Sons of Babur strikes a chord
Dipankar De Sarkar

Congress leader Salman Khurshid says he hopes his recently-written play on Mughal history will lead to the return of the remains of India’s last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Khurshid, former minister of state for external affairs, was speaking at a launch and reading of his play, Sons of Babur, in London. An emotional and dramatic reading in Urdu by former BBC presenter Pervez Alam was followed by queries from the audience on Bahadur Shah Zafar, who spent his last days in Myanmar after being exiled by the British for his role in the 1857 uprising. And one distinguished member of the audience, Oxford historian Tapan Raychaudhuri, lent his unequivocal support for the remains of the last Mughal to be returned, suggesting Humayun’s tomb in Delhi as the resting place.

Khurshid, whose play is a meandering, wide-canvas reflection on Hindu-Muslim relations and the idea of India, said he hoped it would trigger a similar debate in India. "There are many people in India who are talking about bringing back Bahadur Shah Zafar’s body, as indeed they want the Kohinoor and Shivaji’s sword, (saying) that our national life remains incomplete without these being returned to India," Khurshid said. Both the Kohinoor and Shivaji’s swords were "gifted" to the British royal family, and their presence in Britain fuels periodic demands from Indian nationalists for their return.

Khurshid, however, said there could be an issue over where to bury the remains of Bahadur Shah Zafar. "Where his body would be taken back—whether it would be taken back to the Red Fort—would be a question." "I think it’s something that’s been discussed peripherally in the country but I don’t think there’s been a full of debate or discussion. "Possibly, if this is what the play is doing, that it is exciting these questions in your mind then hopefully this play will start the discussion in the country and maybe we’ll find some conclusion," the politician said. Khurshid said Bahadur Shah Zafar, who died in Rangoon (now Yangon) in November 1862, had acquired "significance for communal unity in our Country", as also for India’s aspiration for independence. The Congressman received the backing of the Oxford-based Tapan Raychaudhuri, a leading historian of British India. "I honestly think the body should be returned to India. There is a great deal of symbolism attached to Bahadur Shah Zafar—he was a symbol of national unity," he said. "Although I have never considered 1857 to be a War of Independence, it did galvanise people from all sections and classes in India. "As far as his resting place is concerned, I think one obvious place would be Humayun’s tomb," Raychaudhuri added. — IANS