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Prof. Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi was the Chairman of Centre Of Advanced Studies, Department Of History, Aligarh Muslim University and author of "Fathpur Sikri Revisited". He has around 40 research papers published in National and International refereed journals and edited works, including major post graduate papers on Mughals as well as specialized papers on Historical and Medieval Archaeology.


Three years after his death Aurangzeb regularly trends on India’s Twitter, gets quoted in speeches of regional and national politicians, features in the columns of all mainstream and alternative media and is mentioned remarkably often in India’s acrimonious TV debates. If continued relevance were to be considered the yardstick of success for a statesman, he surely outshines everyone. What makes Aurangzeb, the 17th century autocratic ruler of the Mughal empire, loom large over the 21st century political discourse of the modern democratic Republic of India?

The conventional view is that Aurangzeb was a religious fanatic who undid the political goodwill earned by his tolerant predecessors, and precipitated the decline of the once great Mughal empire. His actions have been traditionally interpreted in context of his self-stated objective of promoting Islam and converting Hindus and people of other faiths to Islam. This creates the impression that he was so beholden to his religious beliefs, that he was willing to sacrifice political expediency for it. However this view is being increasingly challenged by modern scholarship. Some of opponents including Audrey Truschke have argued that we might have misunderstood Aurangzeb. Instead of religion driving Aurangzeb’s politics, perhaps it was Aurangzeb using religion to pursue his politics. Modern Indians are all too familiar with politicians deploying religion to their advantage. So what makes us believe that a 17th century politician was any more genuine in his tall claims than his modern counterparts?


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