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Emperor Nay, A Nationalist

In these discordant times, we need to sing of the kindness of Emperor Akbar: master rationalist, believer in one universal god and creator of a great syncretic nation

Emperor Nay, A Nationalist
Emperor Nay, A Nationalist
outlookindia.com
2019-12-06T11:37:23+05:30

We often try to contextualise medieval rulers in today’s world and judge them acc­ording to today’s norms. Manimughda Sharma starts Allahu Akbar by viewing Akbar through a modern lens. He begins with 1941, when there was unrest in India, with the growing chasm between the Muslim League and the Congress following the Lah­ore Resolution, when the country was caught in a feeling of ill-will which eventually led to Partition. A certain Adi K. Munshi of Bombay  wrote a letter to the the Times of India (published on Oct­ober 15, 1941), wishing for peace and communal amity. “He longed for a leader whom he thought could unite the Hindus and Muslims. It was not Moh­andas. K. Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah or Jawaharlal Nehru. It was not Subhas Chandra Bose or Vallabhbhai Patel. It was someone from the glorious past of India. It was Emperor Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar,” writes Sha­rma. Munshi called him ‘the gre­a­test Indian nationalist of all time’.

This book examines the reasons for that statement. In the mid-sixteenth century, the young Akbar, who had just bec­ome emperor, went on a hunt—a pastime that also kept men battle-ready—near Math­ura, birthplace of Lord Krishna. The emperor saw many pilgrims going to the temple. He spent time with the pilgrims, talking to them, trying to understand their problems. He came back and abolished the pilgrimage tax—a tax levied since the 12th century on non-Muslims visiting their place of worship. Akbar felt that levying a tax on someone going to see his god was a sin. This was in 1563, and he was willing to forgo taxes worth crores of rupees (as per Abul Fazl in Akbarnama) at a time when the Mughal Empire was yet to be the world’s richest empire with a quarter of its GDP.

“In simpler words,...

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