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Commentary/ Varsha Bhosle

First Blood

What with Raja Shiv Chhatrapati's birth anniversary falling in May, newspapers in Shiv-Sena-ruled Bombay have been indulging in a bit of subtle local appeasement. For instance, there was this momentous question posed in The Asian Age: 'Was Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who united the people of Maharashtra and welded them into a Hindu kingdom, a Maratha or a Rajput since he belonged to the lineage of Sisodiyas?' According to Dr S B Deshmukh, curator of the Marathwada university, the correct answer is that not only was Raja Shivaji a Maratha, but every Rajput is a Maharashtrian by origin. Quite plausible. So of course, Bhosle felt suitably mollified for the three minutes it took to read the thing, and then promptly became absorbed in the monkeyshines of Laloo Prasad Yadav.

But then appeared an item which, frankly, I could have done without: The recently-released first volume of Mr G B Mehendale's magnum opus Shri Raja Shiv Chhatrapati proves with documentary evidence that Adil Shah of Bijapur had dispatched Afzal Khan to Pratapgarh with specific orders to kill Shivaji by means fair or foul. For those who aren't acquainted with this controversial episode in the life of the founder of Hindu-pad badshahi, here's the popular recap: Afzal Khan, after requesting an unarmed meeting and assuring Shivaji of his safety, met him in a tent at the base of Pratapgarh, but stabbed him in the back while embracing him. Thereupon, Shivaji, who had worn armour under his clothes and concealed a pair of steel-claws (waagh-nakh, worn like knuckle-busters) in his hands, proceeded to rip open Afzal Khan's abdomen. Khel khatam.

Now, this tale, which is fed to Marathi babies along with their first solid food, has been the centre of several disputes and acrimonious exchanges between scholars, most raged in the media. The point of contention has been whether Shivaji went for Afzal Khan, or vice versa – the implication being that if Shivaji did, then he doesn't deserve the unstinting adoration that is his lot in Maharashtra.

Which is precisely the point that Bhosle has never understood – and which is why Mr Mehendale's QED came as a major disappointment to her. You see, I'd rather staked my all in Raja Shivaji's having made the first and "unprovoked" attack. I question the validity of virtue in wars of independence; Sun Tzu says: "All warfare is based on deception. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength." Why should those who perceive Shivaji as a native ruler seeking Hindvi swarajya get hives over the ethics in who drew first blood? In fact, if Afzal Khan had indeed gone in as innocent as a spring lamb, and Shivaji wouldn't have slaughtered him all the same – that would have made him one wimp king in my book.

Take Prithviraj Chauhan and Shahabuddin Ghori: Seventeen times did Chauhan defeat the Afghan, and seventeen times did he let him live. But in 1192, when Chauhan finally lost, Ghori blinded and killed this last Hindu king of Delhi – and established Muslim rule in India. I'm sorry, but I curse the Rajput's ethics. Hindus exalt dharma-yuddha, ignoring the fact that the side advised by Krishna didn't always follow morality in warfare: Karna was killed while dislodging his chariot-wheel; Duryodhan was slayed by a mace struck below his waist; and Dronacharya was attacked after he had laid down his arms. Plain old realpolitik: The Pandavs were forced to act in the real world with all its limitation, for the ideal world does not exist… So why shouldn't have Shivaji, whom Nehruvians call "the robber-baron", sacked Udaipur and Surat to divert the Islam-bound taxes to his army? But that sticks in the enlightened ones's gullets.

I recall an article in The Illustrated Weekly of India of April 1993, wherein Nancy Adjania, in classical Marxist thinking and idiom, had dwelt on Rana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Rani Laxmibai; in the case of Laxmibai, there were references to Maaza Pravas, a book written in hyper-archaic Marathi. Where the young linguistic genius is now, I don't know, but her ideas are familiarly Duff: "It becomes imperative for a nascent nation to produce a costume drama for itself, in lieu of the past. The nation's origins and antecedents are explained away by means of a series of tableaux vivants, splendidly mounted by adept ideologues within the proscenium of mythology. The first function of this nationalist mythology is the creation of exemplars, role models. For this purpose, cultural heroes and heroines are abstracted from the intricate cross-weave of their original context. Deprived of the political and cultural specificities of which they were actually the creatures, they are converted into larger-than-life figures."

I know… I, too, had trouble decoding it. In human lingo, all it means is: Screw India's nationalistic heroes. The piece ended with a poem by Imtiaz Dharkar, wife of Anil Dharkar, who, as editor of the same weekly, had published an article critical of Chhatrapati Shivaji – ie, disputing his integrity in the light of Afzal Khan's assassination – and got his face blackened by Sainiks. The British, through the likes of historian Grant Duff, systematically tried to decimate the spirit of our people by denigrating India's inspiring heroes -- and that hangover persists with our intelligentsia.

Their attitude makes me ponder on Hindus and nationalism. Freedom fighters like Lokmanya Tilak, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Veer Savarkar followed the Vedanta and were no less devout than Mahatma Gandhi. They followed a long tradition instilled by the likes of Raja Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh who took up arms to defend Hindu Dharma. Nor were spiritualists like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda oblivious to terrestrial realities: Aurobindo supported the Allied cause in World War II and the Americans in the Korean war – contrarily to Gandhian positions. They were the legacy of the likes of Samarth Ramdas and Sant Tukaram. The latter writes: Bhale tari deu kaasechi langoti / Naathalaache maathi haanu kaathi / Mau mena-huni amhi Vishnudaas / Kathin vajraasi bhedu aise (We may give away our loincloth, but we'll split the heads of the enemy; we Vishnu-devotees are softer than wax, but we can defy solid steel).

So when exactly did we become a nation of eunuchs? Probably during Partition, when it was decided that Hindu society should follow the way of the bhikshu, and donate all and everything to the "poor and defenseless". Classical India was an affluent society with a strong army and skills in diplomacy, and so some blame Buddhism for the degeneration in Hindu nationalism. Rubbish. Although Buddhism doesn't have a militant dharma and is monastically oriented, how was it adapted to suit the patriotic bents of China and Japan? Why did it not put an end to the warrior classes in those countries? In fact, both nations flourished through Buddhism, adapting Indian martial arts into kung fu and jujitsu and even creating orders of militaristic monks. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, was from Kodungalloor in Kerala, and he introduced the Kalari Payat school of combat to the Shao-lin monastery in China.

The ideal of nonviolence set in motion a distortion that has weakened modern India. Rather than defending our religion and culture, we turn on those of us who try to rectify the imbalance caused by sham-secular policies. If Hindus criticise non-Hindus, it's Hindus themselves who protest. But if non-Hindus censure Hindus, it is Hindus again who advocate serenity and tolerance. I believe this groveling mentality needs to be shirked – there's no dignity in getting kicked in the teeth. India needs to reclaim its aggressive spirit, for that is an integral part of any prosperous nation's culture. We need to honour not only our Shivajis and Rana Prataps, but also our Savarkars and Bhagat Singhs and Manekshaws and Vaidyas. There is no other country in the world that is so ungrateful to its warriors as India is to hers.

Jawaharlal Nehru and his Congress built modern India not on Gandhian policies, but on Marxist socialism; they built it not on Gandhiji's rural emphasis, but on apparatchik bureaucracy – which became more and more like the Communist model during Mrs G's reign. But all along, the image of Gandhiji was brazenly used to secure votes – even though most of his plans had long been discarded. And his exemplar of nonviolence served well to prevent Hindus from coalescing into a political force, for that oiled the way for politicians to divide the majority and rule unchecked. It became part of the anti-Hindu strategy… Strange. For Gandhijiwas always proud to be a sanaatani Hindu and had never claimed not to be one.

Oh yes, things look very bleak sometimes. For instance, in a nation-wide poll conducted by The Sunday Observer last week, it was found that 59.4% of the working class would vote for Sonia Gandhi… What now? Or take these notions from your archetypal secularist: What does one say to a man who claims, "we really do not give a damn if India loses Kashmir or any other piece of land that is not livable"? How does one approach a person who feels that needs like food and shelter are more primary than "coffee table concepts like territorial integrity"? How does one react when a man feels that economic prosperity (paisa, paisa, paisa) is far more crucial than freedom? Don't know about you, but I react with utter distaste, contempt and horror. If such specimens ever become the majority in this country, oh yes, they'll smilingly sell India down the Indus. Such is the stuff that traitors are made of.

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Varsha Bhosle

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