The controversy over the BJP-led state government’s decision to award the Maharashtra Bhushan to historian Babasaheb Purandare for his work on Maratha warrior king Shivaji gathered steam a day before the ceremony at Raj Bhavan on August 19. Several scholars and NCP and Congress leaders have opposed the move, claiming Purandare presents a distorted version of Shivaji, which they term “Brahminical” and “insulting”.
On Tuesday, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray came out in support of Purandare and blamed Nationalist Congress Part (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar for “politicising” the issue. Pawar dismissed Raj’s allegations that he raised the issue because the state government is now headed by a Brahmin (chief minister Devendra Fadnavis).
The controversy also took a violent turn on Tuesday when members of the Sambhaji Brigade – a Maratha outfit which claims that Purandare has distorted history and “defamed” the Maratha king and his mother – threw stones at the personal office of Ram Shinde, minister of state for home, in Ahmednagar. They also threw leaflets expressing their view. BJP state president Raosaheb Danve said the party would not remain a mute spectator if “some miscreants” tried to create trouble over the issue.
Meanwhile, Raj Thackeray squarely blamed Pawar for the controversy. “Pawar is responsible for this controversy along with some BJP leaders who have a hidden agenda (against Fadnavis). The fight is not against Purandare, who is a Brahmin, but against Fadnavis, who is a Brahmin chief minister. This is all politics of caste and it is sad that we have degraded the highest state award by creating a controversy around it,” he said. He asked why Pawar had felicitated Purandare on more than three occasions and why he had never brought up these issues then.
Pawar on his part dismissed Raj’s allegations and said the controversy should be put to bed. “I want to draw a curtain on the issue. I don’t give importance to what he (Raj) says. Even today, a lot of people need to use me to enter the limelight,” he said.
NCP leader Jitendra Awhad, one of the most vocal protesters against Purandare, ruled out any violence during the award function. “We will never use undemocratic means to oppose Purandare. However, we will continue to oppose him and the government’s decision to present him the Maharashtra Bhushan,” he added.
Speaking on behalf of the government, culture minister Vinod Tawde appealed to politicians and others, asking them not to politicise the issue, and said the function would go ahead as planned. The government has already changed the venue for the function twice, and has now zeroed-in on Durbar Hall, a high-security venue at Raj Bhavan, the governor’s residence at Malabar Hill.