Across the border

Shivaji the great to Aurangzeb the terrible: We see in our kings what we want to see in ourselves

India and Pakistan, though always in opposition, are similar in many ways – one among them being how they have appropriated their rules and invaders.

In October, the Maharashtra government approved the construction of a Shivaji Memorial in the Arabian Sea – at a cost of Rs 3,600 crore. Just saying that out loud makes me blush, and when I multiply this figure by two to calculate its worth in Pakistani rupees, it seems even more unreal.

The Maharashtra government’s obsession with Shivaji, a 17th-century warrior who founded the Maratha Empire, is no secret. The city’s airport, Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji, is named after him. There is a giant painting of him inside the airport and statues built in his honour in the city. In popular political imagination, he is a supreme warrior, the ultimate rebel who rose up against the mighty Mughal Empire and formed an independent sovereign kingdom and abolished Mughal hegemony by replacing Persian with Sanskrit and Marathi in his court.

For a post-colonial state, Shivaji serves as the ultimate symbol of Maratha nationalism. His rebellion against Emperor Aurangzeb is depicted as a testimony to Marathi heroism that challenged the bigotry of the Muslim fanatic king and re-instated the political significance of the Sanskrit culture.

In many ways, the state sees itself as a political descendant of Shivaji that wants to carry forward the steps taken by him. Marathi nationalism today goes hand in hand with a condescension towards other cultures, including Islamic culture, which is associated with the culture of the other, of Emperor Aurangzeb.

The ‘evil’ Mughal

In its hatred towards Emperor Aurangzeb, Marathi culture is not alone. Last year, the New Delhi Municipal Council renamed Aurangzeb road in the heart of the city to APJ Abdul Kalam Road, in honour of the former President of India after he passed away in July 2015.

The move, which reflected the mood at the Centre, re-enforced the myth of Emperor Aurangzeb as a fanatic Muslim despot who persecuted non-Muslims. There was a reason why Aurangzeb Road and not Akbar Road, which runs parallel to it, was renamed. Emperor Akbar in the modern Indian State is seen as a symbol of secularism, and therefore, a reflection of the state itself. This symbol needs to be appropriated while the other needs to be rejected. The renaming of the road also gave birth to the debate of “good” Muslim and “bad” Muslim. Both Abdul Kalam and Akbar represent “good” Muslim hence they have a space in India. The “bad” ones should go to Pakistan.

But one has to ask: is contemporary idea of Shivaji, Aurangzeb or Akbar an apt reflection of their historical roles, or is it just the product of our-present day political fantasies? Is how we imagine these historical characters just a reflection of how we want to see ourselves?

The other ‘bigot’

I was in Bangalore last year when a debate was raging about the role of Tipu Sultan and there was much opposition to the government’s plans to celebrate his birth. The Congress-led government wanted to celebrate the King of Mysore as a hero for holding fort against the British East India Company for several years and mark November 10 as Tipu Jayanti. The Bharatiya Janata Party, in opposition in Karnataka, vehemently opposed the idea, attacking the legacy of Tipu Sultan by calling him a religious bigot. They accused the government of using Tipu Sultan to appease the Muslim “minorities”, as they are called, and garner votes.

With the BJP in power at the Centre and a debate raging around the time about the purported intolerance in the country under its rule, this issue acquired national significance. At a time when the beef-ban, the Dadri lynching and the subsequent award-wapsi campaign had put the heat on the BJP, the Congress undoubtedly thought that appropriating Tipu Sultan would help project the party as a protector of the minorities. The BJP on the other hand wanted to be seen as a protector of Hindu culture.

The stance of both parties was a reflection of how they wanted themselves to be identified. Historians, researchers and scholars all tried to decipher whether or not Tipu Sultan was a bigot and if he should be celebrated.

Eager to learn more about the issue I asked my host in Bangalore, renowned historian Vickramm V Sampath, what he thought. I knew that Vickramm had expressed his views on the issue at several platforms. What he told me changed my entire perspective.

He said that it does not matter if Tipu Sultan was a bigot or not – of concern was the fact that we were using modern-day standards to judge a historical character, and an absolute monarch at that. The standards of tolerance, rhetoric, political exigencies were different at that time, he said. So, Tipu Sultan was a despot according to modern standards and therefore, the Indian republic, which defined itself as democratic after 1947, has no need to honor an 18th-century king. Let them be historical characters with all their short-comings and absolute power, he said. There is no need to appropriate them in a modern society as they will not fit.

Opposites attract

The Pakistani State, like its Indian step-brother, is no different. Here too, there is a desperate need to appropriate historical kings as part of the project of self-identification. Muslim kings and invaders like Muhammad Bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghaznvi, Mohammad Ghori and Ahmad Shah Abdali are seen as heroes of Islam and their battles are depicted as a fight against the pagans. This coincides with Pakistan’s identity of itself as an upholder of Islamic culture.

These figures are celebrated in school textbooks. Various roads and monuments around the country are named after them. Three of the most powerful short range ballistic missiles created by the state are named after them. And so, stripped off their political realities and transformed into caricatures, these historical characters – be it Shivaji and Aurangzeb or Qasim and Abdali – are celebrated or reviled in these two countries, desperate to project themselves in opposition to each other, but annoyingly similar in their habits.

Haroon Khalid is the author of the Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.