Shivaji and the Parochial Politics of Hate

Shivaji was the last great constructive genius produced by the Hindu Civilization’ Sir Jadunath Sarkar

The Sambhaji brigade is at it again. The house of Kumar Ketkar, the Loksatta editor was vandalized by a NCP affiliated organization, the Shivasangram Sangathana (hooligans acting in the name of the Maratha king Shivaji) His crime was his audacious verbal assault on an idol of Shivaji erected at a cost of 100 crores of public money at a time when hundreds of farmers are regularly committing suicide at Vidarbha, and several thousand potential others are on the verge of doing so having been crippled by outstanding debts and failing crops.

This demeaning devotion to Shivaji is not new. James M Laine who penned the controversial history book on Shivaji with research material provided by the prestigious Bhandarkar research institute questioned Shivaji’s traditional paternity and his hero-worthiness! Immediately, the Sambhaji brigade, a Maratha chauvinist organization also affiliated to Sharad Pawar’s NCP gave vent to their fury by barging into the institute and destroying several irreplaceable and priceless manuscripts. The then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee publicly condemned the violence and considered any attempts to ban the book as antidemocratic. But the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra, eager to represent itself as the exclusive protector of Shivaji’s legacy and for sake of petty political gains went ahead and banned the book. The irony was that the worldwide condemnation was directed against Hinduvta organizations when it was the Congress-NCP backed Sambhaji brigade which was at the vanguard of the movement. Even James M Laine pointed out to the leftist weekly, the Frontline as to the difficulty in categorizing the Sambhaji brigade as ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ when all evidence indicated its anti-brahmin orientation.

I must concede that there were some Hinduvta sympathizers like the journalist Sandhya Jain, who went overboard in the book’s criticism and made the unfortunate remark that she did not consider the violence as totally unjustifiable. Admittedly, some of the insinuations were in a bad taste. But James M Laine was well within his rights to write a critical account of a medieval Hindu king and his efforts should only have been resisted in the academic arena. That the power of the pen is mightier than the sword is now pass’.

The UPSC civil services examination prelims 2008 paper on History contained a question which hinted at Sambhaji’s loose character. Sambhaji was Shivaji’s elder son and legend suggests he was imprisoned by Shivaji himself when he came to know that he had violated a young woman. But since Sambhaji has emerged as a non Brahmin icon due to his contempt for Brahmins, such a fact was deemed unacceptable and the UPSC board the very next day publicly annulled the question with an apology in place.

We find that in each of these incidents, the perpetrators of violence share some profound anti-historical values. Shivaji was an exceptionally sensitive and caring king regarding his subjects. The historian Stewart Gordon informs us that Shivaji encouraged taqqavi loans, low settlements to repopulate devastated areas and carefully commanded his army when they were in monsoon cantonments not to disturb tax collectors while uncultivable wastelands were usually excluded from assessment. However, M G Ranade, the nationalist statesman in his Rise of the Maratha Power admits Shivaji’s policy inevitably caused great hardships to the peasants situated in the border areas of neighboring states. But despite such problematic scenario, we are confident that Shivaji would have done anything to alleviate the condition of the peasants. Yet the mercy of Maratha chauvinists remains unmoved as farmer suicides in Vidarbha multiply. Worse, they would probably not even allow the uncared Vidarbha region the status of a separate state due to regional parochialism. It is difficult to envisage how the unostentatious Shivaji could even have considered his literally idolatrous deification at the cost of his starving subjects.

Shivaji faced a slew of slanders since his career began. Aurangzeb considered him no better than a ‘mountain rat’; Khafi Khan, the contemporary Mughal chronicler used the choicest expletives against him although he grudgingly admired the infidel Shivaji’s respect for Muslim female prisoners of war whom he returned to the enemy camp unmolested and his respect for religious scripture including the Quran whose copies he returned non mutilated. The colonial historian Vincent Smith denounced him as a robber chieftain who ‘inflicted untold misery on hundred of thousands of innocent people’.

Still, the worst calumny was being charged as a degraded murderer by Grant Duff because of his killing Afzal Khan. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great leader publicly refuted the charge and defended Shivaji for his nationalist actions. The wary English pounced on the opportunity and sentenced Tilak on the charges of sedition. However, the eminent Indian Historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar discovered the clinching proof which formed the basis for Shivaji’s exoneration. In his ’Shivaji and his Times’, he conscientious proves through the letter of the English factory record (Rajapur letter, 10 Dec. 1659) that Afzal planned to murder Shivaji by pretending friendship. Also, the contemporary Maratha historians are all unanimous in stating that it was Afzal who struck the first blow in the interview. This evidence rips apart the claim of Grant Duff that Shivaji had effected a pre-medicated political murder.

So truth does triumph, although it may take time, effort and a sustained will. Only ethically and intellectually bankrupt people resort to violence when faced with academic challenges.

Finally, the innocent assumption of the brigade that Shivaji shared an anti-brahmanical orientation is baseless and renders a travesty of historical scholarship. Shivaji in his letters honestly believed himself to be a Rajput. However, since Brahmins continued to cast aspersions on his claims to royal lineage, he had to invoke the services of the great Brahmin scholar Gaga Bhat, who certified his right to the throne. Shivaji had high regard for Brahmin scholarship and this is the reason he replaced Persian with Sanskrit as the language of the court. In his coronation ceremony, Shivaji spent more than a crore and half on feeding and gifting the Brahmins. He continued indulging brahmanical orthodoxy as is evident at Shri Shaila close to his death where he built a monastery, a rest house, fed a lakh of Brahmins and gave away large sums to them. Of course, the reverse attempts at Brahmanical appropriation of Shivaji by those like Rajwade are also incorrect.

Shivaji had a stern mind and usually believed in independent decision making. He did make measured checks on Brahmanical power. He even considered punishing some intolerant Brahmins by removing them from lucrative secular duties like the command of armies; and instead limit them to the work they know best ‘ worshiping god. But nowhere do we find any hint of him being endowed with a natural aversion to Brahmins, leave alone hatred for the same. Shivaji’s administration did envisage a society free from caste based exploitation and which granted equal opportunities where each could be self-reliant. It advocated toleration and justice towards all its members. But he neither had the luxury of time, nor resources to work towards a lasting solution for Hindu society.

Shivaji was a sagacious and constructive Hindu king in Islamic India. But his hypocritical contemporary followers, swearing on his name, yet following a policy of parochialism, bigotry and hatred prove the dangers of historical ignorance. Today, it is not a question of how Shivaji’s name survived the onslaught of the most powerful Mughal emperor but how shall his memory outlast the malevolence created in his name by such disruptive forces.


More by :  Saurav Basu

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Comment That the above comment is written by someone who calls himself "Truth without Bias" is not without irony.

Firstly, it must be recalled that Mehmood Ghazni was revered as a devout Muslim throughout the Islamic world. At one point when he was carrying a idol, a neighbouring Hindu king pleaded him to return the idol in lieu of riches. He denied it outright, stating that he would like the world to remember him as idol-breaker than idol-seller. Whenever these Islamic armies fought a battle they themselves called it "JIHAD"and quoted appropriate verses justifying the war and reinforcing that the war is in service of Islam. Now does the commenter claim that he knows better than the penetrators of the crimes themselves?

The above commenter makes much of the Hindu participation in Islamic armies. That is true of even British India. The revolution of 1857 was crushed not by native-British armies but armies from various Presidencies in India. Imagine, a historian interpreting British-rule of India as "Indo-British" joint venture. Likewise it can be shown that many Jews participated in Hitler's Halacaust aimed against their own co-religionists. The impure composition of armies does not in any way weaken the characterization of medieval India as conflict between Hindus and Muslims.

The notion that Hindus indulged in temple-breaking too is not based on historical facts. There were literally thousands of mosques throughout India. They were not destroyed by Muslims even when their co-religionists plotted against them from these mosques. The basic intention of temple-breaking had more to do with humiliating Hindus than political/economic causes.

The one case of Harsha of Kashmir was when he was already influenced by invading Muslim armies and himself adopted some Islamic practices (though he still ate pork). In fact a more deep reading will reveal that locals reviled him as "Turk King". Moreover, he did not cause any damage to Mosques. This is one one case where King had more of secular cause for temple-destruction.

The story of Aurangzeb is a myth. There is documentary proof available that Aurangzeb commanded his offices to destroy temples and he followed it rigourously. If he indeed wanted to reconstruct it, why didn't he? And he reinstituted jiziya on Hindus.

And when Hindus regained upper hand in 18th century, they certainly didn't indulge in mosque-destruction. Whereas even Tipu Sultan indulged in forceful conversions in whatever area he influenced.

And lastly, the commenter has no understanding of Hinduism at all. He elevates Manusmriti as if it the defining document of Hinduism. Now tell me exactly how many Hindus refer to Manusmriti to deal with their problems (societal/personal) etc in the same way as Muslims refer to Quran and Hadiths. No Hindu scripture fully captures the essence of Hinduism in the same way Bible does to Christians and Quran does to Muslims.

Many Islamic chroniclers wrote much about prevalent systems in India. Even Al-Biruni, contemporary of Ghazni, who wrote in pretty detail doesn't mention any discrimination based on castes. There is no historical evidence to suggest that Manusmriti was actually implemented in ancient India.

The commenter must explain why people of Iran/Iraq etc converted to Islam when their religions (Zarathustraism) didn't have any caste system. The truth is plain and simple. The sword of Islam conquered whole lands and forcefuly converted local masses. They achieved astonishing success in Iran etc. where the new converts took on to their new belief with more fanatism. The Islamic armies were remarkably successful till they reached India. They were unable to make any inroads for 5 centuries and only at the beginning of 12th century did they conquer Delhi. The early Delhi Sultanate was rife with internal strifes and were in continous turmoil. Only after Akbar integrated Rajputs did he actually consolidate an empire. That began to stumble once Aurangzeb reimposed pure Islam in India.

Importantly, the way Islamic armies grinded India is infered NOT from Hindu sources but from the Islamic chroniclers themselves who write in glee how their armies plundered and massacred the populace. Other shameful aspects of Islam like slave trade are not highlighted enough.

It is pure mischief to suggest without adequate proof that Manusmriti was implemented in pre-Islamic India.

Lastly, Islam has a pathetic record of human rights - and this is putting it in most delicate words. It clearly instigates violence against non-believers (infidels) and promises them hell. As long as Islamic armies were able to rule, they justified their ruthless mass-killing and plunder in the name of Islam. Islam has provision for loot and a fifth of loot belongs to Caliph. Regarding treatment of women, the less said, the better. A religion which imposes veil on woman now gives sermons to others.

Only when they lost out heavily in world power dynamics they have upturned the original concepts to mean something more civilized.

Why, even today, in gulf countries, others have to live within strict rule of Sharia unlike India which is secular democratic country.

I appreciate the commenter's concern that we must focus on a rational way and strive for communal harmony. But the basis for communal harmony cannot be falsehood. It has to be based on truth for lasting peace.

03-Jul-2012 07:30 AM

Comment Truth without Bias

The discipline of history has come to the center stage of social debate for last two decades. We have witnessed a worsening of inter-community relations and spreading of derogatory myths against minority communities in particular and weaker sections of society in general. The rising tide of communal violence is standing on the myths against the minority community, which are based on a particular interpretation of history.

These myths are very peculiar. When scratched a little, one can see the falsity of the same. In our context the period of medieval times is the one maximally misused for manufacturing such myths. It should be noted that the bias of our history is towards the kings and heroes of the past and toilers, women, slaves, shudras, the poor peasants, the sections which make the history by providing the very ground on which these ‘nobles’ stand, are missing from the discourse of history.

In today’s parlance many a myths have assumed the status of unshakable facts. Generally it is assumed that Muslim kings destroyed Hindu temples to spite the Hindus. Today’s ‘social common sense’ believes that not only Somnath temple but also Ram Janm bhumi temple, Kashi Vishwanth temple, the Mathura Krishna Janmasthan and thousands of other temples have been destroyed by the Mughal aggressors. The general and sweeping statement apart let us have a look at some of these demolitions. Mahmud Gazni on way to Somanth encountered the Muslim ruler of Multan (Abdul Fat Dawod), with whom he had to have a battle to cross Multan. In the battle the Jama Masjid of Multan was badly damaged. Further on way he struck compromise with Anandpal, the ruler of Thaneshwar who escorted his army towards Somanth with due hospitality. Gazni’s army had a good number of Hindu soldiers and five out of his 12 generals were Hindus (Tilak, Rai Hind, Sondhi, Hazran etc). Before proceeding to damage the temple he took custody of the gold and jewels, which were part of the temple treasury. After the battle he issued coins in his name with inscriptions in Sanskrit and appointed a Hindu Raja as his representative in Somnath. Similarly Dr. Pattabhi Sitarammaiya in his History of India describes the circumstances under which the Kashi Vishwanth temple had to be razed to the ground. He states that when Aurangzeb’s entourage was on way from Delhi to Kolkata the Hindu queens requested for the overnight stay in Kashi to enable them to have the Darshan of Lord Vishwananth. Next morning one of the queens who had gone to have the holy prayer did not return and was found in the basement of the temple, dishonored and raped by the Mahant of the temple. The Mahant was punished and the temple was razed to the ground as it had become polluted due to this ghastly act. Aurangzeb gave land and state support to build another temple.

It should be noted that Hindu Kings were not far behind in attacking and damaging temples when it became a political necessity for their rule or for the lust of wealth. Retreating Maratha armies destroyed the temple of Srirangtatanm, to humiliate Tipu Sultan whom they could not defeat in the battle. Parmar kings destroyed Jain temples. A Hindu king called Shashank cut off the Bodhi tree where Lord Gautam Buddha got his Nirvana. Similarly Kalhan a Kashmiri poet describes the life of King Harshdev of Kashmir, who appointed a special officer, Devotpatan Nayak (An officer who uproots the images of Gods) to usurp the gold from the temples. Aurangzeb did not hesitate to destroy the Jama Masjid in Golconda as Nawab Tanashah refused to pay him tribute for three consecutive years and hid his wealth underneath a mosque, which was damaged by Aurangzeb to recover his ‘dues’. Also many a Muslim kings gave Jagirs to the temples to keep their subjects happy. It is clear that kings from both the religions destroyed the places of worship for the sake of amassing wealth or for other political purposes.

Similarly the myth that Islam spread on the point of sword is equally baseless. It is true that many a ruling nobles and Rajas adopted Islam to rise in the hierarchy of the Mughal emperors. Also some families must have adopted Islam out of fear of the Muslim kings. But this conversion is a small trickle compared to the majority of Dalits (then called untouchables), the poor toiling peasants who took to Islam to escape the tyranny of Brahmins and zamindars. This was out of a longing for social justice, which prompted them to interact with the Sufi saints who unlike Ulama were mixing with the poor and the deprived of the society and adopted local idioms. It was in response to the appeal of peaceful Sufis and the longing to achieve social justice that majority of Shudras got converted to Islam.

Similarly the glorification of Shivaji and Rana Pratap for establishing Hindu Kingdoms is a total myth. Rana Pratap was longing for a higher status in the Mughal administration and having been denied that, entered into a battle with Mughal king Akbar. Now this was by no means a fight between Hindus and Muslims. Akbar was represented in the battle by Raja Mansing and an army, which was a mix of Rajput soldiers and Muslim soldiers, while Rana Pratap’s army also had Muslim (Pathan) and Rajput soldiers. His second in command was Hakim Khan Sur, whose mazar is the place of annual festival in Haldi Ghati even today. After Rana Pratap, his son Amar Singh was granted higher status in Mughal administration and he became a close ally of Jehangir. Similarly Shivaji was struggling for removal of corruption and a higher control of local resources, His confidential secretary was Maulavi Haider Ali, and the chief of his cannon division was Ibrahim Gardi.

Also his close ally at the time of his escape from Agra forte was none other than Madari Mehtar, a Muslim prince in whom Shivaji reposed all his trust.

His respect for other religions is legendry. He had built a mosque near the temple in front of his fort in Raigadh. He paid obeisance to Muslim seers (Hazrat Baba Yakut Bahut Thorwale) and Fr. Ambrose Pinto of Surat. The battles of Guru Govind Singh were far from religious. Though the torture of his children and the carrot of pardon in lieu of conversion to Islam are true, it was more to humiliate the enemy than to spread the religion by the Muslim kings. It must be remembered that Govind Singh had proceeded to Deccan to strike a compromise with Aurangzeb but when on way he came to know of Aurangzeb’s death. Later the compromise was struck with Bahadur Shah in return for higher status in administration. We also cannot forget that when most of the Indian kings felt the stifling policies of British rulers they requested Bahadushah Zafar, who despite his old age accepted the leadership of the rebellion at great personal cost. Also it is worth remembering that many a ideologues regard this anti British rebellion as the ‘First war of Independence’.

We cannot ignore the fact that kings were primarily rulers out to expand their empires or to aspire for a higher status in the administration or to garner more wealth through whatever means.

Some of the myths from the ancient Indian period are also worth recounting. It is asserted that women had a place of honor in ancient India where they were worshipped. This ‘Indian value based place of woman’ is offered as a contrast to the ‘Western campaigns’ of Women’s Liberation movement. Now we know that Manusmriti, the 2-3rd century AD text, makes the position and treatment of women in ancient India very clear for us. As per this: Women (and also shudras) were denied access to sacred learning, and the substitute offered to them was marriage and serving the husband. Also for women performance of household duties was identified with the worship of sacred fire i.e. total domesticity was the domain of women. They were to be under control of father, husband or son depending on the stage of their life, and even in her own house she was not supposed to do anything on her own.

The other myth from this period is about the untouchability. It is being propagated that Untouchability is the creation of Islam. Communities escaped to Jungles etc. to avoid conversion by the tyrannical Mughal rulers, became poor and untouchables. Contrary to this, in fact, the truth is something else. The truth exposes the brutality of Brahminical ideology. First of all, untouchability became the accompaniment of `caste' system, somewhere around first century AD. That is from first century itself untouchability is the social practice prevalent here. Manusmriti, codifies the then existing practices, which show in utmost clarity the type of despicable social practices, which the upper castes were imposing upon the weaker, lower castes. Now the major incursion, invasions of Muslims began in the subcontinent from 11th century AD. Much before the invasion of Muslim Kings shudras were, treated as untouchables.

The discipline of history is a double-edged weapon. When developed in a rational way with the focus on the lives of the people and communities at large it acts as a cementing force between different communities, in the hands of communalists the same History becomes a mechanism to spread hatred against the ‘other’ community.

Marathi Manoos
11-Feb-2012 06:28 AM

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