Monday, September 30, 2013

What Ifs of Indian History - Hemu & The Taj Mahal

When one takes in the tumultuous sweep of medieval Indian history one rarely speaks about or even acknowledges Hemu or Hemachandra, the greengrocer from Alwar in Rajasthan. This is such a surprise because he almost ensured that the Mughal dynasty, one of the better-known ones in India, was not even established. 

Originally from Rewari in Mewat Hemu came to the notice of Sultan Islam Shah (better known as the son of Sher Shah) who promoted him by and by to the post of Daroga-i-Dak-Chauki. Now, I know what you folks are thinking. Dak Chauki? Really? So he got to sort and deliver mail, such as it was, in those times? How exciting is that? I won’t blame you if you did think that. However, this Daroga thingy actually translates into Department of Posts & Intelligence. When one looks at the Intelligence angle of this posting the significance of it all emerges. A suspicious and homicidal Afghan tyrant did not give away this post all that lightly.

But then all good tyrannies come to an end and so did this one when Islam Shah died and his minor son ascended the throne. Adil Shah, in the time honoured regicidal tradition, duly killed his young nephew and ascended the throne himself. However, this little development did nothing to eclipse Hemu’s career growth because Adil Shah left almost the entire control of political and military affairs to Hemu. We will ignore the snide comments made by Badauni and Abul Fazl, the Moghul historians, that Hemu got into the good graces of Adil Shah through ignoble means. Those carping historians I am sure were just sucking up to their paymasters.
Hemu was then placed in charge of all military affairs in all the internecine battles among the Afghans and came up trumps each time. Grudging admiration for this came from both Abul Fazl and Badauni no friends of his.

Hardly had Hemu dealt with this internal menace that Humayun turned up in Hindustan once again in his own stumbling, disoriented way; fumbled his way hither and thither without making any political or military impact and finally tumbled out of this world by slipping down the steps of his library.

Once Humayun died, a very young Akbar was proclaimed the Padshah. It was around this time that Hemu captured both Agra and Delhi by soundly defeating their Moghul governors. According to Abul Fazl, Hemu’s “victories impressed him with evil ideas” and “his intoxication became madness”. In other words Hemu, already in possession of Agra and Delhi and in command of the army decided that he no longer wanted to serve Adil Shah and ascended the throne of Delhi and took the title of Vikramaditya.

So far, so good. But the Moghul menace had not fully gone away. Bairam Khan, the guardian of the minor king Akbar, disregarded his counselors’ advice and marched on Hemu.

The battle between the Moghuls and the Afghans led by Hemu was fought at Panipat on November 5th 1556. Hemu pulverized the right and left wings of the Moghul army and pressed into service “all his mountain like elephants” against the rapidly yielding Centre of the Moghul army. Just when everything was hunky dory an arrow, from the bow of some inconsequential soldier perhaps, struck Hemu in the eye and pierced his brain. This rendered him unconscious and his army, on the verge of victory, taking him for dead fled from the battlefield in sheer panic.

Hemu was captured in an unconscious state and the Moghuls concluded the elegant battle field rituals that they were known for – with Hemu’s head being sent to Kabul to be exposed and his trunk hung from one of the gates of Delhi.

What If Thought: What if that damned arrow had travelled a few inches to the left or right? For one, of course, Hemu would not have fallen unconscious and his army would not have run away like a pack of rats but for the other Hemu would have WON.

Historians are unanimous that had it not been for this arrow-out-of-nowhere, Hemu would have been the victor at the Second Battle of Panipat which might have meant, NO Moghul dynasty in Hindustan. NO Moghuls, No Akbar the Great. No Jehangir. No Shahjahan. Just imagine NO Shahjahan essentially means NO Taj Mahal!!!

Think about it… Just a few inches decided whether the Taj Mahal, the biggest icon of Indian tourism, would get built or not. 

What if, indeed?

Friday, September 20, 2013

And the Deed was Done

The Deed is done. NaMo was finally announced as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate on Friday the 13th. That announcement should have ended the speculation and the behind-the-scenes-intrigues and what have you, but it really did not. 

What had actually happened was that the Tallest Leader a.k.a. Lal Krishna Advani was a strong dissenter and refused to change his mind from a few months back when NaMo was appointed the head of the campaign committee. LKA seems to have raised quite the same issues as last time – that Modi is a polarizing presence and that the BJP would be better off either postponing his anointment as the Prime Ministerial candidate or projecting another leader altogether. 

When LKA had voiced dissent the last time around; he was, in turns, placated and coerced into going along. This time Speaking Head after Speaking Head of the BJP appeared on National TV and spoke of their respect for him but went on to add, sadly, that he is out of tune with the aspirations of the cadres and the Indian masses. The aspiration obviously is to see NaMo as the Prime Minister. 

A week ago LKA certainly looked like a petulant patriarch who was getting increasingly isolated within his own party and who, for all intents and purposes, was talking nonsense by arguing that the BJP would be better off without NaMo at the helm of affairs. 

Today the thinking is that LKA is resigned to the fact that NaMo is the BJP’s PM candidate and that there is nothing he can do now to change the situation. This ‘realization’ probably explains the praise for NaMo’s rural electrification record a couple of days back.

But why on earth was LKA objecting to NaMo? Especially when according to the BJP Talking Heads the entire rank and file of the party was solidly behind NaMo and that they sensed a wave for NaMo across the country. Is it because the Tallest Leader still harbours Prime Ministerial ambitions himself? Or is there solid ground for him to object?  Are LKA’s fears as trivial as is being made out to be by the NaMo supporters? Or are they very valid points that are just being swept under the carpet by the top brass of the BJP?

This Blog, over the next few weeks, will try to analyze if there is merit in LKA’s argument. This is not a partisan blog, neither of us is either a fanatical supporter of NaMo or a rabid opponent. This is merely an attempt to cut through the noise and see if it is truly possible for the BJP under NaMo to win at the hustings in 2014. 

Briefly, a political party needs 273 to come to power at the Centre. Will the BJP be able to achieve that magical number on it own? Highly unlikely that the BJP can get there on its own. In fact it is almost impossible that anyone within the BJP thinks they will be able to come to power at the Centre on their own. That means that the BJP needs the NDA to come to power. As of now, the components of the NDA seem to be the SS and the SAD. Who are the others? There do not seem to be too many others at this point in time to support them.

Let’s run through the laundry list: 

1.       The Communists ---- hahahaha
2.       DMK --- NO
3.       AIADMK – probably
4.       JD(S) - UNLIKELY
5.       TDP – Unlikely
6.       YRS Congress –No?
7.       NCP – NO
8.       BJD – UNLIKELY
9.       TMC – NO
10.   JD (U) – NO
11.   National Conference – NO
12.   The Jharkhand Groups – Probably

Given this scenario who are the allies who are going to bring them the seats that will bring them to power? Do they need allies or can they do with political parties who will provide them outside support post elections? Will these parties come on board with NaMo at the helm, after all they have their own political compulsions?

All of these questions and the answers to them are crucial for the BJP to come to power. Could this be the reason LKA had a problem with NaMo and not out of spite or thwarted ambition?

This is precisely what we plan to explore in great detail along with a state wise break-up of the seats that the BJP/NDA is likely to garner in the 2014 elections.

With Sameer Nair