The fate of Akbar, Kanishka and Ashoka, the three towering emperors of India, is now tied up with the narrow-minded and nasty politics of the subcontinent. Ashoka is accepted in India, but Kanishka is barely known because his history is so directly linked with what is now Pakistan. As for Akbar, however great an emperor, he was still a Muslim and therefore could do no right. A current cabinet minister explained that Akbar was a tyrant like Hitler and the name of Allahabad, the city Akbar founded, and one of the main roads of Delhi named after him have been changed. In Pakistan, none of the three emperors are really well-known: the first two are ignored because they are considered non-Muslim, therefore kafir, and Akbar meets a similar fate: most Pakistanis see him as a lapsed Muslim because of his tolerance and inclusiveness towards the non-Muslims of his empire and even accuse him of wanting to create his own religion. In India, it is argued that history is to be read without Islam, in Pakistan that there was no history before Islam. Whichever is worse — the distortion of history in India or indifference to it in Pakistan — the results are the same: the towering figures that united a continent with compassion, skill and goodwill are relegated to the shadows of our common story and we are, therefore, deprived of any lessons we can learn from them. Of course, there are honourable exceptions among scholars and commentators, but they all face a tidal wave of communal prejudice that can easily convert to violence. In the vacuum the furies of ignorance, hatred and prejudice rage across the land.
Narendra Modi and his cult following in the BJP, the party running the country, propagate the idea of Hindutva or India as the land only of and for the Hindus. Amit Shah, the President of the BJP, and Modi’s number two, promised to push millions of Muslim “illegals” — he called them “termites” — into the Bay of Bengal. The more ambitious members of the BJP plan for the day they can also obliterate non-Hindus from the neighbouring Muslim lands like Pakistan and impose Hindutva. Those not born Hindus must be expelled or done away with. The main targets are Muslims, Christians and even the Dalit. The party ideologues have long cited Hitler as an ideal role model to emulate. If he could wipe out the Jews, they have argued, we can get rid of our Muslims and other minorities. The frequent public lynching and stabbing of Muslims and attacks on Christians and Dalits thus have a historical context. Viral videos testify to the dystopia. Modi appears to be condoning and promoting the conflict and violence against the minorities. When asked whether he apologised for the genocide of the Muslims committed when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi dismissed the question with a sneer: If you are driving and run over a dog you don’t stop, you drive on. Hearing his answer, I just wondered what the three emperors, who so strongly respected life as part of their Indian religious beliefs, would have made of the comment. The beautiful people of the beautiful land of Kashmir, a favourite of all three emperors, are now raped, tortured and murdered heartlessly. The young are blinded by the military, and the media says they hate us because Pakistan has misled them. Everybody claims Kashmir, yet, nobody cares enough to stop the violence. There is no solution in sight as the world seems not to care for either justice or human suffering.
After the Second World War when India gained independence, it was the envy of the world. India had outstanding world-class leaders and an idea of itself as a democratic, inclusive and secular society. Even neighbouring Pakistan, prone to martial law, respected the democracy of India. India is now giving up something that was uniquely Indian — its vision of non-violence — to become a bully terrorising the minorities and its smaller neighbours. Even the great Mahatma Gandhi with his ideas of interfaith harmony is openly sidelined. His assassin, Godse, once reviled, is now hailed as a national hero and temples in his honour are built; and with cruel irony, the title once reserved for Gandhi, that of the Mahatma, the great soul, is applied to his killer. As someone committed to interfaith understanding and building bridges of peace between the two neighbours, I remain baffled and distressed to see India so casually throwing away its greatest identifying feature, one inspired by the very Indian religion of Jainism, that of Gandhian non-violence. Modi and his loyal media have been recklessly priming the country for nuclear war and putting Pakistan on alert, thus preparing the scenario for a nuclear exchange. The danger of all this to India itself and the world at large is ignored. Any nuclear exchange will be the ultimate act of self-destruction. The big lesson Modi can learn from the three emperors is that you can crush the opposition and minorities through your security forces and taxes, but if you want your country to truly prosper, you must win their hearts and minds which can only happen when you embrace all your citizens as part of the greater whole. If awoke in Modi’s India, the three emperors would ask, what has happened to our beloved homeland? Yes, they would say, Modi may have reached out to Mars, but we reached out to the hearts of our beloved people.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2019.