One of the beauties of Hinduism is its faith in a pantheon of gods, instead of a rigid belief in the supremacy of a single deity. For centuries, followers have lived in blissful harmony, without bothering to debate which one of the cornucopia of gods and goddesses is the greatest of them all.
It is an ode to this basic tenet of pluralism that we rarely get drawn into debates like, who among Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is more powerful, or if Hanuman is to be worshipped more than Ganesha. All of them coexist in a holy equilibrium. Many of us, in fact, worship them and their assorted avatars, even allocating different days to accommodate this diversity. In our mythology and pop theology, nobody is the greatest among the great.
Groomed since they are on the principle of accepting and respecting diversity, one would have assumed that this robust faith in multitude of idols would be deeply ingrained in the psyche of the right-wingers, the virulent proponents of Hindutva. But when it comes to history, many of them show singular lack of it, often getting into banal ‘one vs the other’, or ‘who is the greatest among the two’ debates.
Home minister Rajnath Singh and one of his underlings in Rajasthan are the latest to pit one historical figure against the other. Both want to know if Akbar was really great, or his rival and Mewar ruler Rana Pratap Singh was the greatest of the great.
A few days ago, Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani—a dyed in saffron student of the Sangh ideology—demoted Mughal Emperor Akbar from greatness and passed on the epithet to his rival Rana Pratap.
“Since both of them were rivals, only one of them can be great,” Devnani argued. “We keep calling Akbar “The Great”. Why is he “The Great”? Let me tell you, he is not “The Great”. Maharana Pratap is “The Great”. Akbar was merely a ruler. If there is a chapter on Mughals, maybe he can have a mention in that, but not a separate detailed chapter on him,” he said.
Devnani wants school syllabi in Rajasthan to be revised and include chapters on Rana Pratap the Great and relegate Akbar to the status of an outsider who also ruled. Obviously, Devnani suffers from the unipolar disorder that affects many from his political and ideological background. Like those tethered to Hindutva, Devnani too wants to look at history through the saffron monocle of his bias.
Home minister Singh, who unveiled Pratap’s statue in Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh district on Sunday, partly endorsed the Rajasthan minister’s view. “Akbar was ‘The Great" but Maharana was ‘The Great of Greats,’ he reportedly said.
“I have no objections to historians writing Akbar The Great. But why not Pratap The Great? The valour and sacrifice that the Maharana demonstrated in the Mewar region was equally impressive and he should be accorded more respect and dignity," the Economic Times wrote, quoting Singh.
Let there be no confusion: Rana Pratap was a brave man who made enormous sacrifices for his kingom and its people. For three decades, after he was defeated in the Battle of Haldighati, he roamed the jungles of Mewar (areas around Udaipur), sleeping on the floor, living like a nomad, fighting like a guerilla; his son famously ate bread made of grass, his family endured enormous hardships when, like other Rajputs of the region, he could have struck an alliance with Akbar.
The Pratap-Akbar conflict lasted till the Rana’s death. But there should be no conflict on this: both were great in their own way, for their own reasons and in their individual historical and geographical contexts. Akbar’s greatness in no way belittles Pratap’s heroism; the Mewar ruler’s legendary fight to reclaim what he lost at Haldighati doesn’t undermine what Akbar achieved in India.
Like mythological deities, both can coexist as historical entities, without drawing comparisons or being rated on the scale of greatness.
Any effort to strip Akbar of his aura only downgrades Pratap’s epic struggle as collateral damage. Pratap’s raison d’etre in history is his three-decade war against somebody as mighty as Akbar, he is a hero because he didn’t except the powerful Mughal ruler’s suzerainty. Had Akbar been a minnow, Pratap too would have been a non-entity. Rana’s greatness is incumbent on Akbar’s; the Mughal emperor, though, doesn’t need the Rana to be propped up right up there with the likes of Ashoka. By removing Pratap from his historical context, by pitting him against an ordinary rival, Devnani is insulting the legend of the Rana.
Wendy Doniger writes in her controversial book, The Hindus—An Alternative History, “Multiple narratives coexist peacefully (in India), sometimes in one open mind and sometimes in a group of people whose minds may be, individually, relatively closed.” (Ironically, the Hindu right targeted the book for praising India’s culture of diversity and philosophy of tolerance.)
But the virulent proponents of Hindutva, now that they are in power, do not want to respect this great Indian tradition. For them, heroes can be drawn only from a particular religion; history is to be apportioned on the basis of sectarian biases and heroism is to be reserved for those who fit their ideological definitions. The rest are to be belittled and, if possible, demonised. Perhaps they still do not remember what happened to the last person who wanted to tweak history to showcase the supremacy of a particular race.
Every Indian, regardless of his faith and creed, who made a significant contribution to history, ought to be given the deserved space and slot in our history books. The government has no business putting them through the sieve of religion. An Ashfaqullah Khan is as important a freedom-fighter as Ram Prasad Bismil; a Tipu Sultan is as great a tormentor of the British as a Rani Lakshmi Bai and a Mughal ruler is as legendary a warrior as a Rana of Mewar.
Let Indians read about them all and have their own pantheon of greats.
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Updated Date: May 19, 2015 14:54:31 IST