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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 40, New Delhi, September 26, 2015

To Modi, From Aurangzeb

Monday 28 September 2015

by Rohit Chopra

Your Highness, Emperor of India, host of Mann ki Baat, harbinger of achhe din, Lord of the bhakts, I hope you are well. I trust you will not mind if I call you Emperor. I know you are a democratically elected leader, but your regal bearing and magnificent sartorial adventures are worthy of the finest traditions of hereditary monarchy and feudal nobility. And, beside, as pretty much most Indians know, you don’t necessarily have a liking or patience for parliamentary democracy. Don’t blame you for that.

By the way, the next time someone throws that at you, you can hand them a copy of Hind Swaraj and tell them Gandhi didn’t think much of it either. A crying shame you had to part with that beautiful suit, with its golden thread resplendently proclaiming your name over and over again. Any king with an iota of fashion-sense worth his name, from Louis XIV to Kanye West, would be proud to have that in his wardrobe. Don’t ever capitulate on the turbans, you hear me?

I am writing simply to say that I bear no ill-will toward you for stripping my name of that road, tony, tony address though it was. I know it was the New Delhi Municipal Corporation that effected the change, perhaps at the behest of a BJP leader. But it happened on your watch. The buck stops with the Emperor. In any event, I suspect you’re not particularly unhappy about it. Parenthetically speaking, will you let me know if it cropped up at all at the RSS conclave? I’m really curious to know.

You see, Narendraji, we’re really not that different, you and I, once you adjust for historical difference and different contextual standards. And, no, I’m not just talking about the taste for imperial threads.

We’ve both had to manage a large, unwieldly, and fractious population—these endlessly argumentative Indians, I tell you! You probably don’t care for Amartya much, but he is on to something there, isn’t he? Of course, I have the advantage of decades of rule, but it is just your second year so you do get some slack. Word of advice: not sure you’ll be able to turn all of India into Gujarat-—find me a Punju who isn’t befuddled by dhokla— but I’ll let you figure that out on your own. Then there’s the bad rap for targeting minorities or, at the very least, being callously indifferent to them. I won’t deny my hands aren’t clean there but, hey, in what bizarre universe does Akbar get called secular? His violence against people of other faiths is ‘political’ and mine ’religious’? Wah!! I must say I agree with the RSS high command that the JNU must be shut down for its crime of dividing Indian history into neatly opposing camps of ‘communal’ and ’secular’. Seriously, none of these academic dudes can even govern a faculty meeting with any competence! But you and I, men of the world, know the mess that realpolitik entails.

I’m sure you’re familiar with this double standard. It must gall to see the Congress call itself secular again and again, what with its role in unlocking the Babri Masjid and the 1984 riots, two small facts that every Indian except, Mani Shankar Aiyar, is aware of.

I also really dig your style of marginalising rivals, seniors, peers, and irritants. Showering them with awards, keeping them grounded at home, cutting them out of the decision-making process, or—my personal favourite—postings in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Nice! My methods were, well, a tad more direct, but we are talking about the seventeenth century. Sidenote to the ignorant Indian media: the seventeenth century was not the medieval era.

The one area in which we differ is our respective proclivities toward song and dance. I was of the impression that, much like my own puritanical self, you would be given to RSS-style austerity. That Madison Square Garden gala nite, with its neon body suits and electronic music, and where you proved yourself a man of the overseas people, was quite a surprise. Truth be told, that extravaganza had a little more in common with the 1903 Imperial Darbar organised in Delhi by that upstart firang, Curzon, to commemorate Edward and Alexandra. And, so, despite my reputation as a grump opposed to the fine arts, I am quite looking forward to your Silicon Valley show livestream.

Hope Amit Shah will upload it on You-Tube. Or if he is busy, you could always ask Adani. Pity, then, that we live in different times. I think you would have been a great leader in the seventeenth century. I doubt we would have worked together. Both of us are ruthlessly ambitious and trust no one other than our respective selves. But you would have made a formidable adversary.

I might even have named a road after you.

Yours truly,
Aurangzeb

(Courtesy: Pune Mirror)