The politics of history and its representation

Some political parties and individuals in Maharashtra have protested against the release and screening of a Marathi film Har Har Mahadev and the ongoing production of another, Vedaat Marathi Veer Daudle Saat. Both films are based on the life and times of Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Some political parties and their leaders have opposed both films, while others support the films. The film controversy mainly started with Sambhajiraje, the 13th descendant of the great Maratha warrior king Shivaji, claiming at a press conference that history had been twisted in Har Har Mahadev. He also skinned the costumes of Shivaji’s soldiers, the Mavlas, in the Vedaat Marathi film Veer Daudle Saat. The film is not finished yet, but Sambhajiraje criticized the costumes, especially the headgear.

Chhatrapati Shivaji was not a descendant of any ruler or royal family. He became king by his own efforts with the support of his lieutenants as well as the masses.

In light of this, the descendants of this great leader and warrior should show off what their achievements and contributions to society are, instead of just basking in the glory of being the 13th generation in the family tree.

India has abolished the awarding of non-military titles to its citizens and as a republic we have abolished princely states so titles have also disappeared. In this situation, descendants of Shivaji should not use the title Chhatrapati.

To be a descendant of a great personality is not a great achievement for the person in that position. There are others who may not be blood related to such a personality, but should be considered descendants of that personality when implementing that person’s teachings in their lives.

In this sense, there are thousands of people who call themselves Gandhians, and rightly so, because they try to put into practice everything that the Mahatma taught. Many of them are more Gandhian than the biological descendants of the Apostle of Peace.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and its leaders also opposed the screening of Har Har Mahadev, on the grounds that the story was twisted in the film.

History is not an empirical science. It is based more on perceptions than simply on facts. There are dozens of books on Chhatrapati Shivaji, with different interpretations of the ruler and his rule, and readers accept what gratifies them.

The behavior of the members of the NCP, led by former Maharashtra minister Jitendra Awhad, is most deplorable, considering the way they opposed the screening of Har Har Mahadev in Thane. There are allegations that they beat up members of the public for coming to see the film.

Mr Awhad’s objection relates to the way the film’s main character, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, addresses the Maratha King by name. He also claimed that there were scenes in the film that were “not true”. Mr Awhad or even Sambhajiraje speak as if they were witnesses to all the incidents depicted in the film.

Opposition to any work, be it a film or a book, must be democratic. Opponents of the film’s production or showing could have organized peaceful protests outside the theaters showing the film. A better way is to make a movie or write a book to project what you think or believe to be reality.

Mr. Awhad is an intelligent man and has research experience, having obtained a Ph.D. Nothing prevents him or Sambhajiraje from presenting their understanding of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Sambhajiraje was an MP, having been elected on a BJP list.

The two main protesters are therefore part of the country’s political movement. Apart from trying to decide what is the story of the Maratha ruler and opposing certain presentations, they should also let the world know what they have done to implement the teachings of Chhatrapati Shivaji.

There are many aspects of the rule and personality of the Maratha King that must be brought out for the general public to know about his greatness. Yet some sections of society have deliberately projected Chhatrapati Shivaji as having been anti-Muslim, which is far from the truth.

He was against the Mughals and fought them, not because they were Muslims, but because they were invaders. The interpretation of the term Hindavi Swarajya by some is incorrect. The term was used by Chhatrapati Shivaji for the establishment of Indian autonomy and not of a kingdom of Hindus!

Those who repeat Shivaji’s name are silent when women are raped or sexually harassed. Shivaji spared no one when it came to bringing justice to women who were raped or whose modesty was outraged. There are numerous reports of crimes against women in the country, but these protesters are silent on the issue.

Farmers in Maharashtra have demanded that the government declare a wet famine in the state, but the government is silent on the issue. Those who claim that the story related to Shivaji has been twisted in the movies are silent on the issue of farmers, which could mean they are ignoring the progressive steps the king has taken to protect the farmers of his kingdom.

He ensured that no taxes were collected from farmers during the famine; instead, they received aid, including loans, to be paid over a fairly long period.

He had issued an edict to protect the trees at a time when timber was needed to build ships for his navy, but when more than 2,000 trees were cut down in Aarey settlement in Mumbai to make way for shelter for subway cars, devotees of Shivaji fell silent.

Shivaji made great contributions for the welfare of his kingdom and his subjects; small people cannot decide its stature.

The author is a seasoned journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi

(To receive our electronic document daily on WhatsApp, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We allow sharing of the PDF of the document on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)