Tasteless Diatribe against a Hero
May 15, 2021
Yet, having gone through 105 pages of shoddy polemics posing as historical research, I am constrained to state that Oxford University Press needs to re-examine its commissioning policy if it hopes to retain credibility as a publishing house. — Sandhya Jain
Having purchased and read James Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India only after it was officially withdrawn by the publishers, I cannot view the events at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) as totally unjustified. Certainly, attacks on centres of learning have no place in Hindu ethos and must not recur. Yet, having gone through 105 pages of shoddy polemics posing as historical research, I am constrained to state that Oxford University Press needs to re-examine its commissioning policy if it hopes to retain credibility as a publishing house.
Moreover, the BORI scholars acknowledged by Laine must honestly inform the nation of the extent to which they are responsible for the unwarranted assertions – we cannot call them conclusions, as no evidence has been adduced or offered – in the impugned book. Far from being a meticulous scholar who has uncovered unpalatable truths about a revered historical figure, Laine is an anti-Hindu hypocrite determined to de-legitimize India’s ancient civilizational ethos and its grand rejuvenation by Shivaji in the adverse circumstances of the seventeenth century. BORI is not generally associated with substandard scholarship, and should explicitly declare its position on the actual contents of the book.
Laine exposes his agenda when he foists the unnatural concept of South Asia upon the geographical and cultural boundaries of India; this is awkward because his discussion is India-centric and specific to the Maharashtra region. He is also unable to disguise his discomfort at the fact that Shivaji withstood the most bigoted Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, and established political agency for the embattled Hindu community, amidst a sea of Islamic sultanates. This has so unnerved Laine that he repeatedly makes inane remarks about Hindus employed under Muslim rulers and vice versa, to claim that the two communities lacked a modern sense of identity, and could not be viewed as opposing entities. What he means, of course, is that Hindus of the era cannot be ceded to have had a sense of ‘Hindu’ identity.
Reading the book, I was struck by the fact that it did not once mention Shivaji’s famed ambition to establish a Hindu Pad Padshahi. This is a strange omission in a work claiming to study how contemporary authors viewed Shivaji’s historic role, and the assessment of his legacy by subsequent native and colonial writers. The most notable omission is of the poet Bhushan, who wrote: “Kasihki Kala Gayee, Mathura Masid Bhaee; Gar Shivaji Na Hoto, To Sunati Hot Sabaki!” [Kashi has lost its splendour, Mathura has become a mosque; If Shivaji had not been, All would have been circumcised (converted)].
Bhushan’s verse has immense historical value because the Kashi Vishwanath temple was razed in 1669 and thus lost its splendour, and the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple was destroyed and converted into a mosque in 1670. Bhushan came to Shivaji’s kingdom from the Mughal capital in 1671, and within two years composed Shiv Bhooshan, a biography of Shivaji. It clearly states that Shivaji wanted to set up a Hindu Pad Padshahi.
Hence the view that Shivaji had no ideological quarrel with Aurangzeb and was only an adventurer in search of power and resources is juvenile. Laine obviously subscribes to the secularist school of historiography that decrees that Hindus must forget the evil done to them, a phenomenon Dr. Koenraad Elst calls negationism. But history is about truth, and Hindu society’s long and painful experience of Islamic invasions and the subsequent Islamic polity has been so well documented in standard works like Cambridge History of India, that it is amazing a modern historian should claim there was no tension between Muslim rulers and their Hindu subjects.
Shivaji strove consciously for political power as an instrument for the resurrection of dharma (righteousness), a quest he termed as “Hindavi Swarajya,” a word having both geographical and spiritual-cultural connotations. When still in his teens in 1645 CE, Shivaji began administering his father’s estate under a personalized seal of authority in Sanskrit, an indication that he envisaged independence and respected the Hindu tradition. A 1646 CE letter to Dadaji Naras Prabhu refers to an oath that Shivaji, Prabhu, and others took in the presence of the deity at Rayareshwar, to establish “Hindavi Swarajya.”
Shivaji was aware of the economic ruin and cultural annihilation of Hindus under the various sultanates. He desired to end this suffering, but was personally free from bigotry, as attested by contemporary Muslim chroniclers, notably Khafi Khan. It is therefore galling when Laine smugly proclaims: “I have no intention of showing that he was unchivalrous, was a religious bigot, or oppressed the peasants.” A.S. Altekar (Position of Women in Ancient India) has recorded how Shivaji, in stark contrast to Muslim kings and generals of his era, ensured that Muslim women in forts captured by him were not molested and were escorted to safety. It is inconceivable that Shivaji would not know that Hindu women similarly situated would have to commit jauhar. It is therefore incumbent upon Laine and BORI to explain what “unchivalrous” and “bigot” mean.
The insinuation about “bigot” is especially objectionable in view of Laine’s insistence that Shivaji had no particular interest in Hindu civilization and no proven relationship with the revered Samarth Ramdas or sant Tukaram. A Maharashtrian friend suggests that Laine has probably not read the references cited in his book! What the reader needs to understand is that Ramdas’ historical significance lies in the fact that he openly exhorted the people to rise against oppression and hinted in Dasbodh that Shivaji was an avatar who had come to restore dharma. By denying that he was Shivaji’s spiritual mentor, Laine seeks to disprove that the great Maratha wanted to establish a Hindu Pad Padshahi.
Ramdas, a devotee of Rama (Vaishnava sampradaya), visited the Khandoba temple at Jejuri, Pune; apologized to the god (Shiva) for boycotting the temple due to the practice of animal sacrifice there; and built a Hanuman temple at its entrance. I mention this to debunk Laine’s pathetic insistence that devotion to a personal god divides Hindu society. This is alien to our thinking; we see no conflict between Ramdas and the Bhavani-worshipping Shivaji.
Then, there is Laine’s tasteless allegation that Shivaji may possibly (whatever that means) be illegitimate, simply because Jijabai, who bore many children while living with her husband in the south, gave birth to Shivaji on her husband’s estate near Pune and continued to live there. Maharashtrians point out that Shahaji had to send his pregnant wife to safety in Shivneri due to political instability. Shahaji was on the run with the boy king Murtaza Nizamshah, in whose name he controlled the Nizamshahi. After its fall in 1636, service in the Adilshahi took him to Bangalore (his remarriage produced the distinguished Thanjavur-Bhonsle dynasty); he administered his Pune lands through Dadaji Konddev.
My response to Laine’s profound Freudian analysis is that he has thanked his wife and children and dedicated his book to his mother; I couldn’t but notice the absence of a father. Is one to deduce something from the omission? Laine can relax: since the Vedas, Hindus have placed only proportionate emphasis on biological bloodlines; there is no shame if a man cannot mention his father; a true bastard is one who does not know the name of his mother.
Sandhya Jain is an author, independent researcher, and writer of political and contemporary affairs. Jain is a post graduate in Political Science from Delhi University and has had over three decades of experience as a professional journalist.