The decision of the BJP government in Maharashtra to confer the Maharashtra Bhushan, the state’s highest award, on Babasaheb Purandare, who is well-known for his ballads and writing on Maratha warrior Shivaji, has now turned into a major controversy.
The objection to the decision was first raised by the Nationalist Congress Party and by Monday, several prominent personalities as well as the Congress joined in.
Those who are objecting to Purandare being given the award say his portrayal of Shivaji is not based on facts. He presented a distorted image of Shivaji as a Hindu King. Shivaji was not communal, even though he fought battles against kingdoms led by Muslim kings, and even had several Muslims in his army, they say.
Some of them have also alleged that Purandare’s writing shows Bramhin dominance over Shivaji and portrays misleading image of the warrior as well as his parents, Jijabai and Shahaji. Purandare’s supporters have countered the allegations, saying that he has shown Shivaji as a patriot. Purandare dedicated his life for work on Shivaji and it was him who made Shivaji a household name in past several decades, they insist.
The state government has not accepted the demand but is wary of the opposition and hence twice shifted the venue. The function will now be held at the high-security Raj Bhavan (office-residence complex of state’s Governor) on August 19. On Monday, there was some more opposition to the move with NCP MP and Shivaji’s direct descendant Udayanraje Bhosale writing a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asking him to put the function on hold. On the other hand, some prominent personalities from Pune have started a signature campaign in support of Purandare.
It is not a secret that Purandare has been close to Shiv Sena-BJP though he was respected across political lines. As such, nobody was surprised when his name was declared for the Maharashtra Bhushan award. And if one considers the recent political history, it is no surprise either that the selection has turned into a political controversy.
It is not the first time that Shivaji is being used for political purposes. Shiv Sena used the Maharashtra icon as its political mascot. The NCP used Shivaji’s name ahead of 2004 Assembly elections, following the James Laine issue after some miscreants ransacked Pune’s Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in protest of certain references to Shivaji’s parents in Lain’s book, ‘Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India.’
The NCP made it an election issue and even encouraged organisations such as Sambhaji Brigade, which attacked BORI. In the 2009 Assembly polls, the Congress-NCP promised the voters they would build the tallest statue of Shivaji in the Arabian sea, off-Mumbai coast.
Most recently, in the 2014 Assembly elections, BJP’s slogan was: ‘Chhatrapatincha ashirwad, chalo chale Modi ke sath’ (Lets support Modi with the blessings of Chhatrapati--emperor Shivaji).
The saffron combine received tremendous support even in the areas of western and central Maharashtra, where Maratha votes are dominant. Little wonder, the BJP-Shiv Sena see the current controversy created by the opposition parties, especially the NCP, as an effort to create a sense of anguish among the Maratha voters and alienate them from the government headed by a Bramhin chief minister, Fadnavis.
On several occasions in the past five decades, Maharashtra has seen Bramhin versus non-Bramhin (especially Marathas) tussle even though Bramhins have not been a dominant political force. It won’t be a surprise if the current controversy becomes yet another episode in the political game of one-upmanship