The seemingly irreconcilable differences between the secular and the Hindutva camps in Maharashtra where they have constituted an unlikely alliance to keep out the BJP seems to be going through a rough patch lately. BJP for not conceding to Uddhav Thackeray’s wish to be the chief minister after the 2019 assembly elections, led the Shiv Sena to leave its company and join hands with its former adversaries such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA). Till now, the two groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum have managed to run the government with a reasonable degree of comfort and success. So much so that the Sena’s Sanjay Raut even suggested that all anti-BJP parties should come under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). There was even talk of the NCP supremo, Sharad Pawar, heading the UPA if Sonia Gandhi was willing to step down.
Although the Congress had shot down both the ideas, saying that its alliance with the Sena was confined to Maharashtra and that there was no question of Pawar heading the UPA, the MVA nevertheless appeared set for its full term. But, now, suddenly, it is facing some road bumps. The issue of contention is the Sena’s desire to emulate Yogi Adityanath by erasing the Muslim name of Aurangabad and call it Shambhaji Nagar after Shivaji’s son. The Sena’s argument is that this had been the desire of the party’s founder, Bal Thackeray. Uddhav Thackeray has brushed aside the Congress’s objection that such renaming is not part of the common minimum programme which was agreed on by the two groups which stressed the concept of secularism. The chief minister’s argument is that the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, after whom the Maharashtra town is named, was not secular.
But Aurangzeb is not the only Mughal emperor who is maligned by the Hindutva lobby. In their eyes, only Dara Shukoh passes muster, perhaps for being Aurangzeb’s great adversary. Otherwise, even Akbar has been compared to Hitler and claims have been made that Rana Pratap should be called ‘great’ and not Akbar. The Sena’s objective is understandable. It does not want to cede the entire Hindutva space to the BJP in Maharashtra lest the latter should team up with Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Sena to lay claim to Bal Thackeray’s legacy. In an atmosphere of such fixed notions, there is hardly any possibility of a reasoned debate based on recent research on Aurangzeb as in Audrey Truschke’s biography of “the man and the myth” in which the professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University at Newark in the US has looked at the emperor in a new light. According to her, “Aurangzeb never oversaw a large-scale conversion programme, did not destroy thousands of Hindu temples (a few dozen is a more likely number). In fact, he protected the interests of Hindu religious groups, even ordering fellow Muslims to cease harassing Brahmins”. It is Aurangzeb’s lack of “sympathy, imagination, breadth of vision” which are grist to the mills of today’s politicians with a tunnel vision of India’s history and politics which lacks as in the case of the Great Villain a “breadth of vision”.