Rishi Kapoor is right! Let us start the renaming project with Taj Mahal

Sandipan Sharma

May,18 2016 16:21 39 IST

Let us rename the Taj Mahal immediately.

Now that we are overcome with the desire to erase memories of our Mughal emperors, divide history on religious lines, rename roads, monuments and cities, let us make a bold statement by attacking the biggest symbol of Babar's dynasty.

Changing names of minor roads, small towns in the hinterland, making petty changes here and there won't be worthy statements of our intent to reframe our living history. These are just sporadic, guerrilla attacks on the Mughal heritage. To erase memories of a dynasty that ruled India for almost 300 years from our history, geography and culture, such feeble attacks will not be enough.

We need an all-out war.

So, let us begin from the top and rename the defining symbol of our subservience to the Mughals. Let's call the Taj either Tejo Temple — some bhakts believe a shrine by that name was demolished to build the mausoleum — or, since we are in the middle of honouring Rajput rulers, call it Jai Singh Mahal for his benevolent act of donating the land for the structure to Shah Jahan.

The future Jai Mahal? Getty Images

The future Jai Mahal? Getty Images

In fact, it would be immoral and opportunistic of us to be ashamed of an Akbar Road, get embarrassed by an Aurangabad and simultaneously feel proud of the Taj Mahal. It will be hypocritical to have it both ways: Demonise Akbar for invading a Hindu kingdom and romanticise in the same breath his grandson for building a wonder of the world. No, the Taj must go. Why just stop at Akbar Road, Aurangzeb Road and Aurangabad?

On Tuesday, Union minister VK Singh wrote to the government, asking it to rename Akbar Road after Mewar's ruler Rana Pratap. Singh argued that Pratap was a real secular, a man of the masses. But he has still not got his due.

Singh's suggestion can solve several problems. Akbar Road is one of the most famous addresses in Lutyen's Delhi. Some of the top BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Speaker of Parliament Sumitra Mahajan have their official bungalows on this road. Imagine the discomfort of the Hindutva brigade when it has to suffer the pain of seeing their heroes live at an address that reminds them of the emperor who beat a secular hero.

Akbar, of course was a tyrant and a bigot. It is a myth that he tried to introduce a new religion, Deen-e-Ilahi, that tried to borrow from the best of all prevalent religions of his time. It must be a canard that Akbar promoted people from every religion as his navratnas--Birbal, Todarmal, Tansen et al--or tried to strike peaceful alliances with Rajput ruler through his matrimonial policy.

So, as its workers once famously chanted, "Tel lagao Dabur ka, Naam mitao Akbar ka!"

Never mind the fact that historians often argue that history is complicated. Looking at it through the prism of religion, creating a communal binary for judging rulers is a disastrous way of understanding the past. History is shaped by several simultaneous narratives, some competing, some contradictory and some shaped by the extant context and cultures.

But then, as historian Harbans Mukhia argues, history is everyone’s discipline. "Everyone is a born historian with equal entitlement to speak with full confidence. Especially if you have learnt the subject at an RSS shakha. So unlike any other discipline like physics or chemistry or even economics and sociology—where one has to devote to a lifetime to master it," he writes.

The BJP's aversion to our Mughal past is well known. Left to it, the party would have loved to devise a mechanism for wiping the slate clean, creating eternal sunshine of the spotless time. It is for this reason alone that it tries to pit Hindu heroes — if you can call Pratap one — only against Mughal rulers.

For argument's sake, if VK Singh, like his ideological brethren, was really keen to get Pratap his dues, he could have asked for creating a fresh monument to the Mewar ruler's greatness. Even if he was keen on getting a road renamed after him, Singh could have identified Delhi's Man Singh Road, named after the Rajput general who led Akbar's army that defeated Pratap, for the project. But, for obvious reasons, his gaze has fallen only on Akbar Road.

Ironically, the BJP doesn't show such enthusiasm when it has to honour heroes like Bhagat Singh. For almost a year, a proposal to name Chandigarh's airport after Bhagat Singh remained stuck because Haryana's ML Khattar government was eager to bestow the honour on some RSS leader. It relented only after public outrage.

The problem, of course, is that the Congress started a tradition that the BJP is now misusing. As Rishi Kapoor rightly pointed out in his tweet, the Congress tampered shamelessly with history to honour only the Gandhis. The BJP is now taking this to a different level, supplanting its Hindutva agenda with the Congress philosophy of sycophancy.

Some day, when this outrageous debate spins out of hand, the madness for manipulating history turns into an irrational frenzy, nothing would remain sacrosanct.

And the Taj could indeed become a Jai Mahal.