Can Maharashtra Guv Koshiyari ride out storm created by his remarks on Shivaji Maharaj and Savitribai Phule?

Bhagat Singh Koshiyari has been Governor of Maharashtra long enough to know sensibilities about Shivaji Maharaj and Savitribai Phule in the state. If his comments were inadvertent, he must apologise

Governor Koshiyari garlanding Shivaji’s statue
Governor Koshiyari garlanding Shivaji’s statue

Sujata Anandan

Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari never seems to get it right and is forever in conflict with the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state.

He is, however, lucky that the Shiv Sena is leading the government in Maharashtra and necessarily must remain civilised while protesting issues that displease the party. And this time the Governor put both his feet in his mouth, not once but twice in the space of a mere week, days before the start of the budget session of the Maharashtra legislature.

Accordingly, instead of having his face blackened or clothes torn, as is the usual reaction with Shiv Sainiks and at times even the NCP, he only had to run away from the Maharashtra Assembly mere 22 seconds after starting his annual address to the joint session of the legislature. NCP and Sena MLAs shouted slogans at him demanding an apology for his unacceptable comments on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitribai.

Last week, at an event in Aurangabad, the heart of Maratha territory, Koshiyari raised doubts on whether Shivaji would have been as great as he is considered to be without advice from his guru Samarth Ramdas. “Chandragupta was nothing without Chanakya and Shivaji too would be nothing without Ramdas,” he said.

The relationship between Shivaji and Ramdas is a sore point with Marathas who believe there is an attempt by the Brahminical upper castes to deny Shivaji his due by attributing his strategies and achievements to Ramdas.

At the heart of that is also the fact that Shivaji was not accepted by the Brahmins of Maharashtra as a legitimate king for he had attempted to integrate the masses of all castes together in the face of the resultant Brahminical outrage and that is why he is also hailed as their own by the former outcastes of the state.

Attributing his greatness to Ramdas opens up the old controversy with the suspicion that the RSS, whose devoted member Koshiyari is, is now attempting to appropriate the Shivaji legacy.

But Koshiyari is also being charged with the attempt to rewrite history -- for in 2018, when the BJP was in power in Maharashtra, the state government had presented an affidavit to the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court stating that there was no historical evidence to prove that Shivaji and Samarth Ramdas had ever met in their lifetimes or that they had a guru-shishya relationship.

Marathas, however, insist Shivaji’s guru was his mother Jijabai and she taught him not just statecraft and war strategies but also respect for women and other communities, thus making Shivaji’s reign and kingdom unique in the country.

Koshiyari has been taken aback by protests from among even BJP leaders, among them two direct descendants of Shivaji Maharaj – Sambhaji Raje, a Rajya Sabha MP, of the Kolhapur branch and Udayan Raje Bhosale of the Satara seat. He has backtracked somewhat by saying he was not aware of Shivaji’s history and had now been acquainted with the facts by some historians.

Amid clamours from the Maratha Kranti Morcha for the president to recall the Governor, he also seems to have offended a whole section of Dalits and those who revere Mahatma Jyotiba Phule by some obscene remarks about the latter’s marriage, Koshiyari was unveiling a statue of Savitrubai Phule, the first woman teacher in India, at the Pune University named after her and did not seem to have control over his tongue.

At a time when child marriages were the rule rather than the exception in India, Koshiyari pointed out that Jyotiba was 13 and Savitribai only ten when they were married. Instead of restricting it to social commentary he turned his observation obscene by wondering aloud how they might have consummated their marriage at that age (in far less refined words).

The comment has caused tremendous outrage with Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who had also married at the age of 13, demanding that it is high time Koshiyari was thrown out of Maharashtra. “He is lucky that the Shiv Sena has become more disciplined. Otherwise by now they might have drawn his blood for such remarks, Balasaheb Thackeray would not have spared him and not rested until he was recalled.”

Although BJP MLAs blindly protested the Governor being forced out of the Assembly, on Thursday Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena MP, pointed out that any other party’s leader making such remarks would have drawn howls of protests by the BJP as them being anti-national.

Koshiyari has been in continuous conflict with the MVA government since its formation, on various issues. The latest contretemps between him and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray involved a bitter exchange of letters between them wherein Koshiyari protested the tone and tenor of Thackeray’s letters as highly disrespectful to the high constitutional office of the Governor.

However, Koshiyari has himself been acting more as a BJP worker in that office and less as a neutral constitutional authority and has not much leg to stand on in that regard.

Views are personal

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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