Shivaji is a great icon in Maharashtra. Different sections of society have given him very high status, though for diverse reasons. Folklores about him abound in the state. His statues, popular songs on him are very prevalent. These folk songs (Powadas) praise his multifarious actions. So it was no surprise that when Jayabhagwan Goyal, released his book, ‘Aaj ka Shivaji: Narendra Modi’, at religious-cultural meet organized by Delhi BJP, there was a strong resentment in Maharashtra. Various leaders from Maharashtra were furious. The Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut challenged the Shivaji’s descendent, Sambhaji Raje who is in BJP and is member of Rajya Sabha, to resign on the issue. Sambhaji Raje in turn stated that "We respect Narendra Modi, who was elected as the prime minister of the country for the second time. But neither (Narendra) Modi nor anybody else in the world can be compared with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj,"
Not to be left behind Jitendra Awhad of NCP felt Modi-BJP are insulting the pride of Maharashtra. It is not the first time that controversy is erupting around the Maharashtra warrior of medieval period. Earlier we had seen Sambhaji Brigrade demanding the ban on James Laine book, Shivaji: ‘A Hindu King in an Islamic Kingdom’, for its objectionable content. Bhandarkar Institute in Pune, which had helped James Laine in his research, was also vandalized. At another level there was a talk that Babasaheb Purandare, a Brahmin, who has written some popular material on Shivaji will be made as the Chairman of the committee for statue of Shivaji. Maratha Mahasangh and Shiv Dharm officials objected to a Brahmin heading the committee for a statue for the Maratha warrior. The caste angel in Shivaji’s case is coming to the fore from quite some time.
While there is no dearth of controversies around Shivaji, it is also true that each political tendency has created Shivaji’s image from their political point of view. Who was the real Shivaji, is the question. One can see two clear streams of projection in this matter. On one hand there is an attempt to present Shivaji as the anti Muslim King, a king who was respecting Cows and Brahmins (Go Brahman pratipalak). This view was brought forward from the times of Lokmanya Tilak and picked up by Hindu nationalists, who have been looking for icons in history to suit their political agenda. Nathram Godse, while criticizing Gandhi says that Gandhi’s nationalism was dwarf in front of the one of Shivaji or Rana Pratap.
In tune with this the Hindu nationalists are promoting both these as icons of Hindu nationalism and giving anti-Muslim slant to the whole discourse. This discourse also hides in this the Brahmanical agenda of Hindu nationalism as Cows and Brahmins are presented as the central object of veneration by Shivaji. This image of Shivaji fits well into the current agenda of Hindu nationalists, being spearheaded by RSS Combine.
It is because of this that for seeking votes in Mumbai Narendra Modi on the eve of 2014 elections stated that Shivaji attacked Surat to plunder the treasury of Aurangzeb. This also presents Shivaji-Aurangzeb, Shivaji-Afzal Khan interactions as battle between Hindus and Muslims. The truth is that Surat was plundered for its wealth as it was a rich port city and Bal Samant’s book on the topic gives in depth description of the same. It is noteworthy that Shivaji began his real career of conquest in 1656 when he conquered Javli from the Maratha Chief Chandra Rao More. He took over the treasures of this kingdom. That it was not a Hindu Muslim battle becomes clear when we know that in confrontation with Aurangzeb it was Mirza Raja Jaisingh who was negotiating and engaging with Shivaji on behalf of Aurangzeb. And Shivaji had Muslim officers like Kazi Haider as confidential secretary and many Muslim Generals in his army.
Darya Sarang was chief of armor division, Daulat Khan was in-charge of his naval division; Ibrahim Khan was another general of significance in his army. This mixed up administration just shows that the kings were not having Hindu or Muslim administration depending on their religion. In the confrontation between Shivaji and Afzal Khan, Rustam-e-Jaman was Shivaji’s side and Afzal Khan had Krisnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni on his side.
As far as Shivaji’s popularity is concerned it was due to his being a King with welfare of his subjects in his mind. He lightened the burden of taxation on the average peasants, and reduced the domination of landlords over the serfs. This picture of Shivaji is well documents in the booklets by Com. Govind Pansare (Who was Shivaji) and Jayant Gadkari (Shivaji: Ek Lok Kalyankari Raja- Shivaji: King doing People’s Welfare). He did not belong to the warrior caste so Brahmins had refused to coronate him, for which purpose Gaga Bhatt a Brahmin from Kashi was brought in with heavy fees. Teesta Setalvad’s hand book on History for teachers underlined this fact.
Today while BJP-Brahmanical forces want to present Shivaji as worshipper of Brahmins and cows, the non upper caste have seen through the game. As such it was Jotirao Phule who brought forward the caste angel of Shivaji as he wrote Powada (Poem) in his honor and today dalit Bahujan are not toeing Hindu Nationalist projection on the issue.
The likes of Jayabhagwan Goyal of BJP as such are trying to give two messages through such attempts. One hand they want to paint Shivaji in anti Muslim and Brahmanical color, they also want to give the subtle message of similarity of this presentation of Shivaji with what Modi is doing. Non BJP forces have seen this game and want to present the other picture of Shivaji, which was highlighted by the likes of Jotirao Phule and which today many of those standing for rights of dalit-Bahujan are trying to articulate. The criticism of the said, book, since withdrawn is on these twin aspects. One about the picture of Shivaji who was concerned about welfare of the farmers, and two his respect for people of all religions.