Patna: A self-proclaimed Indian Council of Cultural Relations vice-president, who had pretensions about being the BJP national cultural cell convenor, Dayashankar Sinha, is in the crosshairs of the Janata Dal-United in Bihar for comparing the Mauryan king Ashok with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Sinha, an 87-year-old IAS officer, seems oblivious to the description in history primer of the Mauryan dynast who ruled from Patliputra, as 'Ashoka the Great', hailed for his is renunciation of war, development of the concept of dhamma (pious social conduct), and promotion of Buddhism. Instead, Sinha has run him down as ruthless, amorous and lustful like Aurangzeb.
Sinha, of course, has his own good reasons for denigrating Ashoka whose writ rain from 'modern-day Iran through almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent'. He pointed out in interview that Ashok had murdered his brothers to ascend the throne and later hid his devious nature by 'transforming' into a benign king, the Battle of Kalinga being the dramatic turning point in his life.
Upendra Kushwaha, the chairman of the JDU parliamentary board, has given the controversy a casteist spin and said Ashok was being maligned because he belonged to the backward caste. Such is the lure of backward caste vote bank that the BJP, JD-U's ally, too has jumped into the caste cauldron and filed an FIR against Sinha who was honoured with the Sahitya Akademi award in 2021. The BJP has also demanded Sinha's prosecution on the charge of sedition.
Kushwaha, however, is convinced the BJP is merely going through the motions, following large scale protests over attempts to malign the king.
JDU national president, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh, has also condemned Sinha for describing Ashok as sadistic and fierce and demanded that all honours and awards given to the playwright be withdrawn.
Former chief minister and president of Hindustani Aam Morcha , Jeetan Ram Manjhi, also joined the chorus and alleged that Ashok was being denigrated because of his backward caste identity. People with feudal mindsets cannot appreciate the achievements of Dalits and backwards even now, he points out.
Manjhi, himself a Mahadalit, has requested the President to withdraw the Padamshri awarded to Sinha.
The appropriation of Ashok as a caste leader had started in Bihar during the 2015 assembly elections, when the BJP had launched a state-wiide campaign to popularise him as a Kushwaha. This campaign was aimed at weakening the hold of JDU ( then estranged from the BJP) over Kushwaha voters.
Different organisations of OBC and backwards caste groups on Thursday evening took out protest demonstrations all over the state.
On the backfoot, Sinha now claims he is no longer associated with the cultural wing of the BJP. Sinha also claims the controversy started over some misunderstanding, and that Ashok was indeed a great ruler of the Indian subcontinent.