Social Scientist. v 20, no. 232-33 (Sept-Oct 1992) p. 61.

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Akbar and His Age : A Symposium*


One of the things which we would be discussing is the contemporary relevance of Akbar. The present state of India thinks that there is a continuity between its efforts today and the efforts of Akbar during the sixteenth century. In other words, that the attempt of Akbar was to build a state not only based on toleration between various segments of society, but to build a ruling apparatus, a ruling class, where members from various religions could have an honoured place; that there is a continuity of effort in the type of state which we have been wanting to build in India and the type of state that Akbar tried to build in his own days. That immediately calls into account why Akbar was not fully successful and what are the expectations, what are the probabilities of our succeeding, because, just as there was a sharp orthodox reaction against the policies of Akbar, we see the simmerings of some kind of a movement against what is called a 'secular* or a 'pseudo-secular* state in India today.

The second point, of course, is the question of building a modem India and when we think in terms of building a modem India, it is not merely the question of the ruling class, it is even more the question of the type of society which one has in mind. This is a point which Professor Irfan Habib has highlighted in the seminar, that the type of society which Akbar had in mind was very much a society in which some of the worst features of obscurantist ideas were not allowed free play, such as, for instance, restricting or trying to restrict 'sati\ or trying to modernise the syllabus more in tune with contemporary thinking. There is also an attempt to develop India's trade, both overland and overseas, so that India develops, India becomes more a part of the developing world.

Now these are aspects where much greater attention would be needed. I would restrict myself to the first point—the question of his attempt to build a composite ruling class.

As soon as we talk of building a composite ruling class, the question of Akbar's so-called 'Rajput policy' comes immediately to mind. I use the word 'so-called* because, obviously if we use the word 'Rajputs'

Held on 17 October at 1992 Delhi University.

Social Scientist, Vol. 20, Nos. 9-10, September-October 1992

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