In 2004, a little known group called the Sambhaji Brigade vandalised Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune, destroying hundreds of books and age-old manuscripts, in alleged retaliation to the institute’s academic support to author James Laine, who had penned a controversial book on Shivaji, the Maratha king.
The Congress-NCP government in power then turned a blind eye to the vandalism, and the then home minister RR Patil from the NCP, instead, promptly banned Laine’s book, legitimising the group’s angst and protest.
Now, 12 years and several similar protests later, the hardline, distinctly anti-Brahmin, Maratha cult group is wetting its feet in active politics by contesting in the upcoming city civic polls and Zilla Parishad elections due in the next couple of months. The decision follows the massive Maratha protests staged last year across Maharashtra to demand reservation in jobs and education for the community.
On Tuesday, perhaps to mark their foray in politics, members of the Sambhaji Brigade uprooted a bust of a well known Marathi playwright, Ram Ganesh Gadkari at a public park in Pune, named like the organisation, after Sambhaji Maharaj, Shivaji’s son.
The bust was pulled out in protest of one of Gadkari’s incomplete plays published in 1916, in which they have claimed he portrayed Sambhaji as an “addict”’ and “a womaniser”. That Gadkari’s bust was installed in the park in 1962 has been pointed out inconsequential by the group.
For the past decade, the Brigade and its parent body, the Maratha Mahasangh, was to the NCP what Bajrang Dal has been for BJP. The NCP tacitly encouraged and supported these groups to maintain its dominance over the disgruntled Maratha youth in rural Maharashtra. This was also a reason for the party’s gains in the 2004 Assembly polls. Until 2014, the NCP in power had supported the various demands of these groups — from banning Laine’s book to removing a statue of Dadaji Konddev (Shivaji’s guru and a Brahmin) in Pune, to even changing the name of the state-level award in Konddev’s name.
The irony now is that despite the molly coddling, the Sambhaji Brigade has become ambitious and can bite into the NCP’s votes, that too in its home turf of Pune.
“We plan to contest elections in all municipal corporations and Zilla Parishads to varying capacities and we will soon come out with a political agenda that focusses on the Maratha community. All non-political Maratha groups will support us,” Manoj Akhare, the chairman of the Sambhaji Brigade told HT.
For now, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite having a Brahmin Chief Minister at the helm, can rest easy.