Opposition to the Maharashtra Bhushan for historian Babasaheb Purandare is snowballing forcing the Maharashtra government to shift the August 19 awards ceremony to the high-security Raj Bhavan campus here.
Several Maratha outfits have opposed the award to the 92-year-old chronicler of Chhattrapati Shivaji’s life accusing him of distorting facts, a charge echoed by progressive circles.
In fact, Jnanpith awardee Bhalchandra Nemade, writers Nagnath Kotapalle and Vidya Bal, and the kin of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, progressive intellectuals who were slain by assailants yet to be traced, have written to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis asking him not to confer the highest state award on Purandare. In a letter, they alleged that Purandare distorted history and restricted the Maratha warrior-king to a specific community. They also claimed that Purandare’s writings fostered fundamentalism.
The award attracted flak ever since it was announced in April this year. Organisations such as the Maratha Mahasangh, Sambhaji Brigade and Chhava, have threatened to vandalise the awards ceremony. The government had planned to hold it in Pune, where Purandare lives, but the cops were against it saying these organisations had a strong presence in the area. Then it was shifted to the sprawling Shanmukhananda Hall at Sion for August 15. But the police again said they could not ensure security as it was located in a crowded locality. Hence the decision to shift it to the Raj Bhavan.
Culture minister Vinod Tawde said there was nothing wrong in holding the ceremony for the highest state award as the Raj Bhavan on the lines of the award functions at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The Sambhaji Brigade had vandalised Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune in 2004 in protest against James Laine’s book on Shivaji. Anant Chonde, coordinator of Sambhaji Brigade, said, “By honouring Purandare with the award, the government is inviting trouble for itself. Our workers believe in the guerrilla warfare of Shivaji and a Bhandarkar-like incident is possible if the government confers the award.” Laine has acknowledged Purandare’s help in his book.
So now, the government has decided to restrict the gathering to some select invitees and hold the function at the Raj Bhavan.
The NCP MLA from Thane Jitendra Awhad has also been opposing the award and one of his protest meetings at Sangli was disrupted on July 20 by a group that wanted the honour conferred on Purandare.
Within the NCP itself, Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit have spoken in different voices on the issue. Pawar senior has said that the literature of Purandare on Shivaji was a distortion and an insult to the Maratha king. Days earlier, Ajit Pawar had distanced himself from Awhad’s protests and said Purandare’s writings on Shivaji were a great service to history and that he should not be opposed.