Abusing Shivaji For Sectarian Goals

Ram Puniyani

ShivajiEarly February one teacher of prestigious Engineering College in Mumbai, VJTI, was beaten up by the staff of same college. The staff members belonged to the labor wing of Shiv Sena. The pretext was that the teacher had recited a poem, Mee Kadhi Risk Ghet Naahin, in which Shivaji figures as a reference point. The attackers asserted that the poem has objectionable content. The incident does show the intolerant type of atmosphere developing in the academic institutions in our society. It is not for the first time that Shivaji’s pretext has been used to browbeat those having liberal political values or to intimidate others. In Maharashtra there have been innumerable such instances. The latest one was the attack on Bhandarkar Museum, which was attacked by hooligans, as a protest against those who helped in the research of James Laine book on Shivaji. This book through research had raised the doubt about paternity of the great Maratha warrior.

The earlier campaign of right wing forces to communalize the atmosphere was to give the call to demolish the memorial of Afzal Khan, on the ground that he was Shivaji’s enemy. This was done just prior to the general elections (2004) to polarize the section of Hindu votes. The move floundered, as it was brought to light that this structure was built by none other than Shivaji himself. Shivaji did not convert political enmity into human rivalry. Alas what a contrast from the present bunch of those resorting to his name as a political currency!

Another significant event where these forces went hammer and tongs was the targeting of a handbook by human rights activist Teesta Setalvad. This handbook had just mentioned the fact that since Shivaji was a Shudra the Brahmin priests refused to coronate him on the ground that he is not from a Kshtriya clan and so a priest was to be brought from north, who put the tilak on Shivaji’s forehead, and that too with his toe not with his thumb, as is the usual practice.

The symbol of Shivaji has been used by Shiv Sena and its associate intolerant, sectarian political tendencies, to bake their political bread time and over again. It has been abused in pursuance of their political goal of intimidating the liberals and minorities. An image of Shivaji has been constructed which suits their agenda, i.e. against Muslims, against the progressive political tendencies.

As such this is precisely what Shivaji was not. In contrast to the image of his as presented by Shiv Sena and its break way faction Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MANSE), he was not sectarian or parochial. It is well known that his personal secretary was none other than Maulana Hyder Ali. The supreme command of his navy was with Siddi Sambal, and Muslim Siddis were in his 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 forte, of the two men on whom he relied for his eventual escape, one was a Muslim called Madari Mehtar. Also 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 the 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 it proper respect and hand it over to 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 her he respectfully begged her pardon and asked his soldiers to reach her back from the place from where she was forcibly brought in. Sardesai in his book New History of Marathas writes “One thing is quiet clear that in defending the Hindu religion, Shivaji was in no way actuated by any hatred towards Muslims as a sect or towards their religion. …He revered Muslim saints like Baba Yakut of Kelsi to whose shrine he made a grant …”

Today most worrying thing is that while the communal forces have ‘succeeded’ in projecting Shivaji as intolerant to others, and created a sectarian image of his, the real Shivaji remains hidden in the cloud of myths deliberately created around him. The foundations of these myths are based on the communal historiography which was introduced by British rulers through their history books which were aimed at pursuing the divide and rule policies. James Mills’s history of India and Elliot and Dawson’s books did this trick; the notions created by them are the core foundations of Communalists today. The rational, national historians who tried to give a correct picture, that it’s not only religion which formed the base of Kings rule, that there were multiple other aspects, has remained a marginal understanding in the whole social scene.

It is surprising that a totally communal play on Shivaji, projecting him as anti Muslim, Janaata Raja (All Knowing King) is a rage amongst the section of society and by now its huge cast and huger budget enables it to spread the communal venom at various places. While the rational efforts in the form of book by Govind Pansare, Shivaji Kon Hota (Who ws Sivaji?), Havavate’s book, Shivrayanche Nishthavant Muslaman Sainik (Shivaji’s Loyal Muslim Soldiers) and Jayant Gadkari’s enlightening in book on Shivaji, remain in the dusty libraries ignored and by passed by social thinking.

No wonder the followers of same intolerance, MANASE (it seems by Nirman, construction, they mean burning the property of non Marathis) are currently attacking other people from different states to polarize the society while the incompetent Government is a mute witness to the whole drama. The incompetence of Govt in protecting the lives and properties is so much visible that one suspects it may be hands in glove with the violators of the law. Again, the name of Shivaji is under abuse from a same break away political stream of Shiv Sena itself.

Incidentally the lecturer who has been attacked is also a progressive, liberal one sympathizing with the concept of human rights, and perhaps that may be the reason to rough him up by those who use historical symbols to crush the weaker sections of society.

Photo: Shivaji

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8 thoughts on “Abusing Shivaji For Sectarian Goals”

  1. Ibrahim Gardi was the commander of the Maratha Artillery during the Third Battle of Panipat and not of Shivaji. Having said that, I feel that political alignments are driven by much more of “rational self interest” than short lived slogans used at elections. The fire as well as fuel are provided by political forces to incite passions during elections. It depends on a mature electorate to be able to dismiss such negative forces. So if an electorate will dismiss the hate mongering of the Thackeray clan, they would cease to use that bandwagon. But in an impoverished country we are often in the search of (weaker) scapegoats to cover up for our own inadequacies.

  2. Shivaji’s state though a Hindu state was one where citizens had freedom of practicing religion. Shivaji’s father and uncle Shah(ji) and Sharif(ji) were named after the Sufi Pir Shah Sharif of Ahmednagar. Shivaji fought to establish the political rights of Hindus in the Deccan which they had lost to the Sultans and the Moghuls. What most Muslims and (Hindus too forget) is that even when the political pendulum swung the other way and Hindus regained supremacy in the large parts of Deccan, of the many Jama Masjids that were built on site of demolished Hindu temples very few were reverted back to their original status. What hurts most Hindus (and indirectly Indian Muslims too) is that the Muslims had their cake (Pakistan) and are eating it too (continue living in India). Ideally there should have been no Pakistan. Don’t more Muslims live and prosper in India with Hindus and other religions than in Pakistan. The formation of Bangladesh and the continuing strife in Pakistan prove that despite what Jinnah said the Indian Muslim is not a nation. I am afraid that so long as there is Pakistan in its present Islamic Republic nature there is no chance of peace.

    Even the Quaid e Azam had envisaged Pakistan as a secular country,

    “If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor… you are free- you are free to go to your temples mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state… in due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to Muslims- not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of one state”
    Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Karachi August 11, 1947

  3. The story is not about Vasai nawab’s daughter-in-law, but the daughter-in-law of the Subhedar of Kalyan.

  4. Shivaji was a leader with a vision. He led from the front, and with a lot of courage. A lot of his administrative reforms had a national impact although his writ hardly ran beyond Maharashtra.

    He does not belong to any single community. He belongs to all Indians.

  5. I have seen the play Janata Raja and I disagree to what Ram Puniyani reports. The play in no way projects Shivaji as a fanatic or a Muslim hater, on the other hand there is one scene in which he orders during the “Raid on Surat”, to give due respect to a copy of Koran found.

  6. The problem with all Indians is that we live too much in the past. I do not suggest even remotely that history is not important. Having said that, i sincerely feel we should leave our religion inside closed doors when we walk out. A very difficuly proposition considering vast regional, cultural, ethnic differences that exist. As any race would, we form friends, groups, clubs, cults etc with likeminded people. That becomes the basis of our bias & suspicion of others. As Shivaji might have done, first set ur house in order and then look beyond to accomodate others using a common objective (swaraj- in his case) relative to the time & if u one day find urself in manchester, live happily like a Brit.

  7. Shivaji did his efforts to consolidate whole deccan empire. He was in favor of one authority’s rule in whole deccan area and wanted to keep aloof deccan from the northern powers especially moghuls. He never used religion to increase his empire instead he spread a sense of ‘Deccanhood’ among the people of deccan regardless of the religion.

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