Saturday, August 29, 2015
Aurangzeb - The Other Side
Yet another Twitter storm! Me thinks the twitterati outrages a bit too much and this time the outrage has arisen due to the renaming of Aurangzeb Road to APJ Abdul Kalam road. Worthies on Twitter, including Assadudin Owaisi, have jumped in to debate Aurangzeb and his policies. I sincerely believe the funniest and most ill informed debates in India happen about history and historical characters. Our ignorance of history is profound and our belief in our great knowledge of history is “profounder”
Be that as it may, I have no intention of either assailing Aurangzeb as an anti-Hindu mass murderer or eulogizing him as a pious Pir. Enough ink has been spilt on his temple demolitions, his imposition of the Jiziya, his unjust imposition of an ad valorem duty only on Hindu traders and his extremely cruel torture and killing of Guru Tegh Bahadur and some of his followers.
I want to speak about the man himself. He lived a full life – he died at 90. What kind of person was he?
Well he was . . . He was a small statured, large nosed, teetotaler chappie who slept very little and worked very hard almost all through his life. And I suspect made his minions work as hard. He held court daily, sometimes twice a day and set aside Wednesdays as Trail Days.
He was a stickler for detail and had a phenomenal memory. The Italian physician Gemelli Careri who saw him in 1695, when Aurangzeb was almost 80, “admired to see him endorse the petitions with his own hand, without spectacles, and by his cheerful smiling countenance seem to be pleased with the employment.” Of course, Gemelli had no clue why he was smiling but clearly our man was quite the bright-eyed workaholic.
Aurangzeb was a master calligraphist and had a passion for reading, which he did right through his life, in spite of his . . . er … um . . . rather busy schedule of killing brothers, imprisoning Daddy, conquering territories, running after Shivaji (exhaustingly unsuccessful running at that) and terrorizing thousands of others.
He was almost a linguist, being the master of Arabic, Persian, Turki and wait for it . . . Hindi. According to Jadunath Sarkar, “… his extensive correspondence proves his mastery over Persian poetry and Arabic sacred literature.” Arabic sacred literature – I would have been shocked if he did not have a command over it. But Poetry? Our Alamgir? Who knew?
The Fatwa-i-Alamgiri, an exhaustive digest of Muslim Law, was put together under his patronage. Even after his death the Fatwa-i-Alamgiri defined Islamic justice in India. I haven’t been able to figure out till when it was used as a standard for Islamic justice in India, but the fact that it continued to be used gives us an indication of the thoroughness with which it was compiled.
The surprise about him is also that he was supposedly a very personable man. Even as a prince, his tact, wisdom and humility made the nobles of Shah Jahan’s court his friends. Of course the immediate conclusion that one can come to is that he was doing this as he was already planning to take the help of all these people when kicking his brothers Shuja and Dara in the ass, but that would be wrong and unjust. Why is that? That is so because these were the very same qualities that he displayed even as an emperor.
Incidentally there are no scandalous stories about his philandering ways. No deflowering of a 1000 virgins like his great-grandfather Akbar. He had only four wives as limited by Quranic injunction. Of them Dilras Banu (1657) and Aurangabadi Mahal (1685) pre-deceased him. His third wife, Nawab Bai, led a retired life in Delhi after 1660. His only companion was his 4th one till his death. She was also very young. Just saying!
Like most rulers in medieval India he was noted for his bravery and uncommon physical strength. Supposedly at about 15 years of age he faced a furious elephant and subdued it. Declaring later that death comes to all and it did not behove his brothers to act the way they did.
Cool as a cucumber in battle and a cunning tactician he gave quite a few examples of these in the innumerable battles that he fought through his life.
On the eve of the Battle of Khajuha, which was fought between Aurangzeb and his brother Shuja for the throne of Delhi, Jaswant Singh who commanded Aurangzeb’s right-wing attacked the camp in the dead of the night and left for Rajputana. Aurangzeb was unfazed, took the information on board recalibrated his battle strategy and turned the tide in battle the next day.
When his son, Prince Akbar revolted against him and allied with the Rathor-Sisodia alliance, Smart Boy Aurangzeb sent a false letter to his son “thanking him for carrying out their plan”. He ensured that that letter fell in the hands of his enemies. Durga Das Rathor took one look at this letter and off he went to check with Prince Akbar. Akbar was fast asleep and DD Rathor was not allowed to meet him. This hardened his suspicion and after kicking some butt in the camp Durga Das and the Rajputs went away to Mewar. When Prince Akbar woke up in the morning, he had a camp but no soldiers. Well almost. And the battle was over before it began. Aurangzeb 1 – 0 Prince Akbar.
Alamgir bhai never felt satisfied without personally accomplishing the duties of the state. He clearly had the capabilities but over time that made him over confident and also suspicious of others, even his own sons. Efficiency deteriorated in the administration along with his growing age. Remember he hit a 90?
Aurangzeb believed in orthodox Sunni Islam. And having claimed the throne of Delhi against the liberal minded Dara, whom he considered to be a heretic, he believed it to be his duty to enforce Quranic law. He believed it was his destiny to convert his realm from Dar-ul-harb to Dar-ul-islam. So he attacked . . . the Hindus, right? Er . . . only the Hindus? No, not at all. The Shias and the Sufis faced the brunt of his orthodoxy too. The Bohra community from Gujarat also suffered at his hands – for heresy!
According to the historian Mohammed Yasin, “Aurangzeb’s recipe might be excellent from the point of view of a Mujaddid (one who brings renewal to religion) . . . but he reduced the Muslim empire to a shadow. . . “. That is absolutely true. He presided over the largest Moghul Empire but also lay the foundation for the ultimate decline of the empire by bleeding it due to his frequent campaigns.
He was a brilliant tactician but he was neither a great strategist nor a statesman. He, in fact, understood the futility of his life work when he wrote to his son Azam with poignant regret, ”The days that have been spent except in austerities have left only regret behind them. I have not at all done any (true) government of the realm or cherishing of the peasantry. Life so valuable has gone away for nothing.”