“Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam” (literal meaning “the kingdom of Shah Alam, is from Delhi to Palam”).
After almost 175 years, we see history repeating. History is a fascinating subject which has always interested me simply because as you scan world history across centuries, you see the same pattern repeating again and again. I am about to report a similar observation in the current political context. It is a tale of two glorious dynasties and what they got reduced to. And the similarity of situations in their dying gasps. We often get dazzled by the noise and light of the news media but look underneath and we notice that all that remains is “Delhi Hi Ast”. Let us look at both stories and enjoy the similarity in histories.
The two dynasties in question are the “Great” Mughal dynasty and the “Greater” Nehru-Gandhi dynasty both incidentally centered around Delhi (Agra for a while for the Mughals but the same vicinity).
Both dynasties were founded by self made charismatic men – Babur for the Mughals who left the rather dry and sour Samarkand to the rich and prosperous lands of Hindustan. He was brave, strong and innovative and founded the Mughal empire after duly defeating Ibrahim Lodi in the First Battle of Panipat.
The Nehru Gandhi clan was founded by Motilal Nehru who was a self made lawyer who made it big and earned so many riches that young Jawahar could be sent to UK for study (in addition to getting the family’s laundry done in the UK).
Humayun and Akbar took the Mughal clan further and expanded to greater glory across India. These were the expansionists, the Mukesh and Anil to the earlier generations’ Dhirubhai (Babar). Akbar expanded the empire to half of India and made smart alliances to spread the Mughal influence through the rest.
For the Nehru clan, we had Jawaharlal who became the top freedom fighter, right hand man of Gandhi Bapu and the left hand man of Lord Mountbatten till landing the Prime Minister’s post of India. He won elections after elections, made the Congress the top and only party across states in India in addition to setting up the modern institutions in the country – this was the time of unbridled expansion of the dynasty but in a very “deserving and able” mode.
Then we had the Jahangir and Shahjahan phase where the empire was consolidated, high noon of the dynasty when there was no challenge, the whole atmosphere and ecosystem was of and for the Mughals. The times were relatively peaceful and the Mughal mansabdari system created a powerful nobility which ran the empire for the Emperor while the bosses partied.
This can correspond with the Indira Gandhi phase of the Nehru Gandhi clan where the dynasty was at it’s most powerful. Indira Gandhi was the zenith of her power and set up the modern day “dynasty fronting armies” that fight battles for the dynasty i.e. the media, intellectuals, the universities like JNU, the literary awards and academies which constituted the “Durbar”.
We then have Aurangzeb who laid the seeds of downfall of the dynasty even at the height of it’s power. Despite being very able, Aurangzeb pursued intolerant policies like destroying temples, re-introducing the jazia tax on Hindus and waging endless wars with “infidels” (primarily the Marathas) which started bankrupting the empire.
For the Gandhi clan, Rajiv Gandhi played a similar role – at the height of power (400+ seats) with a strong mandate, charisma and popularity, he took gross missteps like Shah Bano, Ram temple and Bofors that started the decline. The institutions that his mother nurtured during her time started maturing and began to exert complete control on the discourse of the country that were going to give great dividends to the dynasty despite the decline.
It took the Mughal empire 150 years to come down to the terminal state. It all started with ineffectual descendants of Aurangzeb who became more and more disconnected from the ground and started ceding control to powerful regional leaders like the Nizam, Farrukhsiyar, Sayyid brothers who started carving out their own domains. They were also beaten down by the Marathas (modern day BJP?) who rose from the West and expanded their kingdom across India. There were added troubles due to invasions by Nadir Shah (who took away the Koh-i-noor) and Ahmad Shah Abdali.
The Nehru Gandhi clan had their own share of troubles as they lost power, had non dynasts occupy power, NDA come to power (1998 to 2004) before grabbing power through Manmohan Singh but never being in power themselves because of the ineffectual nature of the descendants (Rahul and Priyanka).
In the end, with the advent of the British, the realm of the last Mughal “Emperor” remained to that of Delhi – hence the saying “Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam” which means the kingdom of Sultan Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam. Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last king who had scores of relatives and hangers on who used to praise him every day and raise his ego to the sky as he stayed busy with poetry and arts while his kingdom was snatched from him.
The Nehru Gandhi clan is now in a similar predicament. It did not take 150 years for this situation to arise for them since this is democracy and the people do have a say in matters now as against the monarchical ages where the sword could be wielded. We are witnessing the last ineffectual dynast who is not capable at all. The adversaries have taken over most of the states in the country and the main adversary (BJP) has captured most of the country from them. The situation is dire…yet, one light shines brightly (and with a last gasp) for them…Delhi.
Delhi stands with the Gandhi clan – the Lutyens media, the star journalists, the academics and intellectuals and the elite universities are part of this Delhi. They dominate the airwaves, they project images to the world that magnify the message 20 fold and thus give a projection of invincibility to the dynasty. As we have noticed in the last few years – every story emanates from the Delhi ecosystem – JNU, Rohith Vemula, Una, Dadri, award wapasi, Gurmeher and many more.
The Delhi ecosystem picks an issue and spins it into a big yarn projecting it as if these are national issues. Viewers within the country and outside think that is the nation and it’s concern – it worked initially but over a period, the common folk have seen through the game. The dynasty has also begun to believe that these are the main issues that matter (hence the folly of standing with the Azaadi gang) while the ground beneath their feet has completely shifted. The dynasty is in power in a handful of states while majority of the states are either ruled by the BJP or regional parties.
In the end, what remains with the Nehru Gandhi dynasty is Delhi and it’s own echo chamber just like it was for Bahadur Shah Zafar. Of course there will be noise in the coming few years as the dynasty fades away since their loyalists still remain in Delhi – recent example being the EVM tampering issue. However – make no mistake – this will be noise only with lot of flash – the ground has shifted and the end is coming.
To conclude, history repeats itself – sometimes as tragedy and sometimes as farce. Patterns are always the same and for the dynasty…what remains is “Delhi Hi Ast”….