Last month, to counter the BJP’s diatribe against it on the 43rd anniversary of the Emergency, the Congress party likened Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Party leader Randeep Surjewala said Prime Minister “a dictator emperor more cruel than Aurangzeb of Delhi Sultanate”.
Many have pointed out the contradictions in the party’s stance, because in September 2015 the Congress leaders condemned the BJP-led NDA’s decision to change the name of Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi to former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s name.
Surjewala has not just forgotten his party’s stand on Aurangzeb three years ago, he has also forgotten certain pieces of history which had been highlighted by another Congress leader.
Dr Bishambar Nath Pande, a freedom fighter and a former Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, had evaluated the religious policies of Aurangzeb. Incidentally, B N Pande, a Gandhian and a close associate of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, is also the author of the Three-Volume ‘A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress’.
In a lecture at the Institute of Objective Studies at the Academic Staff College in New Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia November 17, 1993, Pande had clarified, after examining various farmans of Aurangzeb, that the emperor had issued jagirs and cash gifts for the maintenance of temples like Someshwar Nath Mahadev Temple at the Ganga-Yamuna confluence in Allahabad, Mahakaleshwara temple at Ujjain, Balaji Temple at Chitrakut, Umananda Temple in Gauhati and Jain Temple of Shatrinjal apart from several other temples and gurdwaras.
Citing a farman issued by Aurangzeb on March 10, 1659 to the local authorities in Banaras while dealing with a Brahmin’s complaint of harassment, Pande rejected the argument that the Mughal Emperor had issued any order against the building of new temples – a charge many raise against him. In fact, in that particular order, Aurangzeb was referring to an existing law that “no new temples shall be built”, he pointed out. It also said: “We have decided that the ancient temples shall not be destroyed.” The order, quoted by Pande in his lecture, went on to say: “… in future, no person shall in unlawful way interfere or disturb the Brahmins and other Hindu residents at these places..”
In his lecture, Pande maintained that Aurangzeb seemed to be very careful to respect the religious sentiments of his subjects. He mentioned an order from Aurangzeb in favour of Sudaman Brahmin, the Pujari of Umanand temple of Gauhati in Assam. This temple and its Pujari were granted a piece of land and the income of some forest for offering. The maintenance of the Pujari was by the Hindu rulers of Assam. When Aurangzeb occupied the province, he immediately issued a farman confirming the earlier Hindu grant of the land and income in favour of the said temple and its Pujari.
He also pointed out that the historians who talk of the demolition of Chintaman temple constructed by the Nagarseth of Ahmedabad “remain dumb on the fact that the same Aurangzeb gave land for the Shatrunjaya and Abu temple to the same Nagarseth”. According to Pande, the ruler of Golkonda, the famous Tanashah, after collecting revenues of the state did not pay his dues to Delhi. He not only buried this money, but also erected a Jama Masjid over it. When Aurangzeb came to know of it, he ordered the demolition of the mosque, Pande had said to show that the Mughal Emperor had not made any distinction between the temple and the mosque in the matter of judicial finding.
Pande’s arguments and clarification vehemently reject the image of Aurangzeb as an iconoclast who destroyed Hindu temples to oppose idolatry and strike a blow on the Brahmanical tradition.
Now, Surjewala may have to explain which version of Aurangazeb he has referred to at his press conference on June 26 -– the one which was portrayed by a learned and respected leader of his own party or the one that is pictured by the right-wing fundamentalists.