Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Swami Adityanath, of the BJP, has it in for the Taj Mahal, but not as much as his MLA Sangeet Som, who set off a controversy by describing it as a ‘blot on the landscape’ and ‘built by traitors.’ His list of traitors is interesting, for it includes the founder of the Mughal dynasty, Babur, as well as the builder of the Taj, Shah Jehan, Aurangzeb, and his son and supplanter, their ancestor Akbar.

Any list, apart from the anodyne list of Mughal emperors, which includes both Aurangzeb and Akbar, must be of interest, because they two have been set up as opposites. Aurangzeb was the orthodox killer of his brothers, the imprisoner of his father; Akbar was the liberal founder of the ‘Din-e-Ilahi’, which has been portrayed as an attempt to fuse all religions, particularly Hinduism and Islam. This is an opposition which may well have been created by the British, while they ruled India, and incidentally created the concept of ruling from afar. True, the Mughals initially did not belong to India, but who are they supposed to have been traitors to?

It should be remembered that while Babar was the first Mughal to rule India, he was certainly not the first Muslim. It is not as if he established Muslim rule. However, after his victory over Ibrahim Lodhi at First Panipat in 1526 gave him Delhi, he fought and beat Rana Sanga at Khanwa in 1527. Rana Sangha is seen as anti-foreigner, but he also had Mahmud Lodi with him, he being the Lodi pretender to the throne. Akbar was the quintessential liberal, lionized by both the British and by Bollywood. He founded the tradition of Mughal emperors marrying Rajput princesses, to the extent that his grandson Shah Jehan was three-quarters Rajput. Aurangzeb was the son of Mumtaz Mahal, but Shah Jehan himself had stuck to tradition and married a Rajput princess. So did Aurangzeb himself, despite his reputation for virulent orthodoxy.

A recent biography shows that he was probably more even-handed in his dealings with Hindus than is normally thought. Apart from being a longstanding bogeyman, the BJP has a special antagonism for him because of its ally, the Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena’s very name references Shivaji, the Hindu hero, who spent many years fighting Aurangzeb in the Deccan. Shivaji’s personal repute rests on his killing of the Adilshahi commander Afzal Khan, whom he struck with a concealed weapon when they met to conclude a truce. Shivaji also served the Adilshahi, Qutubshahi and Nizamshahi kingdoms of the Deccan against Aurangzeb, though he also accepted a mansab under him.

Akbar as traitor is particularly unkind, but might owe something to his defeat of Hemu, in 1556. At that time Akbar was a stripling, and his tutor, Bairam Khan achieved the victory, over Hemu, who had declared himself the Emperor Vikramditya.

The rhetoric emerging from the BJP, virtually out of nowhere, is reminiscent of the kind of talk that was indulged in by the Mahasabha before Partition. The Mahasabha was much more Hindu-chauvinist than the Congress, which was under Motilal Nehru, and then Jawaharlal Nehru. Under Jawaharlal, there was an attempt at secularism, which led to the glorification of Akbar and the denigration of Aurangzeb, but there was no official attempt at glorification of the Hindu past of India at the expense of the Muslim.

That seems to be changing. Som called for a rewriting of history, while his sniping at the Taj reflected some of the reasoning that made many Muslims, including apparently secular ones, opt to support the Muslim League demand for Pakistan. True, history is essentially a tool in creating a common understanding of the past for a nation. However, unless it is rigorously based on facts, it can swiftly degenerate into everyone telling everyone else what fine fellows they all are. BJP stalwarts might resent the centuries of Muslim rule of what is today called the Hindu Cow Belt, but they cannot make it un-happen. Not even by declaring Mughal emperors traitors. There is emerging a claim that a Hindu temple was demolished for the Taj. Even if that is intended as a sort of vengeance for the Babri Masjid, it implies the destruction of the Taj. That is happening anyhow, because of the fumes from Agra’s industries, which have caused a sort of stone cancer, which is turning the monument’s white marble yellow, and causing it to blister.

It is a paradox that the thirst to demolish chimes in with Muslim orthodoxy. Muslim orthodoxy does not look kindly on such extravagant tomb-building, and does not favour any celebrations of profane love, even if it is married love, which the Taj symbolizes.

Hindu extremism also does not favour profane love. No one should know that as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has long been separated from his wife. Hinduism recognizes the concept of brahmchaarpan. Indian founder Mohandas Gandhi took such a vow many years after his marriage. The current UP CM, Yogi Adityanath, is unmarried. Thus he is presumably left cold by the Taj, and has not only taken it off the list of UP’s heritage sites, but has stopped giving visitors its model, preferring to hand out models of the Mandir at Gorakhpur (of which he is Mahant) and the Bhagavad Gita.

The expression of dislike merely because the builder was a Muslim, and the ease with which Akbar was dismissed as a traitor, should provide ex post facto justification of Pakistan. One of the main selling points of Pakistan was supposed to be the fate of Muslims at the hands of Hindus. Even ‘good’ Muslims would not be spared, argued those in favour of Pakistan. That estimate seems to be correct. For Shah Jehan to be seen as anything other than Indian is not just a travesty of history, but also of genetics. Unless it is argued that his Rajput forbears were themselves descended from Aryan invaders, in which case the only true Indians are the pre-Aryan Dravidians of the South. Interestingly, that argument is already being made by various nationalist parties, notably the DMK, the leading Tamil party.

Muslims are left in a limbo. Are they supposed to convert? Convert back? Into their original caste? (Hinduism is caste-based, and the BJP is aggressively caste-ist). Will they have to undertake the kind of purification ceremonies that Shivaji did to become an undisputed Brahmin? Shivaji might afford the feeding of Brahmins and gifts to them, but will that save the Muslims of India the fate of the Muslims of Spain, whose descendants were persecuted, as the conversions were rejected.

The BJP is experienced at this sort of historical re-interpretation. Its attempts to revise the history syllabi have become well worn. However, buildings are also repositories of history. To take the Taj’s example, anyone brought up on the BJP version of history would be utterly lost when they come across it: who built it, is an inevitable question. Swami Shah Jehan Nath? And who built the Red Fort? Shah Jehan, Hemu Vikramditya or Narendra Modi? That is one important reason why the facts should be left to tell their story. The history of history itself shows that the story might change with time. Trying to fit the past into the categorisations of the present fails to acknowledge that the past is over, and what happened cannot un-happen. New facts can be unveiled; old facts can be interpreted anew, but facts cannot be changed.

BJP stalwarts might resent the centuries of Muslim rule of what is today called the Hindu Cow Belt, but they cannot make it un-happen. Not even by declaring Mughal emperors traitors.