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Shivaji is vote bank sabre, rattled in the face of history

Suyash Padate

In a dirty game of oneupmanship in Maharashtra, books are the new victims. And the latest target of the BJP’s ‘anti-history’ realpolitik is none other than the first prime minister of India’s classical treatise, until now outside the realm of any controversy, The Discovery of India.

The BJP has demanded a ban on Nehru’s book because a 1986 edition allegedly contains ‘disparaging’ remarks about Shivaji. BJP leader Gopinath Munde has castigated Nehru’s book, while not quoting the reference he is objecting to.

“I am merely replying to Home Minister RR Patil who said he would not tolerate anything against Shivaji Maharaj,” said Munde. “I am only asking what his party has to say about Nehru’s book that calls Shivaji a dacoit. Is he going to ignore the remark because the author is Sonia Gandhi’s grandfather-in-law?” Munde had earlier said, “The government should ban the book or delete the objectionable paragraph…”

The truth is the NCP and the BJP in Maharashtra seem to have run out of issues. And the Congress is playing footsie, though its Lok Sabha manifesto spits fire at ‘bigotry’. Both the BJP and the NCP, obviously, care two hoots for books or history. They are out to polarise their imagined vote-banks with an extra dose of sub-nationalist chauvinism. In the process, extremist outfits like the Sambhaji Brigade are blooming. Historians are calling it the new low in Indian politics.

Ironically, except on Shiv Jayanti, none of these parties (NCP, BJP and Congress) care to remember Shivaji or want to look at his life with impartial
objectivity. All they want is to milk his name

Ironically, even Prime Minister Vajpayee has joined the cacophony. First, he opposed the Maharashtra government’s an on James Laine’s book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India after the Sambhaji Brigade vandalised the prestigious Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune and attacked intellectuals. The Maharashtra government too, sought the arrest of the eminent historian. Now Vajpayee has done a complete about-turn. At a rally in Beed, he defended the ban on the book with his usual rhetoric. “We will not allow our national heroes to be tarnished by foreigners,” he reportedly declared.

This has put local politics in a spin. Said the NCP’s Patil, “Vajpayee had earlier insulted Shivaji Maharaj and Maharashtra. Now, anticipating the people’s outrage, he has gone back on his earlier statement. But the people have got the message.” Patil has sought an apology from the prime minister. He has also warned that a serious agitation could begin if the BJP and its leader continue to oppose the ban on James Laine’s book.

Ironically, except on Shiv Jayanti, none of these parties care to remember Shivaji or want to look at his life and contribution with impartial objectivity. All they want is to milk his name by whipping up frenzied sectarianism, often without a rational basis. The NCP wants to embarrass the BJP-Sena alliance — that claims to be the sole inheritors of Shivaji. Damaged by the Telgi scam, Shivaji has arrived as a trump card for the NCP. The BJP, on the other hand, wants to use the name because it’s on a weak wicket.

Meanwhile, the ‘original sinners’, the Sambhaji Brigade, an extremist outfit of rudderless youth, is basking in glory. The police look the other way because they enjoy the NCP’s patronage. But the Sena finds itself in an awkward situation. If it backs the NCP line, it would antagonise the BJP. And it doesn’t know how to toe Vajpayee’s contradictory line. “What if the PM does another U-turn and opposes the ban on Laine’s book, and then, simultaneously, supports Nehru’s book as well,” asks a confused Sena leader.

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