Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, is a key BJP leader. Photo: AFP/ Sanjay Kanojia

The chief minister of politically volatile Uttar Pradesh state has again sparked controversy by praising Maharana Pratap, the legendary Rajput king of Mewar from Northwest India, while demeaning the famous Mughal king Akbar.

Yogi Adityanath said that Indian children should learn self-respect from Maharana Pratap, who never accepted the domination of Akbar or recognized him as his king “because he [Akbar] was a Turk and he will remain so”. As such, Akbar would only display dignity under the guise of friendship, while the Rajput king could not accept a “foreigner” as his superior.

Adityanath, who became chief minister in March 2017, was addressing a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) meeting in Lucknow, held to celebrate Maharana Pratap’s birth celebrations. The RSS, of which Adityanath has long been a part, is known as a right-wing, Hindu nationalist organization.

He praised Pratap’s high self-respect and the perseverance that he used to win back his fort following years fighting the Moghuls in the Aravalli hills. “Maharana Pratap proved that it wasn’t Akbar who was great, but only Maharana Pratap was great, as finally he won back his forts,” Adityanath said.

Adityanath is technically correct in calling Akbar a “foreigner”, as the Mughals did come to the Indian subcontinent from Central Asia. But Adityanath’s past tendencies to promote Hindu pride at a cost to Muslims, who are a minority in India, puts a bigger implication on his comments.

But it is a contentious point to compare Akbar to a Rajput King, given the history of Rajput princesses being married to Mughal kings, either willingly or unwillingly

Akbar is generally considered the greatest of Mughal emperors for his administrative and economical reforms. Moreover, Din-i-Ilahi was a spiritual path Akbar that propounded and it is practised as a result of his secular ideas. He is also noted for being one of the few Mughal Kings with a religious tolerance toward Hindus.

But it is a contentious point to compare Akbar to a Rajput King, given the history of Rajput princesses being married to Mughal kings, either willingly or unwillingly.

Akbar was perhaps the first Mughal king to use marriage to Hindu princesses, especially those belonging to the Hindu Rajput community, to forge political alliances. Among others, he had a notable marriage to the Hindu princess Jodha Bai, who was the daughter of Raja Bihari Mal of Amber, located in the present-day northwestern state of Rajasthan.

Now, it is not the first time has taken issue with Adityanath. In a 2014 rally in Noida (in Delhi’s National Capital Region), he said: “Hindustan has woken up and from now on, no Jodha Bai will go with Akbar.” Clearly, for Adityanath Hindusthan literally translates into the “Land of Hindus”, and is not another name for the Republic of India.

Moreover, his statement was made in reference to the Hindu Nationalist narrative that sees a conversion conspiracy by the Muslim community whenever an inter-religious marriage happens; RSS and such organizations have dubbed this “Love Jihad”.

The chief minister has stirred up a hornet’s nest many times with his comments targeting the Muslim community. In the same Noida rally, he said:  “There have been 450 riots in west UP [Uttar Pradesh] in two-and-a-half years of Samajwadi Party because the population of a particular community is rising manifold.

He has even hit out at the  Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, after the actor vocally supported the ongoing protest by a section of the Indian intelligentsia against the ‘climate of intolerance’

“In places where there is 10-20% minority population, stray communal incidents take place. Where there are 20-35% of them, serious communal riots take place and where they are more than 35%, there is no place for non-Muslims,” he added.

Back then, Adityanath wasn’t the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, but he was feeling confident nonetheless because his Bharatiya Janata Party had come to power that year at the national level, riding on the back of the Narendra Modi wave of support.

He has even hit out at the famous Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, after the actor vocally supported the ongoing protest by a section of the Indian intelligentsia against the “climate of intolerance”. Ironically, Khan’s support to the movement was not tolerated by Adityanath and he suggested that the actor should go to Pakistan.

Adityanath also warned: “Shah Rukh Khan should remember that if a huge mass in society would boycott his films, he will also have to wander on streets like a normal Muslim.”

He went on to compare the actor with Hafiz Saeed, a United Nations-designated terrorist and the mastermind of the 2011 Mumbai terror attack. Adityanath said: “I’m saying these people are speaking in a terrorist’s language. I think there is no difference between the language of Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed.”

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