October 15th, 1997
Akhilesh Mithal

When Rapists Become Well-Wishers


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The State visit of Elizabeth II started as a most curious spectacle. Both Robin Cook, her foreign secretary, and she herself were seen with both feet stuck firmly in their mouths. The Indian Prime Minister as a good host could not bear the embarrassment of his honoured guests. He took a deep breath and opening his own mouth wide stuck his own foot in! Does this qualify for some kind of Guinness accreditation?

On October 12, your columnist had expressed his disapproval of the whole thing. The suspicion of British intentions was based upon their most reprehensible record and performance. Readers should know that the column was “lifted” by an agency called AFP from the report that has appeared in the issue of October 9 in a Pakistani daily of Lahore called The Nation. This paper was brought across by a friend who saw the excerpts. It also has the text of the speech of Elizabeth II to the joint houses of the Pakistani Parliament. There is also a report of the doings of Robin Cook in Lahore and Islamabad.

The impression given by reading the text of the speech and also what the minister of the Crown did and said is that like L’ Ancient Regime of France, the British have learnt naught and forgotten nothing. The Queen says, “The making of wise Iawa is fundamental to Pakistan’s success. Without them neither the judiciary nor the executive can play their part.” Shades of the Pickwick Club?

Not to be outdone by a mere constitutional monarch, the foreign secretary went and met a man called Sultan Mehmood who heads the alleged Azad Government of Jammu and Kashmir while resident in Pakistan! To him he said that he would take up Kashmir with Gujral and “impress upon him to proceed for a dialogue.”

The paper claims that this is the very first time a British foreign secretary has called on the head of the so-called “Azad” J&K Government.

The monarch’s speech had an exhortation to both India and Pakistan to bury the hatchet and become friends so that the advantages of a “common market” kind of economy could accrue to both.

Readers will remember that before the gun-toting buccaneers from Europe came and messed up things, India was one big production and export base. Gold and silver flowed into the country and never went out unless looted by invaders.

Lahore was the point from which caravans laden with textiles, salt, sugar and spices left for markets in Central Asia. Surat supplied the Ottoman and the Safavid empires of Turkey and Iran. The port of Masulipatam (Machhlipatanam) supplied Africa and the Far East. Dacca (Dhaka) supplied the rest of India and also the South East.

Plassey (1757) saw the richest State in India come under the British. The gold looted from here and later (1792 and 1799) from Karnataka gave the British access to unto1d wealth. Thus the capital formation necessary for industrialisation took place and caused the hitherto poverty stricken Britain to host the Industrial Revolution. The “Spinning Jenny (genie)” produced cheap “look alike” or “duplicate” muslin and destroyed the Indian spinners and weavers. In India, it is said that because the spinners using the tuklee or spindle could produce 2,000 strands to the inch and the Spinning Jenny only 120, the East India Company factors cut off the thumbs of the Dhaka (Dacca) spinners. This may be an exaggeration but taking away a livelihood is as bad as maiming.

It is amazing that after all the damage they caused, the perfidious Ungreyz should now ask India and Pakistan to be good boys to shake hands and kiss and make friends so that they can resume the pre-eminence they had in the 18th century!

Readers will ask, “Who is responsible for all this embarrassment and chagrin?” Surely the finger of accusation should point at the so-called “steel frame,” the permanent officials who surrendered their initiative to British suggestions and became victims of manipulation. For it is in the interest of the British to have their monarch visit both India and Pakistan and unburden herself of homilies.

It will go to further the thesis that the empire was built in “a fit of absent-mindedness” that lasted 200 years. That no benefit was expected to accrue or did accrue to Britain for all this effort. That “The White Man’s Burden” was carried to impart the “natives” training in “democracy” and “self-government.”

The Prime Minister should ensure that the Ministry of Human Resources, Education and Culture is run by people from the disciplines of education and culture and not by the IAS. Even technical jobs like director general, Archaeological Survey, National Museum, the National Archives and secretary, Culture are run by IAS. The IAS themselves are demoralised because none of them is good enough to take over from the superannuated home secretary and cabinet secretary. The buck must stop somewhere in the system and if it does not, even after the present experience, more causes for embarrassment and chagrin will arise with unfailing regularity.

In this the 51st year when we are celebrating fifty years of freedom from the feringhee, knowledge, imagination and sensitivity were needed. How many of the Indian illiterate IAS officers know that October 15 is a red letter day in the history of India and of humanity? It was on this day in 1542 that the great ruler and humanitarian, Jalaaluddeen Muhammad Akbar saw light of day. It was the night of the full moon and the place was Umerkote, now in Sindh, Pakistan.

Akbar came to the throne in February 1555 and ruled India until his death in October 1605. He started as an orthodox Sunni and was known to sweep the mosque on Fridays and also give the call to prayers (Aazaan). He was harsh to Shias, and others who were the object of hate for the Sadr-us-Sudur Abdun Nabi and the other senior cleric Abdulla Sultanpuri.

In a short time, Akbar discovered the venality of these two. One used to gift all his wealth to his wife a day before the annual payment of zakaat became due. Its gifting back meant that neither owner had possession of the wealth for the statutory one year period which made it liable to tax. Thus no zakaat was due or paid. In the other case bribes were taken for land and cash grants to scholars and savants.

A visit to the family burial grounds of Abdulla Sultanpuri’s showed that the shrouds contained gold bricks in place of cadavers. Akbar was cured of bigotry. He had married Rajput princesses earlier and abolished jazia when he was barely 22 years old and this experience strengthened him.

In consultation with the brilliant Shaikh Mubarak and his most talented son Abul Fazl, Akbar evolved the doctrine of sulh-i-kul or “peace with all” as the State policy on religion. This upset the vested interests and trouble was fomented against him. Akbar manfully resisted all attempts to undermine his authority and his even handed justice and provided outlet for talent wherever it was found, gave the administrative, business and intellectual activity of India a unique stature and an aura of excellence and endeared the House of Teymour to all. The narrow confines of caste, creed, community and religious protestation were overcome.

Akbar offered the princesses of his, the imperial family, to the rajas and raos from whom he accepted brides for himself, his sons and grandsons. But the Rajputs declined as the union would have resulted in the princesses dominating their harems and cohabitation forcing them to change religion. Kaviraj Shyamaldass, court historian of the Sisodias of Udeypore, Mewar has covered this point in detail in his Veer Vinod.

Akbar’s companion Birbal was a Brahmin. His wit is proverbial and the stories amuse till today. The court musician Miyan Tansen has not been equalled for his mastery over his discipline and art form. The commanding general, Kunwar Man Singh conquered Afghan tribes for Akbar and his descendants still fly the pennants and flags they won from tribes in that area.

The land revenue system of Todar Mal was found effective wherever the empire got extended. The revenues of Shah Jahan, emperor from 1628-1658, were substantially higher than those of Akbar because of the excellence of this system.

Akbar and his successors gave the House of Teymour legitimacy and acceptability which was to continue for six generations and 150 years after the monarchy lost political grip and power. After Awrungzeyb’s death in 1707, the Maratha and Sikh freebooters overran large sections of the empire. They collected one-fourth of the revenue (chauth) and the PM should order a study of how their operations compare with the Bodos and ULFA today.

Despite no money, no Army and no power, the Mughal remained the symbol of legitimacy. All coins, documents, titles, etc., were legitimised by the affixation of his name and seal.

In 1857 the last Emperor, Bahadur Shah II Zafar was chosen to be the symbol of the uprising revolt and mutiny. When it failed, the Mughal dynasty or House of Teymour paid the forfeit in the shape of the lives of 21 sons and grandsons of the emperor killed and strung up outside the kotwaalee and left to hang until the putrefied flesh became dust.

The emperor himself was subjected to all manner of insult and humiliation before being sentenced to lifelong exile in Burma. He pined to be buried between his father and grandfather and wrote in exile from Rangoon:

Thaa itna budnuseeb “zafar,” dufn kay liyay
doa guzz zumeen bhee neh milee, kouey yaair mein!

Alas! For Zafar (once emperor of Hind) who cou1d not muster even two yards of land to shelter his bones in the earth of his homeland, the alleyway of the beloved!

For the celebration of 50 years of freedom for the Indians from the feringhee what better than making the l5th of October a day of fest for Akbar whose birthday it is?

To link 1857 with 1997, a committee should have been formed to honour the martyrs and victims of all the battles for freedom waged throughout the period of the British intrusion. The logistics of bringing the bones and dust of Bahadurshah should have been studied.

A palace each for Pakistan and the UK would have been appropriate. Pakistan because it is shared history and the UK because Victoria Saxe Coburg and Gotha exiled Zafar. This would have made quite sure that the inane remarks of Elizabeth II did not occur.

Now that both Cook and Gujral have denied the remarks they were alleged to have made, it is hoped that they have learnt their respective lessons. For the British, the lesson is that you cannot be a rapist well-wisher. The idea is self-destructive because of internal contradictions.

India has to learn that anticipation is better than reaction. If the Indian illiterate mandarins and politicians insist on not having a proper history, they will continue to be at the mercy of manipulators from the West and find themselves surprised and suffer embarrassment like the one on October 13.


Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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