Who is just, firm and stands for the weak ?
Who is an honest and able administrator ?
Who confronts the enemy and is not cowed into submission ?
To whom did Mother India appear in a vision to fight for victory ?
Who has the statesmanship and the vision to build a Greater India?
Who is ruthless with his enemies, but spares women, children and his own people ?
Who respects all religions and pays homage to Muslim, Jain or Hindu saints ?
To which political party belongs this Hero for Modern India ?
Actually to none. But Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj does belong to India and to all Indians, whatever their religion or ethnic origin, for he is an eternal icon of courage, statesmanship, love for his country, able and honest administration. In fact, the qualities that he embodied, are those that a modern Indian politician should possess, but unfortunately, seldom has. Shivaji was a man for all India: he travelled, thought about, and warred in all parts of India, from Agra, then capital of the Mughal empire to Gingee, all the way down in the South. He was the first one who understood that India needed a navy if it wanted to control its waters – and he did build a formidable one.
Yet, try to look for a biography of Shivaji in any bookshop in India : it is practically impossible to find one, as many have gone out of print. Most of these biographies, except, the one from James Lane, which has all the hostile flaws of western, date back to twenty to thirty years. Now, in my country, France, we have such a hero in Napoleon. All children are schooled into Napoleon’s great deeds right from kinder garden. Like Shivaji, Napoleon was not only a great warrior, but also a statesman of exceptional vision: some of the laws and codes he devised, are still in practice today. Thus, most French people are proud of Napoleon – and rightly so – because he was, like Shivaji, great warrior, a visionary and an exceptional statesman. Therefore, every year, at least four to five new books are written, directly or indirectly, about Napoleon, his life or his deeds.
Compare this with India, where not only it is difficult to find a book about Shivaji, but where last year, the Kerala Government put a ban on school notebooks which carried pictures of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj…. This is wrong. No nation can move forward unless it has heroes. No country can progress unless it is proud of itself and can make its children relate to heroes seeped in one’s culture. But it is not so in India. This is not jingoism, but nationalism. Yet every time you open an Indian newspaper or switch on a TV channel, the impression you get is that everything is rotten in India, nothing works and that Indians are the most corrupt and inefficient people in the world.
Why is that so? Maybe because of three hundred years of British colonization, many of India’s politicians, bureaucrats and journalists are often copying whatever the West does, or are eternally worrying about what the West thinks of them. They rarely think Indian, know all about Shakespeare, but very little of Kalidasa, one of the greatest poets ever on this Planet; have read about Abraham Lincoln, but know nothing of Sri Aurobindo, philosopher, poet, revolutionary, immense yogi. Many of India’s intelligentsia have thus no idea about India’s great culture, philosophy and spirituality. Very few have read the Bhagavad Gita, or understood that it encourages yoga in action and that sometimes it is important to defend one’s country, culture and borders, by force if necessary, as Shivaji Maharaj practiced it.
There is also the wrong notion that Shivaji was anti-Muslim because he fought Aurangzeb. But the truth should be known : Shivaji allowed his subjects freedom of religion and opposed forced conversion. The first thing Shivaji did after a conquest was to promulgate protection of mosques and Muslim tombs. One-third of his army was Muslim, as were many of his commanders: his most trusted general in all his campaigns was Haider Ali Kohari; Darya Sarang was chief of armoury; Ibrahim Khan and Daulat Khan were prominent in the navy; and Siddi Ibrahim was chief of artillery.
Aurangzeb was a cruel man, even to his own family: he killed his two brothers, threw his son in jail and had his father Shah Jahan imprisoned and later poisoned. Shivaji was the only one who stood up against him, at a time when Hindus were experiencing great oppression and humiliation: their temples were being broken, and they were being discriminated against in various forms, such as in the matter of charging custom duties, restrictions on their fairs and festivals, their dismissal from government posts, large-scale conversions as a part of openly declared policy of the Mughal State, imposition of the religious tax Jiziya for being a Hindu, and these discriminatory acts were going almost unchallenged though the Hindus formed more than bout 80 per cent of the population of the country.
Yet, Shivaji had respect for the Sufi tradition of Islam and used to pray at the mausoleum of the great Sufi Muslim saint Baba Sharifuddin. He also visited the abode of another great Sufi saint, Shaikh Yacub of the Konkan, and seeked his blessings. He called Hazrat Baba of Ratnagiri bahut thorwale bhau, meaning “great elder brother”. Shivaji’s feelings are reflected in a letter he wrote to Aurangzeb:: “Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling in the outlines. If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of him. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for him alone”. Shivaji also applied a humane and liberal policy to the women of his state, irrespective of their religion, nationality, or creed.
What to do then to remind all Indians of the great champion they had in Shivaji? I for one, am proud to announce that my foundation, FACT, which was created when I received the Natchiketa award of Excellence in Journalism at the hands of the Prime Minister in Parliament in 2003, has mounted an exhibition on Shivaji and that we are planning to release a book at the end of the year on his immense relevance to modern India (Har Anand publications, New Delhi). This is a small contribution of a foreigner, who loves India and think it is a wonderful country with great heroes.
Wake-up of my Indian brothers and sisters. You are a great nation, you have great heroes and Shivaji, certainly, is one of the most endearing ones : a Vibhuti, a direct incarnation of God, who walked upon this sacred soil of India, fearless and yet humane; a Giant of a Man, who could be reached by all. He was truly A Hero for Modern India.