Shivaji Jayanti: Is Govind Pansare’s Shivaji losing the battle against fanaticism?

MUMBAI,ATISH NAGPURE : According to the Gregorian calendar, February 19 is celebrated as Shivaji Jayanti, a date fixed by the previous Congress government. The Shiv Sena however disagrees and celebrates it according to the Hindu calendar. The fight over Shivaji’s legacy is interesting because there seem to be two different Shivajis that are celebrated. While one Shivaji has been cast as anti-Muslim, casteist and a blind follower of religion. On the other hand, rationalist Govind Pansare has often argued that Shivaji was popular because his priority was welfare of the common people and justice for all. In this piece published first on Feb 2015, Atish Nagpure analyses the two different images that exist of the legendary ruler.

As children, we used to play a game called ‘Shivaji Mhanato’ (Shivaji says). In this, one person would give orders in behalf of Shivaji Maharaj and others had to keep following them.
There were no restrictions, so ‘Shivaji’ had complete freedom to give any order he saw fit. Though it was a game like any other, it provided evidence of the impact of Shivaji on the minds of common people in Maharashtra.
I have ‘met’ Shivaji many times in life. He was a brave, fearless, wise king who fought for Hindutva, protected cows and Brahmins. Such was the image of Shivaji built in my mind. But when I read ‘Shivaji kon hota?’ (Who was Shivaji?) a masterpiece by Govind Pansare, I was stunned. On that day, I revisited not just Shivaji, but also myself, although forcibly. It changed my perception about history, society and life.
We once called Maharashtra a progressive state. But due to a series of unfortunate incidents, the so-called progressiveness of Maharashtra is now being doubted. In fact, the incidents over the last few years have proven that there are two dominant mindsets prevalent in this state.

One, which led the progressive reform movements and the other which tried its best to protect backward value system.
For many decades, we kept on praising ourselves for being the heirs of Ranade, Karve, Agarkar, Shahu, Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar, but conveniently forgot the legacy of Nathuram Godse, a virus which spread quickly in the minds of the people of Maharashtra.
Both ideologies have one symbol in common i.e. Shivaji. But their versions of Shivaji are completely removed from each other. To understand if Maharashtra is a progressive or backward state, we will have to find out which version of Shivaji is more popular in this state. For centuries, Shivaji has been misinterpreted by some interest groups as anti–Muslim, casteist and a blind follower of religion. These groups reclaimed Shivaji and even proclaimed him an avatar of God.
But Govind Pansare’s book on Shivaji has managed to sell over 1 lakh copies in 27 years. In this book, he has explained how Shivaji was religious but not anti–Muslim or superstitious. He says, “Shivaji had not become popular because he was just a Hindu king, but because his priority was welfare of the common people. He fought for justice, ensured security to women, and recruited fighers irrespective of their caste and community to help the dream of Swarajya come true.” Pansare’s version of Shivaji must have caused restlessness in the radical right.
In same book Pansare says, “Earlier Shivaji was popular in neighbouring states like Karnataka, Gujrat, Madhya Pradesh, but his image there was compartmentalised by leaders like PK Atre during the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. It was further recast by the Shiv Sena as a Hindu king. The party used his name to popularise its anti–Muslim agenda. It continued with upper caste organizations shouting slogans of ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’, while attacking Dalit communities.”
Shivaji is at the centre of Maharashtra’s socio–political culture. People’s emotional attachment to Shivaji is being used by political parties and vested interest groups to achieve their ill-intentioned goals. Pansare had raised his voice against it. He fought relentlessly against this misrepresentation of Shivaji. But unfortunately his Shivaji seems to be losing the battle and the other Shivaji is becoming more popular in Maharashtra today. It is really a serious issue.
A year and half ago, anti–superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was killed on the streets of Pune. In a very similar incident Pansare was attacked at Kolhapur. We do not know who has committed these crimes. But one thing we can claim with confidence is that those who attacked both of them have not shouted slogans like ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’. They could have been the victims of ‘Shivaji mhanato’. This is irony at its worst!
A few years ago, the Nandu Madhav directed drama ‘Shivaji underground in Bhimnagar mohalla’ hit the theatres. It was a genuine attempt to educate people about the true legacy of Shivaji. After witnessing a series of unfortunate, brutal incidents, I feel there is an urgent need for Pansare’s Shivaji to surface again, and lead us on the right path.

Posted by on February 19, 2016. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.