Democracy has once again died in Modi’s India. The absolute artistic freedom which the constitution of India awards to all citizens, except leaving out the critics of Abrahamic religions to protect minority rights, naturally a corollary of farsighted interventions by Pandit Nehru, is under threat again.
The famous director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who had erred only once by glorifying a Brahmin character like Bajirao, was bashed up on the sets of his movie in Rajasthan by Hindus following Brahminical agenda. I forgive Bhansali for Bajirao today, and condemn those who attacked him.
Unsurprisingly, this reign of violence unleashed by Hindu terrorists and backed tacitly by the right wing militant government of the state of Rajasthan and the centre, attracted sharpest of criticism from the conscientious and socially responsible Bollywood fraternity. Time and again, Bollywood luminaries have stood up to issues that divide our society and constrict their limits of expression. These luminaries however are not blinded in their hatred like the Hindu fundamentalists – they are very careful about protecting minority sentiments and mitigating the impact of modernism on orthodox societies.
Hence while Anurag Kashyap clearly called out Hindu terrorism in Rajasthan, he was very careful in separating religion from terrorism 10 days ago during another Twitter argument. Of course this underlying sense of righteousness is exactly why Bollywood has never protested closure of theatres in Kashmir – right to self determination in a disputed territory is paramount.
It is unfortunate that Bhansali has been denied a right to educate Indians on a subject they have no knowledge of i.e. history. This is even more unfortunate, because while Mughals laid the foundation of the modern day nation-state of India and British created the institutional plumbing burying evil native influences, it was actually Alauddin Khilji who did all the hard work between 1296 and 1316 AD.
Khilji really was the architect of the modern day India in many ways. This aspect of history has not been adequately explored by eminent historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib because of the pressure mounted on them by right wing fundamentalists through 1950s. But it is important that Khilji’s contributions find a place at the high civilization table they deserve.
Indic historians like Sita Ram Goel too agree with this. You have to read the book Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders – 636 AD to 1206 AD. Goel explains how despite the hard work of brave warrior classes of the Mid West, native subaltern, unorganized, tribal people of modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan didn’t understand them well and prevented them from civilizing the disjointed land mass nurtured later by Mughals and British as India. Khilji inherited this legacy. The brave emperor, who called himself The Second Alexander, did not fail where his Roman predecessor did.
In a vast, fractured landmass, Khilji was the great unifying power. His battles and conquests are well documented. However, less known is his work in patronizing arts, creating a strong modern economy, his pioneering contribution of local political empowerment, crusade for LGBT rights, and his relentless efforts to create a society where only those believing in equality and uniformity of rights would thrive. Each of these areas needs exploration.
Alauddin Khilji was a great patron of arts and artists. Today when we hear the various renditions of Chhap Tilak Sab Chheeni by artists from Pakistan and India alike, we don’t realize that Alauddin Khilji gave us this ganga-jamuni tehzeeb. He was the one who patronized Amir Khusro, the legendary sufi poet, and even took him along on war tourism in Rajasthan. Rajasthan derives its tourism stature today to the efforts of Khilji who encouraged his court historians to fearlessly travel in the region. They documented brave acts of conquest like crushing rebellious little kids under elephants, and saving Hindu women from ancient patriarchy moving them into comfortable and safe sanctuaries, unfairly called harems by later historians.
The sufi culture has survived over 700 years thanks to Khusro (and his mystic inspiration Nizamuddin Auliya). It has been widely praised even by otherwise fascist Modi, which shows the greatness of Khilji.
Khilji’s troops got the Kohinoor diamond from Warangal, which is now protected by the benevolent British nurturers far away from fractious sub continental prying eyes. This ranks as a top effort of integrating disparate cultures of the north and the south. His armies also defeated the Parmar dynasty in Malwa, where “the earth was moistened with Hindu blood” as per Khusro. This was the first example of promoting organic farming techniques anywhere in the world.
Khilji always gave away the land he conquered to a local governor to rule. This practice was the precursor to the zameendari system later perfected in the Mughal era. This focus on local self rule is evident in how Ain-ul-Mulk Multani prospered in Malwa. His generosity is reflected in how Malik Kafur, his slave, was made an Army General and rose to become the most feared army leader in the subcontinent. Khilji clearly had a sharp eye for talent.
Khilji established a wonderful economic order, which is a great inspiration even today as modern India fights the same problems Khilji solved in his times. He enacted the first land reform by centralizing all land and creating a direct relationship between farmers and state. He cut middlemen and land owners, thus increasing the productivity of the economy and established a fair and redistributive taxation system run by professional and empowered tax collectors, who could dispense swift justice to defaulters by simply eliminating them.
Khilji created further local empowerment by taxing everything – house, land, standing crops, and of course by imposing jiziya. This redistributive approach created strong fiscal resources for the state, something Modi can learn from even today. He also created a fixed-price trading market in essential commodities in Delhi, where profiteering was not allowed. Everyone got everything for cheap pre-determined price, thus crushing immoral capitalists and traders, mostly Hindus.
Khilji was the first global champion of LGBT rights. His love affair with Malik Kafur is documented in Tarikh-e-Firozshahi. Khilji kept 50,000 slave boys in his harem. In Gujrat, he abducted 20,000 “beautiful” maidens and children to give them a life of dignity. He thus removed the barriers of gender, caste, class and age, and let true love prevail in his empire. Bollywood has used this as a dialogue in so many top movies without realizing that Khilji actually embodied this spirit.
Khilji created a just and an equal society. All his citizens were treated equally as long as they met a simple precondition of being Muslims. He promoted self help in society. Wassaf says in a 1310 book quoting Khilji’s officially appointed chief Kazi – “If a Muhammadan decides to spit, Hindu must open his mouth”.
It can be argued that Modi has drawn his inspiration of Swachh Bharat from this pioneering intervention of Khilji. Of course unlike Khilji, Modi is doomed to fail given his authoritarian and fascist impulse.
Using this great backbone of governance which Alauddin Khilji created, Tughlaqs and Mughals carved out a modern, tolerant, vibrant, and inclusive nation that we today know as India. If 38,000 women in Chittodgarh decided not to be part of this promising future, is this really Khilji’s fault?
It is truly unfortunate that Sanjay Leela Bhansali was prevented from making a movie on this great unifier of history. It will be too much to hope from Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take moral responsibility against the attack on Bhansali and resign. If they don’t resign, one hopes that Rajasthan will become Kannaur, where the cycle of violence started by Hindu nationalists is now coming a full circle. Full circles lead to closures and closure we must get on Bhansali.
(The author thanks @TrueIndology, @UnsubtleDesi, @Alok_Bhatt, and @c_aashish for having copied their tweets without permission and without context. Author also requests the editor to ignore the fact that Bhansali might not be planning to portray Khilji as depicted above, for this is not about Bhansali, this is about Khilji. Looking forward to see this published on Scroll.)