news Saturday, May 23, 2015 - 05:30
From left: Modi, in a peacock headgear and, an image showing an artist's impression of Ashoka. Some Jain texts state that Ashoka could be a decendent of peacock herders.   In the run-up to the Assembly elections in Bihar, the BJP has found a new historical figure to hijack. Since December last year, the Bihar BJP has run a concerted campaign to link Mauryan Emperor Ashoka with the Kushwaha community in Bihar, and valorise Ashoka’s identity for political leverage. Apart from being seen as a cold political move, available historical data points towards this campaign being flawed on facts. The BJP’s campaign to appropriate Ashoka as a nationalist figure belonging to the Kushwaha community began late last year when members of the party participated in the Chandragupta Rajyarohan Samaroh organised in Patna by the All India Rashtrawadi Kushwaha Parishad. At this event, Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi reportedly said that Kushwahas were the descendants of Chandragupta and Ashoka and they should resolve to vote for the BJP to restore the glory that their community had during the reign of Mauryan emperors. Earlier this week, the Union Minster for Information & Broadcasting Ravi Shankar Prasad participated in the 2320th birth anniversary celebrations for Emperor Ashoka organized by the Parishad. At the event, the Minister announced that a postal stamp will be released to commemorate the Emperor. Several historians have hit out at the BJP for having no historical basis. Here is what we know, and what we don’t. The Mauryan Empire started with Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka’s grandfather. It is believed that the Brahmin master strategist Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, played an important role in his usurpation of power from the Nandas. We cannot be sure what Chandragupta Maurya’s lineage is. Buddhist sources of later years state he was the son of a chieftain of a Kshatriya clan called the Moriyas of Pipphalivana, possibly in the Himalayan foothills. Jain texts state that he was the son of the headman of a village of peacock breeders, or mayura-poshakas. Among Hindu sources, Vishnu Purana states that Mauryas were from a Sudra clan called Mura. The Markandeya Purana  brands them as asuras, or demons. Vishakadatta’s play Mudra-Rakshasa calls Chandragupta a low-born. DD Kosambi has speculated that they were Aryanised aborigines. What we know for sure is that they were from the eastern Gangetic plains. So it is nearly impossible to state which caste or clan the Mauryas belonged to with any historical certainty. We cannot know when Ashoka was born with certainty either. So to state that 2015 is the 2320th birth anniversary of Ashoka is pure speculation. It is believed that Asoka was a great administrator, but was cold-blooded in his early years, but later turned a Buddha-embracing pacifist.  By the time he died, Ashoka was a Buddhist, and that pretty much defined his later years as a ruler. BJP’s sudden love for Emperor Ashoka is no doubt couched in their lust for Bihar Assembly Seats, and it fits in perfectly with the party’s image. “The BJP is a civilisational party, whichever entity helps them bolster their construct of India as a great civilisation, they will use it,” says Sankarshan Thakur, a senior journalist and author of several books on politics in Bihar. “There is no doubt they are doing it keeping in mind the Bihar polls, but this is at best symbolic. Perhaps Upendra Kushwaha can get them more votes than Ashoka,” he says, referring to the Minister of State for Rural Development in the Modi government. Modi has a lot in common with Ashoka, like his proclivity for propaganda and putting state’s administration above all else, and being available to his Ministers even at odd hours. But if the BJP is serious in its appropriation of Ashoka, here are a few things those sitting at its headquarters in Ashoka Road could learn from the Emperor. Ashoka gave a humanistic orientation to governance, which was a significant departure from Arthashastric- administration. To propagate dharma, Ashoka used the dual strategy of legislation and persuasion, but believed that persuasion was more effective. If we have to go by the last Parliament session, apparently persuasion is a lost art within the BJP. He was also an advocate of ahimsa in word, deed and thought. Conduct mattered to him more than faith, and he disapproved of superstitions and wasteful rituals. And perhaps the most important lesson from the of Ashokan era is that social engineering makes governance and administration difficult, and will lead to the eventual decline of the empire. Historical facts attributed to ‘Gem in the Lotus’ by Abraham Eraly.