Ashokan lions adorn Indian currency and the Dharmachakra features in the tricolour. Neither symbol has any sanctity for the ideologues of the ruling dispensation.
Thousands of kings and emperors shone for a brief moment in history, then quickly disappeared. But in ‘The Outline of History: The Whole Story of Man’, H.G. Wells writes, “Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.” The famous British historian EH Carr also wrote, “What is history? It is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.”
Yet, history is a continuous ‘us versus them’ for some individuals and outfits in India. Their interaction with the past typically degenerates into a vicious monologue aimed to vitiate the present and control the future. Nowhere is their vandalism of history more visible than what the Hindutva brigade is doing to the last great Mauryan ruler, Ashoka (304-232 BCE). Often compared with a medieval Mughal ruler—whom the Hindutvadis detest and distort in equal measure—they are now transforming the Ashokan period beyond recognition into a symbol of cruelty and bigotry.
Ashoka is widely known to have filled with remorse after the tremendous bloodshed in the battle of Kalinga. After that, he is known to have devoted his life to “conquest by Dhamma or right/moral life”. It is less known that Ashoka was among the earliest rulers to launch public utilities such as hospitals, encouraged tree-plantation, dug public wells and ordered the construction of rest houses along roads. His commitment to public reason is considered phenomenal, as he, two hundred years before Christ, organised the earliest open general meetings in the world.
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