The day before I reached Poona, a strike was called against the relocation of a statue by the local government of Dadoji Konddeo from an intersection and moved somewhere else. The bandh turned violent as 4 local buses were destroyed and 2 Pune-Mumbai buses were ransacked over the course of the strike. It turns out that the riots were planned by the none other than the Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray. Who are these Thackerays and what is Shiv Sena? How can the cause such damage in the historical capital of Maharashtra and booming IT metropolis? As in all things Indian, it is difficult to distinguish what is ancient and what is today.
Chatrapati Shivaji ruled Maharashstra in the 1600s as the founding maharajah of the Marathi people. Maharashtrians (especially Maratha kshatriyas known as Marathas) lionize him as the Hindu king who fought off the Muslim sultans of North India. His independent state protected South India from Muslim invasion from the north. Shivaji’s capital was in Poona (now called Pune) and Marathi culture flourished there.
Nowadays, a political party called Shiv Sena (Shivaji’s Army) claims to represent ideals. It’s directed by a man named Bal Thackeray and his family. Shiv Sena includes a trade union and a newspaper; its financing also comes from a protection and extortion racket enforced on local businesses. This local state party allies itself with the BJP in national elections as part of the National Democratic Alliance.
Shiv Sena’s main accomplishments to the outside world are renaming Bombay as Mumbai and its participation in the Bombay religious riots in early 1990s. In this recent disturbance, they are causing a ruckus because they oppose the moving of a statue of Shivaji’s guru. However, scholars and the local government have discovered that it is unlikely that this Konddeo could have taught Shivaji because they lived 100 years apart. That does not matter to the Shiv Sainiks who attacked historians and the Bandarker Oriental Research Institute which contains the papers of Shivaji. Apparently they don’t like people doing any research on their hero.
Who knows? Maybe they are afraid of finding out that the legends built up about Shivaji are inaccurate. Maybe they might be afraid to find out Shivaji was actually a pretty tolerant king and would be ashamed of the Thackerays and their gang of illiterate hatemongers.