Over the years, the Maharashtra Bhushan award has been given by the state government to a galaxy of writers, poets, journalists, even singers, among them Lata Mangeshkar. Just about anybody who has done Maharashtra proud, in fact.
This year it was awarded to Babasaheb Purandare and his nomination has once again upset the political equations in the state. There were bitter objections to his name by everybody to the left of the government – even the Nationalist Congress Party which is professing support to the BJP-led government in the state. In fact, the NCP was more bitterly opposed than even the Congress but there was a common thread to the objections that was not immediately apparent. A lot of young journalists called to ask me if the award was meant only for historians – that is the only feasible reason they saw for the objections.
But neither is the award meant only for historians, nor is Purandare strictly a historian, he is simply a balladeer who in the past decades has popularised the legend of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj through his poems and plays. But it is therein that lies the conflict. Purandare is not only accused of characterising Shivaji as anti-Muslim, focussing on just four incidents in the latter’s reign, among them his escape from Aurangzeb’s Agra jail and his killing of Afzal Khan which make him seem like an anti-Muslim king — which he was not.
Had he been anti-Muslim, former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay would never have ordered the writing of a 12 volume history of Shivaji in the 1980s which was, sadly, abandoned by a succession of Maratha chief ministers, among them Shivaji’s descendants, through the 1980s and 1990s and even this century. Nor would Antulay have attempted to bring back Shivaji’s legendary sword of Bhavani – he never went to wr without it — from Buckingham palace where it still sits proudly in the Queen’s collection. When I quizzed Antulay about his love for Shivaji, he had told me Shivaji was against the Moghuls and their subedars. That is not the same thing as being anti-Muslim, he said.
“In fact, more than a third of his army and half his most trusted generals were Muslim and he had also adopted the Moghul court dress as his own. He was against their expansionism, not against their religion.”
So was the opposition of the NCP and to some extent of the Congress to Purandare’s award on account of his portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim? I do not think so. I think it was a caste battle at its ugliest – a fight for the OBC vote that has shifted towards the BJP after one of their own, Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre.
Only Sharad Pawar’s convoluted thinking in formulating an opposition to a Brahminical order (the RSS) through targeting a balladeer and playwright, albeit one who wrote on a popular historical figure and one who is, conveniently, a member of the RSS, which could bring such ferocity to the campaign.
But why it has also ben convenient to raise the rhetoric on Purandare is because his ballads make out Shahaji to be an absentee father and hint at an unusual friendship between his mother Jijabai and Dada Kondadeo, Shivaji’s tutor, who had a lasting influence on the Maratha warrior king. Purandare not only projects Shivaji as a protector of the Brahminical order (which may not be true, considering the Peshwas refused to recognise him and boycotted his coronation – he had to bring in priests from Benaras to do the honours). But, as emerges from American professor James Laine’s book, which has heavily relied upon Purandare’s interpretations of Shivaji’s life and times, Shahaji might not have been Shivaji’s biological father. For that one line, Laine’s book has been banned in India and, moreover, the Sambhaji Brigade (Sambhaji was Shivaji’s son) which ta draws its sustenance from the NCP, had ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute for its help to James Laine in the writing of the book – that controversy and the successful campaign against Laine propelled both the Congress and the NCP, in alliance with each other, to power and kept them in government for 15 years.
Lately both the Congress and the NCP have been losing their OBC base, including the support of Marathas to the Shiv Sena and the BJP and this was too opportune an occasion to let go of – I am sure Pawar knew he would accomplish nothing by opposing the award to Purandare – the government was not likely to cow down. But that was not the intention which was more to once again drive a wedge between Brahmins and others. And the fact that Purandare is a member of the RSS while the state’s chief minister belongs to its political wing and is a Brahmin besides were convenient tools in this game of consolidating the anti-Brahmin votes in the state.
The government, of course, determinedly went ahead and awarded the honour to the 93 year old balladeer and the ceremony itself went off rather well despite all the noise preceding it. It is worth reminding readers that, while in power, the NCP organs had raised objections to a state government sports award – the equivalent of the Arjuna awards – named after Kondadeo. The award had been given out annually for three decades through several term of Pawar as chief minister with no one bothered about it. It is only when the NCP began to feel the ground slipping from under its feet that the Sambhaji Brigade came forward with similar noises and ultimatum. The Congress gave in. But neither that nor a 11th hour reservation for Marathas and Muslims ahead of the assembly elections in Maharashtra in October 2014 did much to salvage the parties’ electoral prospects. But now obviously the NCP realises that it cannot afford to be in the saffron space for too long and must consolidate its vote bank before it is too late. The award to Purandare was just tailor made for the purpose and it is not surprising that the agitation ceased abruptly after the awards ceremony.
In Maharashtra, I have noticed, there is almost a controversy a day with regard to Shivaji, even over matters as innocuous as the date of his birth. The government believes he was born in the month of Phalgun and so declare s a holiday in February-March, the Shiv Sena believes he was born in the month of Chaitra (two separate sets of historians have established both facts) and there are major celebrations around April-May as well. The next controversy is likely to be over the building of the 300 feet high statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea –a project started by the Congress but now being continued by the BJP and the Shiv Sena who are currently in power. They have appointed Purandare as consultant and there are already noises that his appointment will distort Shivaji’s image. How? I fail to understand. In writing his ballads he may have interpreted Shivaji’s life differently but how does a Brahminical mindset distort a physical image of Shivaji?
Only the NCP which claims a long line of his descendants have the answers.
Every time I come across some devastatingly bad human nature, I am surprised by the generosity of the people who have been wronged by that. It happens in the real world all the time but now more and more often the digital world is prone to such incidents.
Some months ago I read the story of a Jewish American journalist who had been receiving many anti-Semitic threats on his Twitter account and the stalker seemed to have many details of his private life. His wife’s Twitter handle had a nom de plume and she was spared of those abuses until she identified herself as the long suffering wife of this journalist. Soon they began to receive packages at their doorstep that had not too savoury contents and their stalker seemed to know every last emotion that went into their reaction.
That is when they called in the authorities and eventually were horrified to discover the identity of their tormentor – the 17 year old son of their good neighbour and friends with whom they dined at least twice a week, went on picnics and shopping together and were considered the best of friends by the entire community,
They informed the shocked parents and took the boy out to dinner. They began to speak of their harassmeant and all the while the boy acted sympathetic and played the innocent. They gave him ample opportunity to own up to his crime but when he didn’t they let him know they had his measure. Then the boy broke down as his furious father permitted his friends to take any action against their son as they wished – he could have got thirty years in prison for racism and anti-Semitism at the least. But they let him off with a stern warning even as he burst in tears – he was a bright student and his entire life and career could have been ruined had they brought a case against him.
I was reminded of the story when this week former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan faced a similar situation – though not one of cyber threat but one of impersonation. A young college boy from Shirur in the interiors of Maharashtra with professors for parents had started a faux Facebook page in his name and had been happily chatting away with all Chavan’s friends and supporters for months. Chavan had been flummoxed when those chats were mentioned to him but thought it was a case of mistaken identity. However, when he and former MLA Krishna Hegde were travelling together to New Delhi this week, Hegde mentioned to him a chat they had had just the previous day. Chavan denied all knowledge of it and when Hegde logged on and started the chat again both were horrified to discover the impersonator merrily pretending to be Ashok Chavan even as Chavan was sitting with dropping jaws beside Hegde looking into his phone and supposed statements he was making.
Chavan soon lodged a police complaint and the boy was picked up from his home and brought to Bombay along with his father. I was amazed that Chavan, like the American journalist, should have let this boy go too – with a stern warning that he would never do it again, even as the boy’s father was in tears in both shame and embarrassment and relief that his son would not have to go to jail. Chavan’s reasoning was the same – the case would unnecessarily ruin the boy’s career and future prospects.
I guess both Chavan and the American journalist are better human beings than I could ever be for I would have found it difficult to forgive anyone, young or old, under the circumstances.
I find many of my colleagues equally generous, if not forgiving, when they are abused by trolls and sometimes genuine handles on Twitter. I generally block them and move on but lately I am getting less tolerant of such transgressions and am seriously considering taking leaf out of senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book – I have promised troublesome trolls that one word of abuse against my parents, my family, my friends or even my colleagues and I shall go to the police.
Generosity is good in its own place but we need sterner action against people who think they have the right to threaten, abusea or impersonate (except when they identify themselves as parody accounts) with impunity just because the anonymity of the net gives them good cover.
The government could find the resources to block more than 800 porn sites of which some were just ribald humour sites. While child porn is definitely to be acted against, I wonder if the government has in itself to stop the abuse against people who disagree with them because much of the abuse in is in the name of Narendra Modi who even seems to think nothing of felicitating these abusive trolls.
Generosity does not always come out of weakness, one needs to be a nobler spirited individual to act like Chavan and the Jewish American journalist did. It is sad that not many recognise that generosity for what it is and seem to mistake it as a license for more abuse and impersonation.
I wonder if the American boy actually had a change of heart about Jews with that forgiveness and if our own lad from Shirur will truly desist. Perhaps not.
But I salute both Chavan and the Amercan journalist and hope I can be as forgiving.
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