Why is Shivaji so very important for every party in Maharashtra? | Opinion
For political parties in Maharashtra, the warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji is not just a political constituency, but his name is a currency that allows politicians to reach out to Marathas who account for 33% of Maharashtra’s population.Updated: Jan 15, 2020 16:20 IST
Earlier this week, a book written by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from New Delhi triggered a controversy as it compared Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Maratha warrior-king, Chhatrapati Shivaji.
As the controversy raged, almost every political party in Maharashtra lapped it up to draw political mileage. This wasn’t the first controversy involving the 17th century king, nor is it going to be the last.
The significance of Shivaji and many things associated with his name makes him the most exploited icon in Maharashtra’s politics for more than five decades. For political parties, Shivaji is not just a political constituency, but his name is a currency that allows politicians to reach out to Marathas who account for 33 % of Maharashtra’s overall population.
It’s for the same reason that most political parties including Shiv Sena, BJP, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress have on occasions tried to appropriate Shivaji’s legacy, something that the warrior king’s own descendants are not indifferent to as they too dabble in politics.
If the Shivaji cult was first built by Brahmins, beginning with Lokmanya Tilak in the early 20th century, the Shiv Sena jumped into the fray and exploited Shivaji for its own political ends by projecting him as an Hindu icon. This was then was copied by the BJP.
Not to be left behind, the NCP and Maratha offshoots like Sambhaji Brigade exploited the historic figure through the caste prism while targeting Brahmins to consolidate the bahujan vote bank. It was for the same reasons that the library of the Pune-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute was vandalized in 2004 in the wake of the controversy over the publication of a book on Shivaji by scholar James Laine.
Although the Sambhaji Brigade activists had been booked by the police, the Pune court later acquitted all of them in absence of evidence.
Like political establishments, historians and the bodies they are affiliated with have also behaved opportunistically by selectively projecting Shivaji’s history. This was evident when the Maharashtra government conferred the Maharashtra Bhooshan award on Babasaheb Purandare, a Brahmin author who created a larger than life image of Shivaji, as he faced opposition from Brigade and other Maratha historians like Srimant Kokate.
Thus, if the NCP-Congress exploited Shivaji’s name in the 2004 and 2009 assembly polls, BJP used the icon in 2014. For the Sena, Shivaji has been the central plank of it politics ever since it was formed in the 1960s.
The ultimate result of this race to appropriate Shivaji’s legacy has trapped the state trapped between two socially regressive political formations, with one wanting to whip up caste sentiments and the other, ride on the Hindutva bandwagon.
“Shivaji’s name is being used by everyone to pursue their own goals,” says the warrior’s 13th descendant Udayanraje Bhosale, conveniently accusing various political parties without sharing the blame as he also fought elections on the same plank for years together before tasting defeat when he switched sides – from NCP to BJP – within days of getting elected.