What’s Common Between PM Modi And 17th Century Mughal Emperor Jahangir?

Posted on September 28, 2015 in Culture-Vulture, Politics

By Priyanka D’Souza:

Everyone would agree that Narendra Modi is India’s most tech-savvy politician. His social media campaigning won him the elections and his selfie craze is steadily winning over the youth. With his selfies and the images he has of himself shown to the public, NaMo has created a very strong visual culture which is defining the public image of himself.

narendra modi collage


But NaMo’s idea isn’t new. Would it surprise you to know that another famous personality used images to rewrite history by creating a good public image of himself? He was none other than Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Prince Salim (as he was known before he assumed the title of Jahangir), was a man of unsavoury character according to Abul Fazl, Akbar’s wazir, best friend and biographer, who wrote Akbarnama and started on Ain-i-Akbari but was assassinated by Prince Salim before he could complete it. Though he may have had his personal reasons for this defamation of the Prince (his daughter was married to Akbar’s second son whom he hoped would ascend the throne), it is largely believed by historians that Prince Salim was a controversial character.

Addicted to alcohol, opium and women all his life, Prince Salim rebelled against his father while Akbar was preoccupied in the Deccan and is notorious for all the underhand ways he tried to get the throne. He set the precedent of prince’s rebelling against their fathers for the throne. Though his rebellion was crushed, he remained on bad terms with his father until the women at court made peace between the two and Prince Salim realised he was his father’s sole surviving son so it was senseless to hold a grudge. In 1605, the throne passed to Jahangir simply because there was no one more capable of handling Akbar’s vast empire.

He assumed the title of Jahangir and extended his father’s empire. He was an art connoisseur and Mughal painting reached its peak under Jahangir. Western influence in Mughal painting that started under Akbar, flourished under Jahangir. Jahangir sent artists to Europe to study European realism and European Christian themes, and iconography was incorporated into Mughal miniature painting. Western motifs like the halo, cherubs, globes etc. are seen strongly in the miniatures under Jahangir.

The 17th century equivalent of selfies was, of course, portraits the Emperor commissioned of himself. Throughout his reign, Jahangir tried to rewrite history (especially in his biography, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri) by portraying himself saintly and benevolent, to try and erase in the public eye his acts before he ascended the throne. In the Mughal miniature paintings he always has a halo around him or holds in his hand a lotus or a globe in a very serene composition.


In this composition (on the left), he is seen with a halo on an hourglass to show his royalty, and is seen denying the gifts of various important people including a European royal and accepting instead a book from a Sufi saint to show his humility.

In another composition (on the right), he is seen embracing his enemy wijahangir 2th whom he was engaged in many wars in Central Asia though the two never personally met. He is on a lion to show his superiority yet his magnanimity in forgiving and embracing his rival (who is depicted thin and weak in comparison).

Today, Modi has adopted a similar strategy by portraying himself as a youth friendly, simple person who connects with the masses. From #SelfieWithDaughter to #SelfieWithModi, his selfie campaigns have an appeal that are a hit with the youth as he fervently tries to create this image of Mr. Nice Guy hoping to erase from the minds of the public, his acts during the Godhra riots.

There is a lot to learn from History. You might want to keep this in mind the next time our PM uploads a selfie on Twitter.