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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

For Shivaji fans, truth better be damned

New Delhi: Activists of Sambhaji Brigade, a sister organisation of Maratha Mahasangh (a regional outfit advocating the rights of Maratha people) vandalised internationally renowned Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune on January 5. They were infuriated over a controversial remark about Maratha king Shivaji’s parentage in James W. Laine’s book, Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India. Laine is a professor of religious studies at a US university. The institute became the target of attack because Shrikant Bahulkar, a Sanskrit scholar of the institute was acknowledged by the author for his help in gathering information for the book.

A mob of nearly 150 activists of the Brigade ransacked the institute and destroyed thousands of rare books and research material including portraits of renowned scholars. Copper plates belonging to 11th century, an idol of Munda Katta Ganesh (Ganesh’s head cut off), an album of Nizam of Hyderabad dated 1935, spearheads, curios and a calendar have been stolen.
The Institute has been the source of many important researches. Scholars from India, Europe and other countries visited it to study different aspects of Indology. The institute was established in 1917 to commemorate the works of Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar. 

Sambhaji Brigade activists are demanding action against Laine and the publisher and arrest of all those persons acknowledged by the author. Brigade’s spokesperson Shreemant Kokate said that Laine referred to certain jokes on Shivaji’s parentage. The Brigade is also demanding closure of BORI and probe against American Study Cirle, Deccan College, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth and Bharat Itihas Samshodhan Mandan for "dissemination of information to insult national heroes".

Laine has said that in fact, the book is a positive portrayal of Shivaji. The controversial part in the book comprised only two or three pages at the end. "There are passages where I report on various stories or even jokes, as my main concern was with stories, not history, but these things have been read completely out of context. As an example, I would note that though I argued that Ramdas probably had very little to do with Shivaji and that most of the stories about their relationship are fictional, I am now accused of claiming that he was Shivaji’s biological father," Laine said recently. 

Laine tried to analyse the character of Shivaji, and has raised a few questions about some incidents in Shivaji’s life. A month back, Laine sought a public apology for the controversial remark and the publisher of the book withdrew it from the market.

However, Maratha organisations and community leaders are divided over the controversy. The Akhil Bhartiya Maratha Mahasangh (ABMM) president, Shashikant Pawar condemned the attack, while several other Maratha organisations have supported the attack and demanded the release of 72 persons arrested for destruction of the institute. They are demanding action against the institute for "hatching a conspiracy to defame Shivaji."

Shivaji was born in 1627 into a family of Maratha bureaucrats. In recent years, with the advent to power of the BJP at national level and of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra Shivaji once again rose to eminence. A century earlier, Indian nationalist Balgangadhar Tilak revived the political memory of Shivaji. Early nationalists in search of martial heroes raised him to the eminence of a "freedom fighter".

 - M Mazharul Haque

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