taimur and Babur… He continued to decorate his name with the Islamic honorific ghazi which he had acquired at the commencement of his reign by beheading the half-dead Himu. The wars he waged against the only resistant Hindu kingdoms – Mewar and Gondwana – had all the characteristics of classic jihad… he went on a pilgrimage to the dargah of Muinuddin Chishti, the foremost symbol of Islam’s ceaseless war on Hindus and Hinduism. He sent rich gifts to many centers of Muslim pilgrimage including Mecca and Medina, and carried on negotiations with the Portuguese so that voyages by Muslim pilgrims could be facilitated. In his letters to the Sharifs of Mecca and the Uzbek king of Bukhara, he protested that he was not only a good Muslim but also a champion of Islam, and that the orthodox Ulama who harboured doubts about him did not understand his game of consolidating a strong and durable Islamic empire in India.”[1]

That is as far as his policy of state was concerned, but even about Akbar’s own personal outlook, Sita Ram Goel continues: “There is no evidence that Akbar’s association with some spokesmen of rival religions was inspired by any sincere seeking on his part, or that the association improved his mind in any way. He remained a prisoner of Islamic thought-categories to the end of his days.” [2]

But, here on this case we somehow differ with the savant. Something tells us, that reality is very simple, and not so complicated and convoluted as it seems. It is, we now think, entirely possible for Akbar to have been a genuine jehAdI during one stage of his life, and an equally genuine kAfir during another subsequent phase. Considering this a possibility, if we look at the available data, we are convinced about this hypothesis more and more. Consider for example the data Goel has provided in the portion we quoted two paragraphs above. Each of the incidents Goel mentioned there is about the first 37 years of Akbar’s life. What about the rest of his life and reign?

We do think now, that Akbar had not only finally managed to come out of the prison of Islam, and returned to his own roots, but that he was also determined to stamp out Islam from India, forcefully if needed, just before his life came to a premature end when he died of poisoning (killed?).

This, we think, is closer to reality. Just that all of us have been conditioned for decades to not look at it that way because such transformations are not commonplace even in this age.

Since the authors across the spectrum have primarily focused only on one aspect of his life, the real causality also happens to be the loss of sight from the significant phenomenon, the transformation of the man from a stark jehAdI to a ferocious kAfir; from identifying the agents that kicked off the process and its catalysts; and from defining the energies that the process released and its reactions.

Continues to Part 2.

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