‘Ashoka was like Aurangzeb’: Playwright leaves BJP red-faced in Bihar

Daya Prakash Sinha
Playwright Daya Prakash Sinha, who was honoured with Padma Shri award by the NDA government, has left the BJP red-faced in Bihar after he likened Emperor Ashoka to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

Hindi playwright Daya Prakash Sinha, who was honoured with Padma Shri award by the NDA government, has left the BJP red-faced in Bihar after he likened Emperor Ashoka to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

While Ashoka is hailed as one of the greatest emperors of India who lived in the third century BC, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb of the 17th century is denounced as a tyrant for mercilessly killing Hindus during his rule, especially by the BJP and its Hindutva wings. Ashoka, too, during his earlier days had waged several wars that left hundreds of thousands dead.

Sinha, a former IAS officer and eminent Hindi playwright, who has won Sangeet Natak Akademi award, compared the two emperors during an interview with Hindi newspaper Navbharat Times.

“While doing research on Samrat (emperor) Ashok, I was greatly surprised by several similarities between him and Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Both had committed many sins in their early days and later resorted to over-religiosity to hide their sins so that people were diverted towards religion and their sins were overlooked,” Sinha was quoted as saying in the newspaper.

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“Three Buddhist works — Deepvansh, Mahavansh and Ashokavadan — and writings of Tibetan writer Taranath, say that Samrat Ashok was ugly. His face had marks and he was lustful in his early days. Buddhist works also refer to Ashok as Kamashok and Chandashok…,” Sinha remarked while referring to early literature.

A war of words broke out after Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal filed an FIR against Sinha, with allegations being cast that Sinha was a BJP member or he was patronized by the party.

JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha dismissed the FIR as a mere “eyewash” and demanded that Sinha’s Padma award be taken back.

Kushwaha tweeted, “Do not indulge in eyewash, Sanjayji, do not rub salt into the wound. Support the JD(U)’s demand of taking back Padma award from Sinha straightway. Otherwise, people fully understand the meaning of such an ostentatious case.”

The Kushwahas claim to be heirs of Kusha, son of Lord Rama, and that Chandragupt Maurya belongs to their caste. Ashoka was the third emperor of the Mauryan dynasty and grandson of its founder Chandragupta.

Jaiswal in his complaint hailed Emperor Ashoka as the ‘pride of Bihar’ and apprehended that comments made by Sinha could spread ‘hatred among different communities’.

JD(U) leader Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh urged the President and the Prime Minister to take back Sinha’s Padma award for likening Ashoka to Aurangzeb.

“We demand from the President and Prime Minister to take back Padma award from a person who is not eligible for it as he has insulted the national heritage.”

“To use abusive language against such a personality (Ashoka) is not tolerable and if anybody does it, he has a perverted ideology,” he remarked.

It is not at all acceptable if somebody tries to write new culture and new civilisation of the country, he added.

“Ashoka’s emblem today stands as the official state emblem of India,” Singh, a close aide of chief minister Nitish Kumar and JD(U) MP from Munger, pointed.

Lending support to JD(U), former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi added a new dimension to the entire episode by tweeting, “Ashoka is being maligned because he belonged to a backward class. People with a feudal mindset cannot tolerate the rise to power of Dalits, tribals and OBCs.”

In Bihar politics, Luv (OBC Kurmi community) and Kush (OBC Koeri community) constitute about 10 per cent of the state’s population. Kushwaha (Koeri) community alone is around 8 percent of the state’s population even as the Luv-Kush vote bank is considered the core constituency of JD(U).

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has nurtured this constituency diligently and also sought to consolidate this constituency by re-inducting Upendra Kushwaha into his party in March last year as the latter merged his RLSP with JD(U).

BJP has also been trying hard to woo Koeri community and its prominent face in the state is Samrat Chaudhary, a minister.

Chaudhary in a video message on Twitter said, “Insult of Samrat Ashoka cannot be accepted. Mauryan age was taken as golden era of Indian history.”

He also took a dig at JD(U) leaders for dismissing the FIR against Sinha, saying knowledgeable as well as ignorant people can be made to understand something but arrogant people cannot be. He said only time teaches lesson to the haughty people and thanked state BJP president Jaiswal for filing a case against Sinha.

BJP sought to distance itself from Sinha after the controversy erupted. Its Rajya Sabha member and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi asserted that Sinha has no link with BJP and said that it is condemnable to compare a proponent of Buddhism and non-violence with ‘ruthless’ Aurangzeb.

“BJP respects celebrated Samrat Ashoka of ancient India. Narendra Modi government had released a postal stamp on the birth anniversary of king Ashoka,” Modi remarked.

He said Bihar government had celebrated the birth anniversary of Ashoka in 2015 for the first time and later it declared public holiday to mark the occasion every year. This year, Bihar government has declared public holiday on April 9 to mark the birth anniversary of Ashoka.

Jaiswal said false rumour is being spread that Sinha is a member of his party but there is no party record to prove it.

Jaiswal said Sinha was also never vice president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations under the Narendra Modi regime.

“BJP has first started celebrating birth anniversary of Samrat Ashok. To compare Mughal and Mongolian tyrants with Samrat Ashok is unfortunate and such an act is also motivated by malice,” Jaiswal remarked.

“Even as BJP and JD(U), two major allies of Bihar NDA, are trying hard to score brownie points over Sinha’s unsavoury remarks against Ashoka, it only shows how both allies are ready to enter the ring at the slightest instigation,” remarked a political analyst Alok Mohit.

“Despite senior BJP leaders claiming Sinha having no link with their party, Narendra Modi government has to take some visibly strong action against him, that may include taking back his Padma award to placate JD(U),” he remarked.

The NDA government had selected Sinha, a former IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh, for Padma Shri award in 2020, recognising his contributions to Hindi plays. Interestingly, the 86-year-old writer is also the author of a Hindi play, ‘Samrat Ashoka’, for which he received the Sahitya Akademi 2021 award.

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