Abusing Shivaji for Sectarian Goals

Early February one teacher of prestigious Engineering College in Mumbai, VJTI, was beaten up by the staff of the same college. The staff members belonged to the labour wing of Shiv Sena.

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Early February one teacher of prestigious Engineering College in Mumbai, VJTI, was beaten up by the staff of the same college. The staff members belonged to the labour 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 an atmosphere of intolerance developing in academic institutions. 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’s book on Shivaji. This book, through research, had raised doubt about the paternity of the great Maratha warrior.
The earlier campaign of right wing forces to communalise 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 polarise a section of Hindu voters. 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 breakaway faction Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), 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 led 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 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 Dargahs were given due protection. He also ordered that whenever a copy of the Qur’an came into the hands of his men, they should show it proper respect and hand it over to Muslims. The story of his bowing to the daughter-in-law of Bassein’s Nawab is well known. When she was brought as part of the loot and offered to him, he respectfully begged her pardon and asked his soldiers to take her back to the place from where she was forcibly brought. Sardesai in his book New History of Marathas writes, “One thing is quite 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 the 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 is not only religion but multiple other aspects which formed the base of the king’s rule, have 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 among a 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 a book by Govind Pansare, Shivaji Kon Hota (Who was Shivaji?), Havavate’s book, Shivrayanche Nishthavant Muslaman Sainik (Shivaji’s Loyal Muslim Soldiers) and Jayant Gadkari’s enlightening book on Shivaji, remain in the dusty libraries ignored and bypassed by social thinking.
No wonder the followers of same intolerance, MNS (it seems by Nirman, construction, they mean burning the property of non-Marathis) are currently attacking other people from different states to polarise the society while the incompetent Government is a mute witness to the whole drama. The incompetence of the government in protecting the lives and properties of people 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 breakaway political stream of Shiv Sena itself.
Incidentally the lecturer who has been attacked is also a progressive, liberal one sympathising 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.