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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 May, 2004, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Fighting in the name of a legend

By Abhishek Prabhat
BBC correspondent, in Satara

Three-hundred-and-fifty kilometres from Bombay lies a small town with a special significance in Indian history.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
Shivaji is revered as a deity in western India

Satara was the capital of the medieval Maratha rulers and the home of the dynasty's most famous icon - Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Shivaji, who reigned from 1674 to 1680, died fighting Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

His exploits against the Mughal army made him a hero in his lifetime and a deity in western India after his death.

Three-hundred years on, Shivaji remains a central figure in the politics of this region.

This is what disturbs his 13th direct descendant, Chhatrapati Udyanraje Bhonsle.

Mr Bhonsle, 38, is outraged to find his ancestor's name being dragged by politicians from one controversy to another.

"I don't approve of Shivaji Maharaj's name being used by politicians for their own benefit," Mr Bhonsle, who is himself an active politician, told the BBC.

'False, absurd and unforgivable'

Shivaji's name has become involved in several controversies in recent months.

In a book written on the epic warrior, an American scholar, James Laine, made remarks about Shivaji and his mother which were deemed critical.

It generated a storm in the western Maharashtra state.

Mr Laine eventually apologised for hurting Indian sentiments.

Chhatrapati Udyanraje Bhonsle
Shivaji does not belong to any political party. He belongs to the people
Chhatrapati Udyanraje Bhonsle

But the row provided encouragement to political parties, who began fighting battles on Shivaji's behalf.

The opposition Shiv Sena, which swears by Shivaji's name, demanded a ban on the book, while the state's governing coalition said it wanted Interpol to arrest the author.

"What James Laine wrote in his book was false, absurd and unforgivable," said Mr Bhonsle.

"I don't blame Mr Laine. There are hardly any family values in the west. What James Laine wrote only reflects on his upbringing."

But then Mr Bhonsle is not very happy with political parties either, which, he says, have been trying to hijack Shivaji's name for their own gains.

"Shivaji does not belong to any political party. He belongs to the people," he said.

'People looked up to me'

"When we as Shivaji's direct descendants have never ever used his name, then who are these politicians to use him to spread their own divisive politics?"

Mr Bhonsle says life has not been easy, as he has tried to live by Shivaji's ideology.

The warrior king had two sons - Sambhaji Maharaj and Rajaram Maharaj.

Mr Bhonsle traces his lineage to the eldest son.

Descendants of the younger son live in the neighbouring district of Kolhapur.

The scion of the Maratha dynasty studied at one of India's best known schools - the Doon School.

Chhatrapati Udyanraje Bhonsle
Mr Bhonsle was a social worker before entering politics

He took his degree in production engineering and industrial management before returning to Satara to promote what, he says, are the values for which his great ancestor lived and died.

"It was initially very difficult for me. I had no friends here and I was not expected to behave like a common man," Mr Bhonsle said.

"People looked up to me. They wanted me to help them out in times of trouble."

"I slipped into a depression and used to cry often," he said.

Mr Bhonsle said that, slowly, he began to settle down and decided to set up an industrial unit.

The need for power

"But my mother told me to respect my historical background and help those who can't help themselves," he said.

Mr Bhonsle says he then entered social work, but found out he needed political power to achieve his goals.

"I started out as an independent," he said. "But politicians independent of any party have only limited means."

So Mr Bhonsle joined the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

"I had friends in all political parties. But I found only the BJP has a true national base," he said.

Mr Bhonsle was elected a legislator and rose to become the revenue minister when a coalition of the BJP and Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra in 1995. He has campaigned for the BJP in the ongoing general elections.

He is now getting ready to contest the state assembly elections, due in about three months.


SEE ALSO:
India seeks to arrest US scholar
23 Mar 04  |  South Asia
Indian poll row over Nehru book
19 Mar 04  |  South Asia


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