Why Shivaji was an incomparable king
There is no other leader of Maharashtra, including the many Maratha chief ministers, who has done more for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj than the late Abdul Rehman Antulay.
The large portrait of the Maratha warrior king at the entrance of Mantralaya was set up by Antulay when he was the chief minister in the early 1980s. He was a very proud, and even arrogant, man. But he himself plunged into a dusty godown of the state secretariat and rummaged through all the discarded artefacts to find the portrait he knew existed. As it was being installed, once again he himself stepped across the road from Mantralaya to make sure all passers-by could see and appreciate Shivaji’s portrait despite the distance.
Then he set about the restoration of Shivaji’s forts, commissioned a noted historian of the time to write a 14 volume history of Shivaji, and also made moves to recover Shivaji’s Sword, the Bhavani Talwar, from the Queen of Great Britain.
“I wanted the series of books called just ‘Shivaji the Great’ like ‘Alexander the Great’, ‘Akbar the Great’, or ‘Ashoka the Great’. Unfortunately, my government went out of power. No incoming government, including that of my successor (Babasaheb Bhosale) who claimed to be a descendent of Shivaji, or that of Manohar Joshi whose party was founded in the name of Shivaji, pursued any of it.”
Antulay had to resign a month before his appointment with Queen Elizabeth to negotiate terms for the return of the Bhavani Talwar. Bhosale did not keep that appointment, and the sword was lost to us forever.
When I asked Antulay why this fondness for Shivaji, he said no Maharashtrian of any hue could not love Shivaji. “He was one king who did his most for all sections of the society. And his opposition to the Mughals did not mean any distrust of Muslims. His most trusted generals, including his personal bodyguard Ibrahim Siddi, were Muslim. So I wanted to eliminate the misconceptions about Shivaji’s attempts to establish a Hindavi Swarajya. It was not a Hindu-Muslim war, but an attempt to shake off the yoke of the Mughals that most Hindu kings, including the Rajputs, were under and strike out for independent rule; as did many non-Mughal Muslim rulers, too.”
Antulay was absolutely right. This is why it is unfortunate that there is now an attempt to give a religious colour to Shivaji’s battles by modern day writers, who are interested only in dipping into the current brew of the poisonous communal potion being churned out for the ignorant. The film ‘Tanhaji’, which is about Shivaji’s childhood friend and general Tanaji Malasure, is one such example. The book ‘Aaj ke Shivaji: Narendra Modi’ is another.
The Battle of Kondhana that won Shivaji the fort of Sinhagad is a legend by itself. Malasure and his men scaled an almost perpendicular wall to enter the fort where they fought an army, three times the size of theirs, led by Rajput general Udaybhan Singh Rathore. Both Tanaji and Rathore perished in the battle but Rathore’s leadership of that campaign is a clear indication that this was neither a holy war nor a Hindu-Muslim skirmish.
The writer of the book on Modi, Jai Bhagwan Goyal, who was earlier a Shiv Sainik, should have been conversant with the Maratha warrior king’s history. Amid a major storm brewing in Maharashtra over the book, several police complaints have been filed against him by different workers of all political parties.
To the Shiv Sena, currently bitterly opposed to the BJP, no one, not even Modi, can hold a candle to the Maratha warrior king. NCP minister Jitendra Awhad has gone a step further and described Shivaji as the sun, incomparable to any lamp or candle. Former chief minister Ashok Chavan of the Congress has expressed outrage that Shivaji, with his inclusivist ideology, was compared to a leader of a highly divisive political party.
Even Shivaji’s direct descendants — Shivendra Raje Bhosale of the Satara branch of the family, now a BJP MLA; and Sambhaji Chhatrapati, party Rajya Sabha MP from the Kolhapur seat of the Chhatrapati kings — have called for a ban on the book. Protests have been planned across Maharashtra.
No wonder the BJP, trying to desperately hold on to its support base in Maharashtra, has lost its nerve and now distanced itself from the book. As for the film ‘Tanhaji’, it is easy to mouth anti-Muslim sentiments centuries after the event. Shivaji, however, would not have survived Mughal India had he done the same. His opposition to the Mughals was political, not religious. That is why Antulay too labelled him ‘great’.