Why India’s Majoritarian Reactionaries are Scared of Mughals?

Prayagraj, is the new name given to the city of Allahabad, by the monk politician, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest province. Fact is, across the river, there does exist a locality called Prayag, where also exists a railway station with that name. Ancient prayag was destroyed in flood.

Long after that, the fort and the city of Allahabad was founded in 1583 by the Mughal ruler Akbar on the other side of the river. Thus, ancient Prayag and Akbar’s (and modern day) Allahabad are two different entities.

My colleague and an expert in Mughal Indian History, Prof. Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, informs us,

“Akbar had named it Ilāh bās, which during the reign of Shahjahan became popular as Ilāhabād. The British started writing it as Allahabad, the City of Allah!

Why did Akbar give the name Ilāh bās? Two reasons are forwarded, one by contemporary Persian sources, the other a legend based on local mythology.

According to the contemporary chronicles, like the account of Abdul Qadir Badayuni, when Akbar was informed about the devotion of the Hindus to the sacred site of Sangam and their wish to die there, as a death there would mingle their soul with the spirit of God, he instantly decided to rename the place as Ilāh bās, the Abode of God! He was in fact honouring the Hindu sentiments by acknowledging its divine status!

But then there is a legend. Ilā is actually the mother of Pururvas, the progenitor of Aila tribe. The Mahabharata mentions the name also as a river (variously identified) or as a king. Vās means abode. Again the meaning comes to Abode of Ilā!

Which of the above is Yogi negating?

Remember Akbar never called it Allahabad, the British masters with whom Hindutva forces collaborated, did!”


A memoir of a British Civil servant, John Beames (1837-1902) tell us that in 1858, the British added an extended portion to the [Mughal] city of Allahabad, the Civil Lines and the military Cantonment, and called it ‘Canning Town’. This name did not survive. Yet, let us note the fact that, something was added to the physical part of the city, with a concrete purpose. It therefore also inevitably added to the infrastructure of the city as well. This is not something being done in the Yogi’s politics of renaming the cities.

Thus, what Yogi is doing is a kind of poaching, a theft. In academics, it will be called plagiarism. Steal away other’s creations and name it after your own.

Politically speaking, this erasure of past is symptomatic of the inability to build anything on the same scale for the future. They are trying to overcome the embarrassment of not being able to do better than what they hate.

Yogi and his extended Sangh Parivar, could have thought of modernising, improving urban amenities, and providing much better facilities to the huge humanity of pilgrims visiting the confluence of the rivers (Sangam).

Erasure of past is also done by the custodians of Mecca. This too is vandalism. Ziauddin Sardar’s book, Mecca: The Scared City (2014), elaborates upon it beautifully and intelligently. He argues that the holiest site in Islam has become a centre of brash consumerism and architectural folly. Notwithstanding this valid argument, the KSA also improves the urban infrastructure for best possible stay of the Haj pilgrims from across the globe.

We as a secular state, unlike the Saudia Arabia, may or may not spend public money for that. If not, then there could be many more ways of attracting people’s and corporate houses’ fund to do that. Neither Banaras, now the parliamentary seat of the Prime Minister, nor Allahabad has been able to see urban face-lifting, despite the media hype of massive Smart City project launched by the incumbent regime in New Delhi.

Few months ago, they re-named Mughalsarai after Deen Dayal Upadhyay. On February 11, 1968, this Hindu nationalist of the RSS was found dead at that railway station. They also re-named the Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi and some hot-headed majoritarian reactionaries wish to rename the Akbar Road as well. In the directory of the Hindu extremist organizations, there is a long list of towns and cities to be renamed in these ways.

Earlier, non-Hindutva regimes also renamed the cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Bangalore, etc. But there is a slight difference here between the politics of renaming places by the two different groups. While the renaming of these mega-cities was not motivated by an anti-Muslim hatred, the saffron politics of re-naming has explicit anti-Muslim hatred.

Why are these reactionaries scared of the huge accomplishments of the rulers of India’s past happening to be Muslims? Why do they hate everything [perceived to be] carrying something ‘Muslim’? In what ways do this resemble with Hitler’s hatred against the Jews in Germany? Can such a huge minority be exterminated, the way Hitler did? Periodic massacres,  lynching on the pretext of cow protection, staging fake police encounters to kill Muslim youth, and framing terror charges against Muslim youth and incarcerating them for long years (against most of whom eventually no evidence is produced in the court of law), all these are part of this majoritarian politics.

Is it because, the Mughals became completely Indian, in every sense, and united vast Indian subcontinent together, not only territorially, but also the hearts and minds of people with multiple religio-cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversities? They, arguably, made India an enviable super power in the then world!

Some credible historical researches make a comparative assessment of Mughal India and Europe of 16th-17th centuries. These works demonstrate that in various indices, India was far ahead of Europe. Some European travellers to India, of that era, would make comparisons of London and Paris with Indian cities quite favourably. The Hindutva rulers of today are scared of acknowledging such accomplishments? Why? Is it because such acknowledgements will not let them “otherise” the India’s Muslims today? They would not then be able to create an atmosphere of hatred and polarization, through a communalised consolidation of Hindus, against Muslims. Is it an attempt at deflecting people’s attention from the issues of corruption, unemployment, inflation, etc.,?

They are basically scared of the polychromatic composite culture which was fostered and entrenched deeply by these rulers of India’s proud past, happening to be non-Hindus. The saffron project of a majoritarian, hegemonistic, assimilative, Hindu Rashtra finds a great obstruction in the composite culture of India. They are like the Islamists of Pakistan and elsewhere who try to erase past memories. Just as chauvinistic Islamists deny the literary-cultural accomplishments of pre Prophet Arabia, and just as such elements within Pakistan tend to forget the accomplishments of Indus Valley civilization, of Vedic era, of Mauryan and Gupta era. They are like the Taliban of Afghanistan who destroyed the Budha statue of Bamiyan more than a decade ago.

Forces of retrogression are scary of diversities. Yogi and his cohorts wish to do just that.  Human history teaches us that such ideas and practices of erasing past and memories end up destroying nations before such forces themselves meet their nemesis.

The article first appeared in 




Professor Mohammad Sajjad

Professor Mohammad Sajjad, who is at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, is the author of Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours and Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857.

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