Public Enemy #1: Mughals Must Be the Only Medieval Dynasty With 21st-Century Political Opponents

Social Commentary

Public Enemy #1: Mughals Must Be the Only Medieval Dynasty With 21st-Century Political Opponents

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The Mughals of India are no different from any other medieval dynasty in how they had many political rivals during the course of their rule. One thing that does distinguish the Mughals from other medieval dynasties though is that they are the only one that still has political opponents in the 21st century. The biggest proponent of the anti-Mughal narrative in contemporary India has to be Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who just announced that he will be renaming an upcoming Mughal museum in Agra after Chhatrapati Shivaji, the Maratha king who fought against Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, because the Mughals are persona non grata in the current era.

Construction of the Mughal Museum, or rather Shivaji Museum as it will now be called, was begun under Adityanath’s predecessor, the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. After a meeting to review development works in Agra division, a government spokesperson told the media, “Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced to name the under-construction Mughal Museum in Agra after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He made it clear that his government always nurtured the nationalist ideology and anything which smacks of subservient mentality will be done away with.”

In many ways, the Mughals compete with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for the title of historical figures who are blamed for modern problems. The idea that Mughals were foreign invaders has taken root in the public’s mind, despite the fact that they settled in India for generations, and after centuries of assimilation, intermarriage, and coexistence, were as native as any other inhabitants of the subcontinent. So, because of this misconception, Mughals are seen as outsiders, and an easy punching bag to score some patriotic points.

Of course, the UP government’s decision has also invited criticism. Notable historians have pointed out how attacking the Mughals for their rule hundreds of years ago is merely a smokescreen to obscure current inadequacies in governance. But the populist nature of the move highlights how the Mughals have become public enemy number one, long after they have faded from power.