There is no chief minister of Maharashtra who has done more for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj than the late Abdul Rehman Antulay. The state owes it to him to have the huge picture of Shivaji at the entrance of Mantralaya.
He commissioned a 12-volume history of the Maratha warrior king, which was terminated when he went out of power. He revived many of Shivaji’s forts that were lying in decay, and he made the best efforts to get Queen Elizabeth II to return Shivaji’s Sword of Bhavani.
When I asked him about this obsession, Antulay was furious at the modern-day portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim. “He was against Moghul expansionism. That is not the same thing as being anti-Muslim,” he told me.
Now, this portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim is mostly the doing of the Shiv Sena, a stance based largely on the works of balladeer Babasaheb Purandare who was recently conferred with the Maharashtra Bhushan award by the state government.
It was mostly the NCP and its “subsidiaries”, if I may call them that (like the Sambhaji Brigade), who opposed the award, and much of that opposition was casteist.
Purandare is Brahmin, so is the state’s CM, Devendra Fadnavis.
Rarely has a Brahmin ruled Maharashtra, post-Independence, and when they have, like Antulay, Marathas like Sharad Pawar conspired against him and got him out of power.
I hate to think that Maharashtra may be headed towards major caste conflagrations. Fadnavis did not do himself any favour by threatening to throw those opposing the award off a cliff – like Shivaji did with his enemies.
I may gently remind him that was a medieval punishment for opposing a monarch. We are now neither monarchical, nor medieval. We live in a modern democracy and, as a lawyer, Fadnavis should have known such punishment does not exist on our statute books.
However, Fadnavis might have felt vulnerable and under extreme pressure at the allusion to his and Purandare’s castes during the agitation.
But I am afraid, while this particular award controversy might be over, there is another major caste war brewing that is unlikely to be confined just to a war between the upper castes (Brahmins) and the ruling classes (Marathas).
This time, the Congress might join the war too, for tempers are simmering and about to explode.
So if the Maharashtra government does not take some immediate measures to buy a particular property at King Henry Road in London that is up for sale, it could lead to a major realignment of castes once again in this country.
This politics of castes was broken by Narendra Modi, with his victory in the 2014 parliamentary election. Both the Congress and NCP lost their traditional bases of the Marathas, OBCs, Dalits and to a certain extent Muslims.
Why the Congress did not bother much with the Purandare controversy is because Muslims are currently in a bind and have not too many places to go, but the OBCs and Dalits see Modi, if not the BJP, as one of their own. And that is why acquiring Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s London home becomes so important.
The property was put up for sale in September 2013, and the Maharashtra government expressed the desire to buy it. The state finance department raised objections, then as now, although it is going for a mere Rs30 crore.
But it is a fact that no state government can buy property abroad, and so, while then CM Prithviraj Chavan sent a letter of intent to the auctioneers in London, the Union finance ministry took its time – and soon the UPA was out of power at the Centre.
Now, with the same party ruling both the state and the Centre, I believe it is a golden opportunity for the BJP to show some serious intent, rather than just make noises – state education minister Vinod Tawde visited London, posed before the property and announced it had been bought.
An angry Nitin Raut, former Congress minister, who had initiated the process while in government, calls him ‘fekuchand’ and tells me he now plans a campaign wherein every Indian will contribute one rupee to buy the property.
I believe that will be best - a people’s initiative that will cut out the politics. At least, there will not be another caste war in the state.