I remain slightly surprised by our good friend Sandeeps response to our mentioning Dara Shikoh in the CRI Anniversary Edition Podcast with Ashok Malik. In a very well received column written for The Pioneer about two years ago the insightful Ashok Malik had lamented the loss of Dara Shikoh for two different although connected reasons. The first is the lament that the legacy of this scholarly champion of Hindu-Muslim synthesis defeated at the hands of an intolerant Islamist died quickly in the August of 1659. The second lament more prescient and disturbing is concerning the Nehruvian-secularist discourse where the socio-religious Muslim leadership are (depressingly, some would say) more comfortable with projecting Jinnah as the ideal ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity than somebody like Dara Shikoh, perhaps the only personality who came close to befitting the title.

Sandeep, not unsurprisingly, objects to the idea of a Hindu-Muslim synthesis and it is his argument that a synthesis cannot happen unless we reconcile a fundamental contradiction:

But the record on the other side reveals that the ultimate goal of Islam is to make the earth Dar-ul-Islam. Without this knowledge, it’s impossible to understand why Dara was killed or the fact that Dara Shikoh was an apostate to begin with given that Islam forbids Muslims from reading literature of other religions and recommends death as punishment for such an act.

I do not want to look like skirting around this contradiction, however allow me to address another objection Sandeep raises. Our ‘wishy-washy’ analysis or expressions of hope about the Hindu-Muslim project, Sandeep rightfully fears may come in the way of ‘an honest and open examination’ of history. I can only speak for myself and not for either Vijay Vikram or Ashok Malik, and it is my view that such a fear is ill-founded.

The adoption of Dara does not in anyway endorse ‘the Grand Theory of Composite Culture and the Hindu-Muslim Syncretic Epic Romance conceived by Nehru and nurtured by our Marxists’. To the contrary by his portrayal as a model Muslim we contrast him with his intolerant Mughal forefathers (and brother), we deny ipso facto the rosy stories of benevolent Islamic invasions. His isolation in the society of his day, history and contemporary political discourse is what makes him the ideal martyr for Hindu-Muslim relations. Implicit in eulogising Dara is the assertion that the Aurangazebian Islamic intolerance for other faiths is unacceptable dirty behaviour.

After suffering the massacres of the past you would think Indic faith would have already flagged and demonised Islam for its exclusionist outlook towards other faiths. But look around, and ask yourselves if the forces of Hindu revivalism have actually gone that far. I’m afraid most of them have restrained from doing so. Shivaji himself merely offered pious platitudes to his ‘dear Aurang’ on what the Holy Book preaches. Perhaps it was clear to our forefathers that such outright rejection of Islam was a road with a dead-end sign clearly visible from every point on it. Perhaps it was the good old inclusiveness or syncretism at work. Perhaps it was just plain Dhimmitude. It is a question for scholars and I’m quite open to an education on this topic. However the point I wish to make is that the acknowledgement of fundamental contradictions existing between Hinduism and Islam has not occurred to the degree Sandeep may desire.

Now consider the remote possibility of promoting a narrative that insists on Dara being the role model for the sub-continental Muslim. This would serve two purposes – one, it flags albeit in a round about manner the phenomenon of exclusion and persecution of non-Muslims in the previous centuries. Second, the narrative may possibly offer an alternative channel to regressive radicalism being promoted through (the mostly bigot sections of) the Ulema. By rejecting Dara the ulema loses the thin veil of taqiyya it hides its penchant for rejection.

Perhaps the accusation of this author suffering a certain naiveté looks justified in light of the previous two sentences but only allow me to point out that at present I’m hard pressed to find enough tolerant personalities within the Islamic communities that a young Muslim mind can look up to. Kalam, Azad, Ustad Bismillah Khan and a others may qualify but none have gone the distance of Dara and none carry the heavy load of martyrdom at the hands of a Mughal bigot. Come to think of it, it is something  that Dara Shikoh and members of the Right claiming victim-hood have in common.

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Amar Govindarajan is a management professional based out of somewhere in South India. He spends his spare time in bird-watching, dog keeping and reading Popular science. He is also a member of the CRI Editorial team.

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