Hindutva and Legend of Shivaji
- Ram Puniyani

In April 2003 statue of Shivaji was installed in the parliament complex. Unlike the putting of portrait of Savarkar, which invited great deal of criticism, this event was quiet. No doubt Shivaji was a very popular King and deserves to be remembered and paid homage to. So far he has the status of an icon only in Mahrashtra. Here, while the folk traditions have remembered him for his benevolent rule, the rural elite and Hindutva followers remember him for being the founder of Hindu rule in opposition to the tyrannical Muslim rule (Hindu Padpadshahi). The latter project him as the protector of Brahmins and cows. (Go Brahman pratialak). It is not too long ago when Mr. Thackeray said that his Shiv Sena stands for Shivaji at political level and Lord Shiva at religious level. Shiv Sena has derived its communal and anti-Muslim slant from the alleged Anti Muslim policies of Shivaji. As per this version Shivaji on behalf of Hindus gave a befitting reply to Muslim aggressors. In this understanding the current Anti-Muslim slant of Hindutva followers derive their historical ammunition from the legend of Shivaji.

After Gujarat riots and rise of Moditva (most rabid Anti-Muslim politics) Mr. Togadia of VHP has been going round proclaiming that now their politics is going to take up 'project Hindu Padpadshahi of Shivaji', in an effort to consolidate Hindu society. This surely is most dominant version under circulation in the society. This is in polar contrast to the folk version of memories of this King who won over the hearts of all the castes because of his secular policies. Since the ascendance of Hindutva forces the subaltern version of Shivaji is getting eclipsed. It is noteworthy that Teesta Setalvad, a campaigner of Human rights, in her project Khoj, prepared a handbook on History just a couple of years ago. In this there is a mention of the fact that Shivaji was a Shudra and so he was refused coronation by the Brahmins of that time. The self-proclaimed inheritors of the legacy of Shivaji did their usual job of threatening the principal of the school where this handbook was being referred. While Mahrashtra school books are full of Shivaji, devoting tremendous number of pages on him, these books by and large accept the elite doctored version while sidetracking the real reasons for Shivaji's being popular in the masses of Mahrashtra. By a clever deceit the version being imposed resorts to many a myths, and these have a clear Brahminical and anti-Muslim slant. There are very few good and scholarly versions of Shivaji, which project him as a great king for his human virtues. Since these are in Marathi not much of this version is available in other parts of the country. Amongst these Govind Pansare's 'Shivaji Kon Hota' (Who was Shivaji), Jayant Gadkari's, Shivaji: 'Ek Lok Kalyankari Raja' (Shivaji: A King Who was for People's Welfare) and Prem Hanavate's 'Shivarayanche Nishthavan Muslim Sainik' (Shivaji Loyal Muslim Soldiers) are works, which stand out for their objectivity and serious scholarship.

To begin with one notes with disgust that misuse of history is a serious project for communal politics. It is a sort of chariot, on which their politics rides and rules the roost. Also its Nationalism draws from the Nationalism of Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Govind Singh. Nathuram Godse in his book, 'Why I Assassinated Gandhi' points out that Mahatma Gandhi's Nationalism was of the dwarf variety while the Nationalism worth emulating comes from the lives of this trio. This comparison of Nationalism is totally invalid as the Kingdoms and modern nation states do not operate on the same basis. On second count none of these kings were representatives of Hinduism, neither were the Muslim Kings representing Islam in any sense of the word. Also none of these kings were anti-Musllim or anti-Islam. No doubt many a kings did use religion to justify some of their actions but that's about all. The prevalent view that the National Hindu movement was sparked off by Muslim intolerance and invasion does not hold water, neither does it explain the rise of Marathas. It was set of historical circumstances, which led to the rise of different Kingdoms, religion being nowhere the guiding factor.

It is noteworthy that Shivaji began his real career of conquest in 1656 when he conquered Javli from the Maratha Chief Chandra Rao More. He took over the treasures of this kingdom. Too much is drawn from his murder of Afzal Khan, but one will remember that in his encounter with Afzal Khan, Shivaji was tipped off by a Muslim Rustame Jaman, while Afzal Khan's protector was one Kularni whose sword injured Shivaji in the encounter between the two of them, The major battles, which Shivaji had to wage were against the Rajputs. Incidentally many a Rajput Kings are symbols of nationalism for Hindutva ideology. Aurangzeb was repesented in these battles by Raja Jaising and his contingent of Rajput soldiers.

When Shivaji was imprisoned in the Agra fort, his trusted Lieutenant, Madari Mehtar assisted him escaping from the Agra Fort. It is meticulously documented as to how he had a strong presence of Pathan soldiers in his army. Not only that, many of his generals were Muslims, Darya Sarang was chief of armour, Ibrahim Khan and Daulat Khan were prominent in his naval division, Ibrahim Khan was chief of his cannon division. His confidential secretary was Maulana Haider Ali. This mixed up administration just shows that the kings were not having Hindu or Muslim administration depending on their religion. The real reason for Shivaji living in the popular memory as a legend amongst the masses of Maharashtra is to be found in his administrative policies, his revenue policies and his attitude towards religion of others. He abolished the oppressive Vatandari taxation system and curbed the powers of Deshmukhs, who were a pain in the neck for poor peasants. He also tried to develop the agriculture.

He did instruct his army to desist from insulting the holy books of other religions. The building of a mosque in Raigad, near Jagdishwar temple was very symbolic of his respect for the feelings of his subjects. Shivaji himself did the cremation of his loyal Muslim assistant Madari Mehtar and he got a tomb built in his memory. Similarly Shivaji was a great follower of Hazarat baba Bahut Thorwale, a Sufi saint. While it is being said that his primary merit was protection of cows and Brahmins, it should be remembered that Brahmins refused to coronate him, as he was a Shudra. So the Brahmins had to be brought from Kashi to do the ceremony.

What is most impressive about the life of Shivaji is the episode of the plunder of Kalyan in which the leader of the plunder party, Abaji Sondev, violating Shivaji's orders picked up the beautiful daughter-in-law of the Kalyan's King, who happened to be a Muslim. Shivaji showed his values in this episode and thundered that that women is like a mother to him so must be returned to her home with due respect. The episode in particular needs a bit of elaboration, as it is on this count that the founder of Hindutva ideology Mr. Savarkar criticizes Shivaji precisely for his respect for women in general including respect for the women of other community. Savarkar's biographer, Dhananjay Keer remarks, "Savarkar had expressed his opinion that the liberal policy adopted by Shivaji in case of Muslim women was wrong as this cultured humane treatment could not evoke in those fanatics the same feelings about Hindu women. They should have been given tit for tat, he observed frankly, so that they might have realized the horrors of those brutalities". (Keer, Veer Svarkar, Page 569, 1966). This fascist world view to inflict humiliation on the other as retribution or pre-emptive measure- in order to defend the honor of 'our' women, is currently the guiding principle of the mangers of anti-minority pogroms. No wonder Savarkar's advise has been taken extremely seriously by Hindutva followers as exemplified in the treatment to Muslim women in the riots of 92-93 and more particularly in the Gujarat carnage of 2003. Now Savarkar, looking from his portrait he must be giving a critical glance to Shivaji's statue standing some meters away.

The misuse of History as a communal weapon has reached its peak in current times. While Shivaji's certain values earn him a place in the august parliament, it is also imperative that the Hindutva presentation of Shivaji is undone and his values as a king who reduced the taxation on the poor brought forward. We also have to make a choice between Savarkar's prescription towards women from 'other community' viv-a-vis Shivaji's humane treatment to women even in those times when the Kings and feudal lords claimed the right over the any woman whom they took fancy for. Also one has to imbibe seriously whether Kings were anti-this or that religion or they were simply ruling for the sake of power and pelf. Giving it a religious color is the ploy of communalists and we have to save the precious traditions of harmony and amity from the gnawing clutches of those who shamelessly use religion for their political goals.

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