shah jahan’s tajmahal vs raja’s 2G corruption

12/12/2013

Oh, yeah. Once in a while, we ‘discuss’ politics and allied goings-on (including the civic structures and civil society) with our impressionable adolescents. We sometimes discuss history too, in spite of the fact that,  in these times of the impending ‘secondary school leaving certificate’ exams and prep mode for some of our children, we can’t have interesting discussions like *this all the time.

But, still

Here is a gist of a rather tricky  question posed and some ideas it generated…

1600s CE:

The Moghul emperor – Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram – popularly titled and known as ‘Shah Jahan’ (Ruler of the World – for a given value  of the world, that is!) in our horrendous history books – ordered the construction of a mausoleum (basically an elaborately & aesthetically constructed interment monument) – over the grave of his favorite queen (who was also Khurram’s maternal cousin) Arjumand Banu Begum – popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal.

Arjumand dies in the mid 1600s and Khurram grieves for more than 20 years over the matter, and finishes the construction of the mausoleum – and of course orders the movement / transport of the remains of his queen to the monument from Burhampur, where  it was temporarily interred. The building apparently cost Rs 3.2 Crores at that time. In US dollar equivalent it would have then been some 1 million (US $ 1 million); the current value of the cost incurred would be in the region of tens of thousands of crores of Indian Rupees. Again, this would roughly translate to many billions of US dollars.

Khurram literally bankrupts  his government/state in the process, in spite of the fact that India then was a very vibrant economy. He uses the tax payers’ money  to build a monument for primarily his personal  edification.

If he had instead built a mosque or a set of mosques or some other place of worship or a very big university or a huge set of factories – they could have benefited the laity – at least to some extent. Dammit, if he had used the funds to further his kingdom’s military preparedness, even the firangis and the britishers could have been effectively and eventually  warded off!

If he had created at least one magnificent, visionary,  lasting, useful structure like our incredible, humanmade Veeraanam lake,  we could be justified in deifying him – definitely, these community structures are eminently justifiable expenditure items.  If he had done such a thing, even if he were not a Shah Jahan, he would have definitely been the Shah Hindoostan!

Everyone then and now – knows that he diverted the state funds for his purely personal agenda. In other words, it is corruption. But, we don’t even think of it like that.

We feel that it would be a blasphemy to think along these lines. We assume that these kinds of kings can deal with the state treasury in anywhichway  they want.  Of course there were much better, enlightened kings & princes  in India and elsewhere — including the lad (=Raajaadhiththan, of course he is THE  Raja, not our very own A Raja!) that built the Veeraanam lake.

2000s CE:

Andimuthu Rasa – popularly(!) known as A Raja, the much deservedly maligned ex minister of Telecommunications of the Indian Union, manages to make & cut a monumentally corrupt set of deals and wheeeling-dealings – and has perhaps built many Taj Mahals elsewhere. We don’t know much about them. He is not willing to share the details. Not yet. The money (with the standard cut at 30-35% of the deal size) that he must have accumulated through this diversion of Indian Nation’s assets (=tax payers’ money) will amount to a few thousands of Crores of our Indian currency, at least, as of now.

But, we call this Raja names. He has also done exactly what Khurram had done earlier. The only thing is that we don’t yet know the details of the Taj Mahals of this Raja. May be, his Mahals would be modern day temples (as our Jawaharlal Nehru announced loooong back) like some huge industrial complexes or pleasure islands or housing mega-complexes. We don’t really know.

Raja was/is a ruler. Khurram was one too. Both have done almost similar things – using public money for personal ends. It was aristocracy then. It is a so-called democracy now. Frankly, the only difference that I find is that, to my limited knowledge, Andimuthu Rasa’s wife is still alive and so perhaps it is immature and rather crude  to talk about a multiplicity of possible Parameswari Mahals. (sorry, sorry…)

I also agree that, perhaps we cannot use the current  definitions of corruption to historical contexts – of course, I am a reasonable student of history. But the fact is, these kinds of cognitive dissonances continue to bother me.

I feel that if A. Raja had lived in the times of Shah Jahan, say, what he had done now would have been normal. In fact, many of our historians of the likes of Romila Thapar, would have praised him for his Parameswari Mahals.

Full disclosure: I haven’t visited this tajmahal so far, one of the major reasons being, in my  not  so humble an opinion, it is an edifice built on absolute corruption, period. The fact that the Taj Mahal is considered  a beautiful structure, dedicated to some maudlin, tear jerkin’  love,  is not very relevant to me

Similarly, will I ever go admire  that horrendous film set costing a cool Rs. 3 Crores —  created by Thotta Tharani on top of the now defunct and Rs 450 Crores worthless malignant tumour  of a building constructed by Mr. M. Karunanidhi?

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Hmm. After much discussion (and a justifiable sense of uncomprehending horror from our adolescents) we kind of figured out that, our notions of corruption stem from our understanding of the current concepts & notions of democracy, republic etc. And also that – as usual we always rely on our ability to articulate our double standards and selective application of ideals to understand an increasingly complex world.

… I would say that one of the impossibly beautiful rewards of being, teaching and learning with children is – the fantastic pleasure of looking at the faces of the children, when their brains go click-clickclick and nerve impulses whiz thru their synapses making new connections and applying new contexts… and then, we get to see the impossibly radiant faces of our children.

It is so lovely, one has to experience this feeling, to really appreciate it!

And, I would love to hear from you about our very own and contemporary  Andimuthu Raja Shah Jahan…

All Hail Discordia!

JournalEntry# 14th December, 2010

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4 Responses to “shah jahan’s tajmahal vs raja’s 2G corruption”

  1. Saravanan Says:

    Each foreigner now pays Rs.250 per entry into the Taj. Moreover it is a major selling point for the country’s tourism industry. Tourism industry centred around the Taj provides hundreds of Agra residents their livelihood. So the monument has paid back many times over.


    • Siree! I agree that, anything can be justified in the name of Revenues and GNP.

      I also agree that GNP is generally gross, but not _always_ gross.

      If we take a moral stance based on the creation of livelihoods, we can also look at the moral stance of corruption. This is one of the many points of what we discussed in the class – the dilemmas and dialectics of growth and ethics – and that, one is not necessarily superior to the other.

      My aim was to generally throw spanner into the works. And, leave them asking questions, allowing them to mull over issues…

  2. Venkatraman Nagarajan Says:

    As written by the author, if Shah Jahan had developed factories, infrastructures or even invested at least 50% of the taj mahal’s total cost in Military, we wouldn’t be needing to depend on this Rs. 250 per head from a foreigner for our GNP! Such a Shame!!!


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