Rahul Gandhi, the 47-year old scion of the Nehru dynasty, is all set to ascend the throne of the Congress Party. If things go as planned, he will succeed his mother, Smt Sonia Gandhi, and become the sixth member from the Nehru family to be coronated Congress party president.
The grand old party of Indian politics has seen five presidents since 1978. For all but seven of those thirty-nine years, a member of the Nehru dynasty has been its president. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, daughter of Pandit Nehru and grand-daughter of Motilal Nehru, both past presidents themselves, was party president from 1978 to 1984, till her assassination. She was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Gandhi, who was its president from 1985 to 1991, till his assassination. From 1998 to the present day, the Congress party’s president has been Italian-born Smt Sonia Gandhi, wife of Rajiv Gandhi, and mother of Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi’s political acumen has been the matter of intense speculation, as has been his grasp of basic facts of Economics and Geography. But let’s leave that for another day. The latest bit of controversy came via Congress party senior politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar, who responded to a question on Rahul Gandhi’s pending elevation as Congress party president, by comparing it to the succession of the Mughal kings, and even going to the extent of making an indirect comparison of Rahul Gandhi to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb, as most Indians will know from their history, was arguably the cruellest of all Mughal kings, a religious bigot, and who destroyed many temples out of a sense of religious hatred. One can watch a video clip of Mr Aiya’s comment on ABP here.
This is what Mani Shankar Aiyar said – “Firstly, when Shah Jahan took the place of Jahangir, did any election take place? When Aurangzeb took the place of Shah Jahan, did any election take place? No. It was known from the very beginning, that whoever is the child of the king, and would become the king, unless they fought amongst each other. BUT, in a democracy, elections take place. And I invite Shehzad Poonwala, that if he wants to stand for elections here, then let him please come, apply for the post, and have you heard of this name Shehzad Poonawala before?”
While some argue the second part of his statement is relevant, when juxtaposed with comments made in October 2017, it is evident that Aiyar indeed believes in the first half of his statement.
In October, 2017, he had said, “I think only two people can be Congress President, mother or son. Rahul already said he is ready to contest election.” His statement now, in December, are consistent with his line of thinking that only people worthy of being Congress party president are either mother or son. More can be read here.
But let’s leave the present behind and take a short tour down history lane, to the Mughal empire, to be precise. Since the Congress party loyalists have chosen to compare its presidents to the Mughal kings, it is but fair that we see what historians have written about this Mughal empire, especially of the occupiers of the throne after Aurangzeb.
“It was a period of clash of ambitions, of group rivalries, of base intrigues, of licentious orgies and, above all, of the decline of moral and ethical values. [Individuals] were permeated with callous indifference toward the interests of the very institution which was the main source of their honour and sustenance. These courtiers failed to realize that they were playing with fire…”
Of the foreigners who came from Persia and Transoxiana, at best it could be said that,
“they could only still boast of their pride of birth; as to their worth, it had become conspicuous by its absence among them. They had plenty of ambition; but they sought to satisfy it at the cost of the empire.”
Generally speaking, the assessment of Aurangzeb’s successors goes something like this –
“… the sovereigns who were expected to set the ideal, were immersed in licentiousness. Their vision hardly ever travelled beyond the four walls of their palaces. They spent most of their time in the harem making merry with the cup and their concubines, or in the gay company of poets and musicians in utter disregard to their own duty. Such debased specimens of humanity could hardly evoke sympathy or inspire respect.”
Of particular interest is the Mughal King who ascended the throne in 1712. The eldest of Mughal king Bahadur Shah’s four sons, Jahandar Shah became the Mughal king after dispatching his other three brothers in what was an obligatory fratricidal war. This, then, is what historians have to say about Jahandar Shah:
“Though about fifty year of age (note that Rahul Gandhi is forty-seven years old), he behaved like a frivolous young man of eighteen. His morals were highly depraved. He drank heavily and passed most of his time in the company of his mistress – Lal Kunwar, whose relations had obtained high posts in government service. Nor could his Vazir Zu’lfiqar fill in the void successfully. He had been overtaken by senile decay. He devolved his entire responsibility on his favourite, Sabha Chand.”
Sailendra Nath Sen, Professor of History at the University of Calcutta, has described Jahandar Shah as “a worthless debauch.” (A Textbook of Medieval Indian History. Primus Books. p. 193.)
How did Jahandar Shah’s reign come to an end? His nephew, Farrukh-siyar, combined forces with the Sayyid brothers, and met Jahandar Shah near Agra. Jahandar Shah, the Mughal emperor, fled to Delhi on a bullock cart, accompanied by his mistress, Lal Kunwar. He was duly betrayed, arrested, and after a month in confinement, was strangled to death.
And how did Farrukh-siyar die? The Sayyid brothers collaborated with Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat and deposed Farrukh-siyar, who was thrown into jail. After being “subjected to all sorts of torture by his jailors,” he was put out of his misery in 1719 by professional executioners who strangled him to death.
Do we detect a pattern here?
Let’s end with a brief evaluation of Muhammad Shah, the fourth son of Bahadur Shah, who was placed on the Mughal throne by the Sayyid brothers in 1719.
“Never before did a more care-free sovereign sit on the throne of Delhi. This lad of 17 had passed most of his time within the four walls of the palace, in the society of eunuchs and ladies of the harem. None had cared for his education, because few could foresee the good fortune which lay in store for him. … He was a lover of pleasure, indolent and addicted to loose habits. He made it a rul of his life never to decide anything for himself; his favourites did it for him. … He had no initiative, nor even the dash of some of his predecessors. Rustam Ali, the author of Tarikh-i-Hind, says that ‘Muhammad Shah was negligent of his duties; but the fat is that he did not know if he had any duties to perform.’”
With a senior Congress leader making a comparison between Rahul Gandhi and Mughal kings, it is perhaps only fitting that the nation know about the glorious nature of aforesaid Mughal kings.
It is truly said that history repeats itself – first as a tragedy, and then as a farce. We live in interesting times to be able to witness the farce, on live, prime-time television.
- P. Saksena, in “The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol 8 – The Maratha Supremacy”.
- Indian National Congress – Past Party Presidents (accessed Dec 4th, 2017)
- The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon – Wikipedia (accessed Dec 4th, 2017)