Politics and protests over Maharashtra giving historian Babasaheb Purandare state's highest prize

The state government’s decision has not gone down well with some sections of the Maratha community, the politically dominant community in the state.

Vishwas Waghmode August 19, 2015 13:16:13 IST
Politics and protests over Maharashtra giving historian Babasaheb Purandare state's highest prize

Mumbai: The BJP-Shiv Sena led Maharashtra government's decision to confer the Maharashtra Bhushan, the state’s highest award, on Babasaheb Purandare has now turned into a major political controversy in the state.

The award function is to be held on Wednesday at the Governor’s residence, Raj Bhavan in Mumbai.

So why are there protests?

Politics and protests over Maharashtra giving historian Babasaheb Purandare states highest prize

Babasaheb Purandare in a file interview. IbnLokmat image

The state government’s decision has not gone down well with some sections of the Maratha community, the politically dominant community in the state, who are protesting the move. The Sambhaji brigade, a group which represents the powerful Maratha community, has opposed the move.

The group also attacked the office of a junior minister on Tuesday to protest the award being given.

They allege that Purandare has distorted history and tarnished Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji's image. They claim that Purandare has helped aspersions on the king's parentage given the the role played by his guru Dadaji Konddev.

Purandare is also accused of distorting the ‘secular’ history of Shivaji and his family. He has been criticized for assisting controversial American author James Laine write his book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, which had made controversial inferences regarding Shivaji’s mother Jijabai and his mentor Konddev. The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune was vandalized by Sambhaji Birgade following the publication of the book because it believed to have aided Laine in writing the book.

Jnanpith award-winning Marathi author Bhalchandra Nemade, former Press Council of India chairman PB Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge and a group of historians and writers have also opposed the state government's decision. They have  also accused him of making derogatory references about Maratha king.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition has also been filed in the Bombay High Court against the state government's decision. It is likely to be heard on Wednesday.

Who is Purandare?

Balwant Moreshwar Purandare, better known as Babasaheb Purandare, was born on 29 July, 1922. He is credited with writing the first historical work on Chattrapati Shivaji that was widely read across the state and he is referred to as Shiv Shahir – 'Shivaji’s poet'.

While Purandare had started writing stories on Shivaji's era from a very young age, he is best known for his book Raja Shiv Chhatrapati and popular play, Janata Raja. The two are considered to be masterpieces on the life and times of the 16th century Maratha king. While his book has more than sixteen editions and is estimated to have sold over five lakh copies, the play, which was first staged in 1985, has been performed more than 850 times in last three decades. It has been staged in Maharashtra, Agra, Delhi, Bhopal and the United States.

His other books include Purandaryanchi Daulat, Purandaryanchi Naubat, Gadsanch - a treatise on the history of the forts and fortresses among others. He has also studied the history of the Peshwas of Pune.

The politics behind the protest

While the NCP and Congress have opposed the move, the BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS have backed the state government in giving the award.

Udayanraje Bhosle, a descendant of Shivaji and a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP from Satara, has asked the state government on Monday to hold off giving the award until the allegations against Purandare are verified.

"After studying the facts, I have come to the conclusion that there seems to be some substance in the allegations and it is very painful to us. So, all his writings must be scrutinized by experts and the award function must be deferred till the controversy is resolved," he said.

Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly and senior Congress leader, has said that the history that Purandare has written and has always been controversial. Hence, the state government must reconsider it’s decision, he said.

MNS chief Raj Thackeray has slammed the NCP chief Sharad Pawar for the caste politics behind the award.

“It is very sad that he is indulging in the caste politics since he is facing the existential crisis in politics,” said Thackeray.

Political analysts say that this issue is an emotive one and the BJP may face the political backlash from the dominant Maratha community for giving the award.

Support for Purandare

But despite the controversy over the award being given to Purandare, there are others who believe its been overdue.

Vishwas Patil, a noted historian, said that the award must be given to Purandare because he had aptly showcased and brought out the character, traits, and persona of Shivaji in his writings and plays.

"His writings and commentaries have helped to reach Chhatrapati Shivaji history to every nook and corner of the state. Purandare dedicated his life for work on Shivaji and he made Shivaji a household name in the state in past several decades,” said Patil.

Apart from Patil, history scholars and researchers from Pune have also written a letter to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in which they have rallied around Purandare.

"The opposition is politically motivated to create a caste-based rift in society and it will further the political goals of some people," the letter said.

 

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