History is a mirror, in which the viewer sees the reflection of his own viewpoint. Opening new frontiers based on history disrupts society, which we see today in various countries and communities. A comprehensive anatomization of the reality of the blames and claims against Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by a young journalist and writer, Afsar Ahmed, has recently come out in a series of six books, three of which have been published. This is a review article of this academic research and its contribution in unveiling the altered veracity of significant events in history.
In the 331-year protracted period of Indian history, from 1526 to 1857, three Mughal emperors stand as one of the most debated and controversial topics—pioneer of the Mughal Empire Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, his grandson Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar and Mohiuddin Aurangzeb Alamgir. Among them, Aurangzeb has been portrayed as an outright villain in India for the past century. Until the early twentieth century, Aurangzeb was considered alike several other rulers, who fight wars within themselves and outsiders to run and save their government, struggle to reconcile themselves to various political, social and religious powers and are engaged in expanding or consolidating the government to the most extent. This picture of Aurangzeb is clear in the chronicles, perspicuously mirrored in all the old historical texts of Persian, English, Urdu and Hindi.
Aurangzeb Alamgir, born on 3 November 1618 and died in 1707, lived for a period of 89 years. He ruled from 1657 to 1707 for a total of 50 years. Famous historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar started framing Aurangzeb from a specific perspective. He wrote his first book ‘India of Aurangzeb: Topography, Statics and Roads‘ in 1901. His second book ‘History of Aurangzeb‘ appeared between 1919 and 1928 in 5 volumes. Apart from these, he wrote half a dozen books on Aurangzeb, Mughal Empire, Shivaji etc. To corroborate his particular point of view, he first accused Aurangzeb of having waged wars against Hindus, especially the Rajputs, due to his religious fanaticism, promotion of forced religious conversion and radical Islam. It is from here, how a negative image of Aurangzeb began to emerge. Later writers deliberately made efforts to portray Aurangzeb an enemy of Hindus by fabricating historical texts and concocting malicious stories, underlying on this base.
The present age is the age of distortion of history. Instead of reading the old history in the light of truth and facts, there is an attempt of misstating the forgotten events to target a certain class today. Babur, Akbar, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, Siraj-ud-Daulah, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Tipu Sultan and Mir Usman Ali of Hyderabad—all the Muslim heroes are fudged as enemies of the country and Hindus, with the intention to endanger the ancient concerted civilization and harmony of India. Amid this situation, young researcher and journalist Afsar Ahmed has taken the initiative of wiping the different layers of Aurangzeb’s life again. Last June, the third part of his Hindi book series ‘Aurangzeb: Nayak Ya Khalnayak’ titled as ‘Aurangzeb Banaam Rajput’ came out. Earlier, the first part of this book, ‘Aurangzeb: Bachpan Se Satta Singhrash’, was released in 2019 and the second part, ‘Aurangzeb: Satta Singhrash’, was released in 2020. Afsar Ahmed projects to re-read and examine all the important periods of Aurangzeb’s life in 6 volumes. In about 500 pages in 3 parts, he has succeeded in presenting King Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, Darashikoh, their lives and relationships clearly. Afsar Ahmed writes in the foreword explaining the need of the book:
“Impartial researchers have severely criticized Jadunath Sarkar’s theory. In response to them, several books were published. The question is, when so much work has been done on Aurangzeb, then what can I add or subtract in this discussion? In the 6th volume, I have endeavoured to present every aspect of Aurangzeb’s character with utmost audacity and have specially thrown light on those parts which for some reason have either remained in the dark or have escaped the notice of historians. I am not a professional historian nor do I claim to be. Standing in front of Aurangzeb’s character, I neither admired him nor hated him. I just tried to capture it in this book ‘just like it’. I don’t care if it creates a controversy or not. For as a student of history, my purpose is to examine the questions and objections which have been raised against Aurangzeb. I have also focused on whether or not it is in the society’s favour to project Aurangzeb’s decisions or policies in the 15th and 16th century on the scale of 21st century Indian society and politics and use it as a negative propaganda.”
In the first part of the book, Ahmed has shed light on Aurangzeb’s circumstances from birth to adolescence, court activities, and the nature of his relationship with his parents and siblings. In the last days of Shah Jahan, the details of how Aurangzeb’s elder brother Darashikoh had rendered his father helpless, how by issuing decrees of his own accord, he attempted to make Aurangzeb, Prince Shuja and Prince Murad fight each other, keep away from the administration and declare himself the future king have been described. It gives a complete picture of the conspiracies of Darashikoh in the last days of his father to stay constrained on him and his instructions and eventually arrest Aurangzeb after his death. The third volume, recently released, examines several of the charges levelled against Aurangzeb against the Rajputs case-wise. For example, some of the allegations against Aurangzeb are that he did not treat the Rajputs well, he did not even give them the honour that was given by the earlier kings, and he was ambivalent about them or that he was anti-Rajput from the beginning; he further tried to convert the Rajputs. It is also alleged that after the death of Maharaja Jaswant Singh, Aurangzeb tried to annex Marwar to the royal empire. This claim has also been made that the number of Rajput position holders dwindled during his reign. Another allegation made up is that his social and kinship relations with the Rajputs were not up to par.
Ahmad, while perusing the relationship between the Rajputs and Aurangzeb, has substantiated that the Rajputs were the strongest of the four pillars on which the throne of the Mughal Empire rested, and if Rajputs were expelled from the courts of the emperors Akbar, Salim, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, the entire government would have collapsed. In such a situation, an experienced statesman and strategist like Aurangzeb could not make the mistake of deliberately ignoring the Rajputs.
Any faux pas or goof of history can never be rectified in the future, except that merely lessons can be learnt from it. Afsar Ahmed has given concrete responses to myriad sets of questions raised in relation to Aurangzeb with arguments. His analysis has proved once again why several notable luminaries in the field of history like Professor B.N. Pandey and Dr. Ram Puniyani have manifested the real side of distorted history through their books like ‘Itihas Ke Sath Ye Anyaye!’ and YouTube videos respectively. It is an undeniable certitude that several authors like Jadunath Sarkar and Hariprasad Shastri have not only documented false histories, but have also misrepresented the background of these events. As a result, esteemed and foremost personalities and rulers like Aurangzeb became victims of distaste, repugnance and abhorrence. In this regard, Afsar Ahmed’s efforts need to be appreciated and acclaimed.
Syed Ilham Jafri is pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan