- Maratha Maha Sangh, Maratha Seva Sangh, Sambhaji Brigade, Marathi Sena etc formed after Laine’s book on Shivaji sparked off controversy.
- Groups work the Maratha pride/Shivaji’s legacy line.
- They do not want the book sold in Maharashtra despite a SC order lifting the state ban.
James W. Laine, US-based professor of religious studies and author of two contentious books on Shivaji, can boast a rare achievement: bridging the deep ideological and political divides in Maharashtra. The state Congress and the NCP sounded like the Shiv Sena, which in turn came across as a shriller version of its belligerent cousin, the mns. All of them parroted the line espoused by the dozen-odd Maratha groups also in the game—that Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India will not be stocked or sold in Maharashtra.
This rare unanimity was in response to the July 9 Supreme Court decision upholding a Bombay HC order against the state ban on the book. Published in 2003, the book sparked off violent protests across the state. The Congress-NCP government banned it. The protests were not only from Shiv Sena and its clones, but also from a bevy of new groups. Lending credibility was Udayan Raje Bhonsle, the 13th descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji.
The Maratha groups were back in action this week and staged demonstrations. Sambhaji Brigade spokesperson Pravin Gaikwad asserted that the SC lifting the ban amounted to the state’s humiliation. Udayan Raje termed the SC order a “contempt of Maharashtra”.
But what was surprising was CM Ashok Chavan’s statement: “We share the strong sentiments with the Opposition; we will ensure that the book is not sold or circulated in the state.” Chavan, in fact, suggested a bill enabling the government to ban any book or work that defames any person, dead or alive, of historical importance. If he sounded as totalitarian as Thackeray, he did not care. Nor did his deputy, R.R. Patil, also the home minister. Which was no surprise since in ’04 itself when the Maratha groups raised the pitch, he could have negotiated with publisher Oxford University Press (OUP) to examine the offensive portions; instead he read them out at election meetings. Backed by Maratha leaders Vinayak Mete and Shashikant Pawar, he turned it into an issue of Maratha pride, eventually banning the book.
The groups did not have a quarrel with the book itself; only lines on page 93 that refer to Shivaji’s lineage. “The repressed awareness that Shivaji had an absentee father is also revealed by the fact that Maharashtrians tell jokes naughtily suggesting that his guardian Dadaji Konddev was his biological father. In a sense, because Shivaji’s father had little influence on his son, for many narrators it was important to supply him with a father replacement, Dadaji and later Ramdas....” was Laine’s interpretation about Shivaji’s non-Brahmin status. Historians like Aroon Tikekar and Sharada Dwivedi say that there are other books with references to Shivaji’s lineage that do not correspond with accepted facts which the authors themselves clarify have no credence. Tikekar adds, “Let’s remember that Laine is not a historian.”
Eventually, Laine’s other book on the Maratha warrior, The Epic of Shivaji, too was banned. The Maratha groups had found their feet. Over the last two elections, they have flexed their muscles: they pushed the government to sanction the Shivaji memorial in the Arabian Sea, forced reputed Brahmin historians off the memorial committee, created law and order issues demanding reservation in education and government jobs for Marathas. As NCP MLC Mete declared, “We will finish ourselves or finish others.” By forcing the government stand on Laine’s book, Mete and other Maratha warriors have all but finished its credibility. Bookstore managers won’t sell the book; OUP has assured that it will not issue copies. The book is not banned, but not available either. Suddenly, this government looks like a Sena clone.