|Senior BJP leaders brandish swords at the programme in Patna on Saturday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh|
Amit Bhelari, TT, Patna, April 8: The BJP today equated Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Emperor Asoka, both of whose writ "ran all over the world", and demanded that Patna be renamed Pataliputra, the ancient capital of the Mauryan Empire.
"Asoka was never defeated, that's why he was called Chakravartin. His writ used to run all over the world. In today's world, there is only one man whose writ runs all over the world and that is Narendra Damodardas Modi. He is even more popular than US President Donald Trump," senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said at a programme to celebrate the 2,322th birth anniversary of Emperor Asoka.
Modi then demanded renaming of Bihar's capital. "If Madras can become Chennai, Calcutta can become Kolkata and Bangalore can become Bengaluru, why can't Patna become Pataliputra," Sushil said.
For the past two years, the BJP, cocking a snook at claims of historians, has begun projecting Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the empire named after him, and his grandson Asoka as members of the Kushwaha community, the second largest OBC grouping in the state which the party has been trying to win over.
Though the BJP does not boast of any big names from the Kushwaha community, it has an alliance with Rashtriya Lok Samata Party whose leader Upendra Kushwaha is a member of Narendra Modi's ministry.
The All India Rashtrawadi Kushwaha Parishad, a little known outfit, organised today's event at Vidyapati Bhavan where BJP leaders brandished swords to symbolise that Emperor Asoka never lost a battle.
"When Pakistan killed 19 of our soldiers, we killed 40 of theirs. This has happened because of Narendra Modi," Sushil Modi said, echoed by other BJP leaders. "Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh under Narendra Modi's watch in spite of China's bullying."
"Just like Asoka, Narendra Modi is an all-conquering Chakravartin," he added.
Asoka, who ruled from 268-232 BC, reigned over an empire that covered almost the entire present-day India and stretched from Afghanistan to Bangladesh. Patna, or Pataliputra, was his chief capital with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain.
But what the sword-waving followers of Asoka didn't mention today was the fact that the emperor gave up conquests after the Kalinga war of circa 260 BC which caused massive destruction and loss of lives. Asoka embraced Buddhism and spread the teachings of Gautam Buddha and message of peace and unity beyond the borders of his empire, earning him the suffix "the great".
The Janata Dal United was quick to scoff at Sushil Modi's comparison of Prime Minister Modi with Asoka. "The BJP is toying with history. Asoka was an apostle of peace and spread the message of universal brotherhood. Look at what's happening in Modi's India, how can he be compared with Asoka, who is a cultural asset," said JDU MP Ali Anwar.
Historians have consistently questioned the BJP's efforts to project Chandragupta Maurya, his son Bindusara and grandson Asoka as members of the Kushwaha community.
Noted historian Romila Thapar had earlier told The Telegraph "not that I know of" when she was asked if there was any specific reference to the caste and date of coronation of Chandragupta Maurya. "There are contradictions even on the year of his coronation," she had added.
But BJP leaders such as Suraj Nandan Kushwaha, MLC and national president of the Kushwaha parishad which organised today's event, insisted that Asoka was from the Kushwaha community.
"I am also a history teacher in Guru Gobind Singh College, Patna City, and I can say that Asoka was from the Kushwaha community. He adopted Buddhism later but he was born into the Kushwaha community. Generation after generation, people have passed on this fact. I can only say that most of the communist-minded historians have distorted facts and presented India in a poor light," Suraj Nandan told The Telegraph.
For several years now, the BJP has been trying to appropriate ancient Indian icons and political figures by identifying them with certain castes to consolidate their position in Bihar. In August 2015, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had released a Rs 5 postal stamp on Asoka at the same venue where the function was held today.
In the past, the BJP had organised the birth anniversary celebrations of Maharana Pratap to woo upper caste Rajputs. Earlier the party celebrated the anniversaries of national heroes like Sant Ravi Das, Mahatma Phule, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati and Veer Kuer Singh.
The party went on to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Chauharmal, a Dalit saint and Paswan by caste, to garner the support of the Dalit community.
The BJP later changed tack to celebrate the birth anniversaries of modern icons like socialist leader Karpoori Thakur keeping in mind the extremely backward castes which comprise more than 50 groupings and account for nearly 30 per cent of Bihar's population.