Image credit: Istock/Denise D’souza for The Swaddle

Last Saturday, the Union Government changed the name of the Mughal Gardens in the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises to “a common name” — Amrit Udyan. The name change, marking the celebrations of Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav prompted leaders from the ruling party to note that it showed India coming out of a “slave mentality.” Kiren Rijuju, the law minister of the country, tweeted that the name change signaled “a powerful symbol of our nation’s progress and a reflection of a brighter future for New India.”

The Mughal Empire refers to the dynasty that reigned over large parts of South Asia — including the Indian subcontinent — during the 16th-19th centuries. These name changes aren’t isolated incidents, and the ruling party’s association of “slave mentality” with Mughal names is reflective of the Hindu nationalist desire to erase the presence of Mughals from the public sphere — and memory. It also shows how the Mughal Empire is often conflated with British rule in India, in service of the narrative that Muslim rulers have colonized a Hindu country.

Accordingly, in the last nine years, Hindu nationalist governments at both the union and state levels have changed the names of several places, monuments, and institutions with Mughal roots. In 2018 the Uttar Pradesh state government led by Yogi Adityanath changed the name of Allahabad — a city christened by the Mughal emperor Akbar — to Prayagraj. The same year, the state government also renamed the erstwhile Mughal Sarai Railway Station after Jan Sangh ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay.

Followers of the ideology of Hindutva and Hindu nationalism have always projected Mughals as one of the biggest villains of India’s glorious and unbroken Hindu past. Since its inception, the Hindutva project has been preoccupied with redefining the question of who the authentic “Indian” is. The ideology propagates the idea that a Hindu and a Muslim can never live together in peace and harmony — not until, at least, the aspects of the Muslim’s religious and cultural identity are subdued in favor of a Hindu nationalistic identity. The Mughals thus become a key historical and cultural institution to erase in this regard, as their role in shaping the country as it is today speaks to how Muslims comprise an integral part of defining an “Indian.”

Thus, many political leaders portray Mughals as villainous — this is a trope that has spread to Bollywood depictions as well. This is also evident in ongoing campaigns against Mughal-era mosques in AyodhyaMathura, and Varanasi. The more recognizable of these relics are often co-opted into alternative historical narratives — as the bid to identify the Taj Mahal as Hindu temple Tejo Mahalay demonstrates.

Mughal erasure hasn’t been confined just to public places and monuments. Last year, the National Council of Education, Research, and Training (NCERT), the body that is responsible for designing textbooks, in their move to achieve “rationalistion of contents in textbooks” in the country, decided to remove chapters on Mughals from secondary school textbooks. Before that, in 2017, the Maharashtra government omitted chapters on the Mughals and the Delhi Sultanate from the history books, even removing the mention of the monuments from the books. Earlier in that same year, in Rajasthan, both the school education board as well as the Rajasthan University changed their history textbooks. They claimed that it was the Rajput hero Maharana Pratap — and not his adversary, the Mughal ruler Akbar — who emerged victorious in the Battle of Haldighati. “In fact all heroes — from Pratap to Prithviraj Chauhan — that the RSS is projecting had lost conclusively. By twisting facts one cannot re-write history,” professor D N Jha, former member of Indian Council for Historical Research, told Hindustan Times.

This story was originally published in . Read the full story here