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Why we need to revisit Shivaji’s idea of Hindu culture

Shivaji celebrated Mughal rulers, had a cosmopolitan idea of India – unlike the Hindutva warriors we need to mute on TV.

Written by G. N. Devy |
Updated: January 18, 2022 8:08:07 am
The RSS ideology of Hindutva, apart from being militaristic, is obsessed with tendentious historiography that sets aside all established scientific methods of reading the past and brings in untenable and wild pronouncements as historical truth.

As an agnostic, I am neither a complete believer nor entirely a non-believer. Yet, there are times when the question of faith becomes urgent. On Christmas day, I put aside the book I was reading and turned on the TV for news. A debate about the “dharam sansad” in Uttarakhand was on. One of the participants, an audacious champion of the Hindu Rashtra, yelled at the anchor: “Even Shivaji Maharaj had used the term ‘Hindu Rashtra’, so what is wrong if I do?”

The book that I had been reading was Who Was Shivaji? by Govind Pansare and I had just finished reading an AD 1657 letter from Shivaji to Aurangzeb appended to it. The main purpose of the letter was to challenge the infamous jizya tax, with Shivaji’s anger directed towards the tax policy and not the religion of the emperor. He wrote: “The government of the Empire is running its daily administration by collecting jizya from Hindus. In fact, formerly, Emperor Akbar ruled with great equanimity. Therefore, apart from the Daudis and Mohammedis, the religious practices of Hindus such as Brahmins and Shevades (Shaivaites) were protected. The Emperor helped these religions. Therefore, he was hailed as a jagatguru.” The letter goes on to say that Jahangir and Shah Jahan too allowed the undisturbed practice of all religions: “Those Emperors always had their eyes fixed on people’s welfare.” Shivaji contrasts the three emperors with Aurangzeb and warns him: “Under your rule, you have lost many forts and provinces. The rest are also likely to be lost. This is because you do not spare in doing everything that is base.” I am aware that the present dispensation will not like Shivaji Maharaj’s analysis that Akbar was called “jagatguru” by people because he protected all, irrespective of their religion. Those who assassinated Pansare in 2015 did not like his description of Shivaji as a ruler interested in the welfare of all, irrespective of their faith.

Shivaji even questions Aurangzeb’s understanding of the Quran. He writes in the letter: “The Quran is a Heavenly Book. It is God’s utterance. It commands that God belongs to all Musalmans and, in fact, the entire world.” And further: “In masjids, it is He who is prayed to. In temples, it is He for whom the bells are tolled.” Since I had read these sentences just minutes ago, I did not know if I should laugh at the ignorance of the person on TV or feel sad for such a distortion of Shivaji’s idea of Hindu culture.

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Just the day before Christmas, the Karnataka Assembly brought in the anti-conversion bill, euphemistically called the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, and on the night of December 25, an image of Jesus was desecrated by vandals in Ambala. Against this backdrop, the Hindutva propaganda machine had been spreading fake news about the rise in the population of Christians. As per the Census data, Christians in Karnataka were 1.91 per cent of the total population in 2001. A decade later, in 2011, they were 1.87 per cent, reduced in their proportionate population. But there is another website that comes up when one looks for the Census data for Christians in Karnataka. Its masthead displays an image of the assembly building in Bangalore, making it seem like a government website. It shows the Christian population as being 3.1 per cent. An internet search shows that the website has been put up by the founder of a digital media set-up handling Narendra Modi’s election campaign in 2014. As if the intimidation and assaults on Christians and the threat of genocide hurled at Muslims in the recent “dharam sansads” were not enough, there was, in November, the terrifying formulation by NSA Ajit Doval that the fourth-generation wars will be waged through civil society.

Recent events have left no room for doubt as to the nature of the essentials of the current Hindutva that are being promoted in thought and action. This ideology is trying hard to establish that Hinduism is not the tolerant co-existence of faiths as Shivaji had interpreted or a way of life that acknowledges Ishwar and Allah as essentially the same. Going by the articulation of violence sought to be unleashed by the “dharam sansads” and the semi-official theorising of civil society as weaponry planted by the enemy, it is clear that Narendra Modi’s vishwaguru nation fantasy is poles apart from Shivaji’s idea of a jagatguru-ruler who professes no dharma but the raj dharma.

The RSS ideology of Hindutva, apart from being militaristic, is obsessed with tendentious historiography that sets aside all established scientific methods of reading the past and brings in untenable and wild pronouncements as historical truth. This historiography resurfaced recently in a 2022 calendar released by IIT Kharagpur on December 18. It aims to “recover the foundations of Indian knowledge systems”. That sounds good on the face of it. But what it does is present an unscientific narrative of India’s prehistory. It hitches together two entirely unrelated postulates. One relates to the question of the origin and spread of Sanskrit, the other relates to the Indus Valley civilisation. All available linguistic and archaeological evidence shows that there was no Sanskrit in India prior to the Vedas and our Indus Valley ancestors had no link with Sanskrit, half a millennium before its first appearance in India. The calendar also brings into the frame Adolf Hitler, without forgetting to mention that Hitler was “elected to power”. It asserts that the Vedic civilisation is the alpha and omega of Indian civilisation. The concocted historical narrative and militant view of religion make this loud brand of Hindutva go against all that the Indian traditions of thought and spirituality hold precious in Buddha and Basaveshwara, in Kabir and Gandhi, in Charvaka and Ambedkar. Besides, if the ideas of Muslim genocide and harassment of Christians is any part of Hindutva, it is against the Constitution and the law of the land.

The writer is a cultural activist

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