Ram Puniyani


During the rule of Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707), Shivaji led a fight for  a Maratha (now the state of Maharashtra) kingdom; he did not succeed but has been made into an icon. Attempts are being made to erect a statue something like the American Statue of Liberty in the Arabian sea.



Maharashtra Government has taken a decision sometime back that it will erect the statue of Shivaji, in the Arabian Sea, a la Statue of Liberty in US. Shivaji is one of the greatest icons from medieval times in Maharashtra. This statue is estimated to cost around Rs.300 crores (1 crore = 10 million) as per present projections. This decision of the Maharashtra Government was hardly debated. Even those who feel that there is a bigger need for funds for other development issues kept quiet as by now Shivaji has become a matter of big identity politics in Maharashtra. Every party with Maharashtra connection swears in his name. While one is scathingly critical, an rightly so, of the statue raising spree by Mayawati, statues of dalit icons and of her own, about Shivaji there is hardly a ripple of protest, the debate about whether public money of such a big magnitude should be spent on the statue, has remained on the margins.


However what surfaced as the debate took the form of caste issue. There was talk that Babasaheb Purandare, a Brahmin, who has written some popular material on Shivaji will be made the Chairman of the committee overseeing the work of statue. In response Maratha Mahasangh chief, Purushottam Khedekar and others objected to a Brahmin heading the committee for a statue for Maratha warrior. They also threatened to use violence in case their fatwa is not followed. Not to be left behind, Raj Thackeray, belonging to another political tendency resorting to violent methods, gave a counter threat that Purandare must be retained on the committee.


It goes without saying that people like Khedekar and Raj Thackeray sail in the same boat of intolerant politics, which needs to be condemned. Also the caste angle of controversy should be opposed thoroughly. Still one will urge that Babasaheb Purandare should not be on the committee. The reasons for that lie not in the fact that Purandare is a Brahmin, but because Purandare’s presentation of Shivaji is through and through communal. It picks up from the tradition of British Historiography, communal historiography, which in order to implement the policy of divide and rule, presented history through the prism of religion. In Maharashtra there are as many images of Shivaji’s as are the number of political streams. Purandare’s Shivaji, as manifested through his play Jaanta Raja (All knowing King) is primarily an anti Muslim King. Shivaji is also presented as the great worshipper of Brahmins and cows. Purandare’s total slant is that Shivaji wanted to build Hindu nation, etc. which is not only far from truth but also has a very divisive way of presenting our past.


As a matter of fact, Shivaji is popular amongst people, not because he was anti Muslim or worshipper of Cows and Brahmins, but because he went on to reduce the taxation on the poor peasants. Shivaji adopted humane policy in aspects of his administration, which did not base itself on the religion. In the recruitment of his soldiers and officers for his army and navy, religion was no criterion and more than one third of his army consisted of Muslims. The supreme command of his navy was with Siddi Sambal, and Muslim Siddis were in navy in large numbers. Interestingly his major battles were fought with the Rajput army lead by Mirza Raja Jaisingh on behalf of King Aurangzeb. When he was detained at Agra fort, one of the two men on whom he relied for his eventual escape was a Muslim called Madari Mehtar. His confidential secretary was Maulana Haider Ali and the chief of his cannon division was Ibrahim Gardi.


His respect for other religions was very clear and he respected the holy seers like ‘Hazarat Baba Yaqut bahut Thorwale’, whom he gave a life pension and also Father Ambrose, whose church was under attack in Gujarat. At his capital Raigad he erected a special mosque for Muslim devotees in front of his palace in the same way that he built the Jagadishwar temple for his own daily worship.


During his military campaigns Shivaji had issued strict instructions to his men and officers that Muslim women and children should not be subjected to maltreatment. Mosques and Dargah’s were given due protection. He also ordered that whenever a copy of Koran came into the hands of his men, they should show proper respect to the book and hand it over to a Muslim. The story of his bowing to the daughter-in-law of Bassein’s Nawab is well known to all. When she was brought as a part of the loot and offered to him, he respectfully begged her pardon and asked his soldiers to reach her back from the place from where she was forcibly brought in. Shivaji was in no way actuated by any hatred towards Muslims as a sect or towards their religion. All this goes on to show the values of communal harmony which Shivaji pursued, and that his primary goal was to establish his own kingdom with maximum possible geographical area. To project him as anti-Muslim and anti-Islam is travesty of truth.


Today, rank casteist-communal forces are also in the bandwagon to ‘use’ Shivaji issue for their political goals. One recalls that Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad had prepared a hand book of History for the school teachers some time back. In this she pointed out that since Shivaji was a Shudra, the Brahmins refused to coronate him, so a Brahmin Gaga Bhat had to be brought from Kashi, who did the coronation ritual. Since Shivaji was a Shudra this coronation was done with the toe of his left foot by Gaga Bhat. The local Shiv Sena went on to oppose this handbook on the ground that the writer is calling him a Shudra. It is true that Shivaji was a Shudra and this incident is true. Similarly Bhandarkar Institute was attacked by the same people, Khedekar and company, on the pretext that this institute had helped James Laine write a book on Shivaji. It is well known that this book mentioned a rumor about the real parentage of Shivaji.


While communal historiography has been the major tool in the arsenal of communal forces, now we are witnessing, ‘caste historiography’ to settle the scores of contemporary caste politics. It is sad. What is needed is to overcome these caste and communal angles to build the nation, while giving justice to the deprived sections, and while planning affirmative actions for the marginalized sections.


One also hopes the Government thinks of using the public money in a better way than raising statue. The making of statue should also take into consideration the ecological factors, and if these factors permit the statue, it should come up, with a proviso that the money for the statue will be raised from people. The government money should not be spent on this.


(Issues in Secular Politics, June 2009 II; 

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