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Our Very Own Taliban


The Hindustan Times, Apr. 9, 2004

Photo: Khushwant Singh

The recent controversy over Jawaharlal Nehru's views on Shivaji in his two books, Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History brings to the fore the growing menace of intolerance in our country.

Like his earlier book, the autobiographical Towards Freedom (1936), it was widely acclaimed and went into many editions. Likewise a third book, Glimpses of World History, was widely read.

There was nothing in these books which could offend the susceptibilities of readers - and in fact did not do so. However, come election time, politicians cook up versions of their own to serve their purposes. So Gopinath Munde, president of the Maharashtra B.J.P., decided to condemn Nehru and the Congress for being anti-Shivaji and thus gain votes for himself and his party.

He had to fall flat on his face because there is no substance in his allegations. Nehru, like all Indians, admired Shivaji as a hero who fought against an oppressive and religiously discriminative rule imposed by the bigoted Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb. Shivaji was an outlaw, correctly described as the Grand Rebel. One may dispute some of his actions (as I did of his killing Afzal Khan while embracing him), but it made little difference to my admiration for him. So how else can you describe people who take umbrage over such trivialities except as narrow-minded bigots and the Taliban of modern India.

Maharashtrians aren't the only victims of the bigots. Sikhs of Punjab have suffered at the hands of self-appointed guardians of maryada (tradition). In the past, jathedars [chiefs] of the takhts (seats of temporal authority) have been pronouncing hukamnamas (ordinances) excommunicating those they declare tankhaiya (penalised) and proscribing punishment. Victims of their diktats include Buta Singh, S.S. Barnala and Sikh scholars whose writings they found objectionable.

Their latest victim is Joginder Singh, editor of The Spokesman. He had the audacity to question the power of the jathedar of the Akal Takht. He was summoned to appear before a conclave of jathedars and when he failed to do so, he was excommunicated. Fortunately, Joginder has a sizeable following of readers. The pronouncement fell on deaf ears.