Mevani has every right to fight the BJP and evoke a sense of historical triumph or injustice in an age where the pre-eminent party of India is digging out Muslim rulers from their graves - from Aurangzeb to Babur to Tipu Sultan. The last is now useful for election-bound Karnataka.
Besides, we should ask why the BJP (and some TV anchors) should object to the party being called the "New Peshwas". A brief history recap for those who do not know: at first, the Peshwas served as Prime Ministers under the Maratha Chattrapatis, but later, these Chitpavan Brahmins became the de facto rulers of the empire when it achieved its greatest geographical spread through a confederacy. (Sanjay Leela Bansali's Bajirao Mastani is about Bajirao I, a military hero of the Peshwa empire who expanded what was called the idea of a Hindu Padshahi even as he reportedly took a half-Muslim woman, Mastani, as his second wife). The BJP should logically be delighted to be called the New Peshwas as it evokes Hindu masculinity besides a small episode of "love jihad" in reverse!
The term "Peshwas" also rankles as it has been used by critics to describe the Brahmin-run RSS' control of the BJP. It's not an original Jignesh Mevani phraseology, although he has now used it to the most devastating effect, both literally and metaphorically. It is a symbolic evoking of history in a part of India that gave us (besides Shivaji and the Peshwas), radical reformers such as Jyotibhai Phule, Savitribai Phule (whose birthday falls today on January 3), and Bhimrao Ambedkar, a Mahar whose father served as a subedar in a military cantonment.
Anyone who imagines that the ideological battles are over should pause. First, I would argue that although our attention has been taken by the political violence against Muslims, over the last three years, these are mostly random events and the victims have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. In contrast, certain Hindus have been carefully executed (Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi) because they forcefully marshalled great intellect to challenge the ideas sought to be imposed on society today.
Indeed, let me go a step ahead and say the larger Hindutva project is really not about Muslims at all, but about consolidating Hindu society across the caste differences. Muslims are just used to instil fear and bring out prejudice that is designed to unite all in hating them. To recall a famous line from the film Sholay, mothers tell their children to sleep or else Gabbar Singh will come for them! That's the role of Muslims in the adrenalin-pumped TV debate narrative of today where most of the "Gabbar Singhs" are called with beards and caps.
What we had therefore was a group of upper caste males pumping up their testosterone by yelling loudly about lower caste leaders wanting to tell their own historical narratives. A raw nerve had been touched.
(Saba Naqvi is a journalist and an author.)
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