The reason for enduring appeal of principles of Shivaji’s Swarajya is its innate strength and purity
Shivaji issued a royal edict to his subjects to use dry sand and dead trees as far as possible, for their various needs. Fresh trees were to be cut only when absolutely necessary, and that too with the consent of the owner of those trees. Shivaji’s sensitivity towards trees and forests conveys his deep understanding of, and affection for the environment.
It would be interesting to discover what proportion of the original understanding of forests and environment today’s leaders have, which Shivaji had in abundant measure. India’s forest cover has gone down worryingly over the last 65 years. In order to taper over their dereliction of duty, the country’s political leaders have tried to sell the theory of “three different categories of jungles”; jungles of grass, jungles of weeds and shrubs and finally, jungles comprising trees. Now who is to tell these environmental experts that grass, weeds or shrubs are not called forests at all. The continuing loss of our forests is the direct result of appallingly weak political will and understanding.
India’s history over the last 1,000-1,200 years has also been one of constant struggle by our women. This was a period of inhuman atrocity, rape and murder by foreign invaders. The struggle our women had to endure during this long, dark period cannot be adequately described in words. From Rani Padmini of Chittor who confronted Alauddin Khilji to Rani Durgavati who took on the might of Mughal Emperor Akbar, the saga of valour and struggle of our women has been unparallel. Atrocities against women actually bespeak of a peculiar mentality in dealing with them, which sadly continues till this day. Only recently, the Kerala High Court taking cognisance of ‘Love Jihad’ asked the state government to clarify its position on the issue.
In that age of such malignant and barbaric attitudes towards women, we find Shivaji at the opposite end of the spectrum. His decisions, at the very young age of 14 years, on a matter that involved the outrage of a woman’s modesty and towards the fag end of his life, in his victorious southern campaign, on one of his officials who had abducted a woman, were the same. His clarity of thought and unwavering commitment to justice in both these decisions was equal. Shivaji accorded to primacy to the safety and honour of the women of his kingdom and meted out the harshest punishments to those who misbehaved with women. This attitude of Shivaji towards women was not something born out of strategic considerations but an intrinsic part of his civilizational upbringing, values and policy.
The steps taken by Shivaji through his direct and indirect interventions and orders for empowering women in his Swarajya are worthy of being followed even today.
Treatment of Minorities
Of the various powers Shivaji confronted throughout his life, three prominent ones were followers of Islam — the Mughals, the Qutubshahi and the Adilshahi. Shivaji had to continually fight one or the other at various times. Yet, he was never anti-Muslim even though he challenged these Islamic sultanates. This reflects his lofty mentality and clarity of vision. Many members of the Muslim society were appointed as officials in important positions in his military. Daulat Khan, Noor Khan Beg, Siddi Hilal and Mulla Haider were prominent among Shivaji’s Muslim commanders.
There is not a single instance during Shivaji’s reign when any women belonging to minority community had to suffer even minimal harassment or persecution. Quite to the contrary, whenever women captured by the Adilshahi, Qutubshahi or Mughal sultanates for their lustful enjoyment used to fall into Maratha hands after any military campaign, Shivaji immediately would set them free and send them back to their respective homes with full honour. One cannot find even a single instance of this kind in the 300-year-long history of the Mughal Empire in India. Women captured in battle by the Mughals would either be thrown into slavery in the royal harems or be given away forcibly in marriage to someone else. But there is not even a single instance in the Mughal reign, of any women who was sent back respectfully to where she came from.
French traveller Francois Bernier writes about a particular incident that took place after Shivaji conquered Surat. “Shivaji ensured the safety of the home of a Dutch Christian in Surat. The head of the house was no more, and therefore, Shivaji provided protection to his widowed wife and other ladies of that household. He deployed guards for their security and gave them his personal word to assure them of their safety and security”, Bernier says.”
Venovhe has this to say: “Upon the reverend Father Ambrose’s request to Shivaji, the emperor granted a complete concession to the church”.
Stance against Corruption
When he learnt that his step-uncle Mohite had taken a bribe, Shivaji immediately had him thrown into gaol and after his release, packed him off to Shahji (Shivaji’s father).
Similarly, a big farmer once tried to forcibly take over land belonging to a much poorer farmer. The influential farmer, who tried to misuse his position and power, was of course punished by Shivaji, who also restored the poor farmer’s land to him.
Shivaji’s correspondence to his officials expresses his anti-corruption sentiment at many places. In a letter written on May 13, 1671, Shivaji says: “If you harass the public and do not look after them (meaning demanding bribes for doing work), they will naturally feel that Mughal rule was much better than this. You will then land in difficulty”.
Shivaji was no all-renouncing hermit. He was a ruler. He fought many battles, carried out invasions, conquered forts and also entered into negotiations and treaties with other kingdoms for the expansion of his empire. In doing so, he made ample use of the age-old strategies of Saama (making peace with adversaries), Daama (buying off one’s adversaries), Danda (using force on adversaries) and Bheda (sowing discord among adversaries). He threw many temptations and enticements to his foes whenever needed, for attaining victory, but himself never yielded to the temptations of women or wealth. Neither did he allow any of his associates to do so. Through his own education in history, Shivaji knew that one of the forms of corruption was entrapment of adversaries by women and Vishkanyas (poison woman; such women were especially trained to carry venom on their person to poison enemies to death), for attaining political ends.
Self-inspired Polity and Rule
The unguarded ends in a palace and the waywardness of political functionaries can lead to the downfall of a kingdom and its people. He therefore, adopted a very harsh and uncompromising policy toward this form of corruption.
Shivaji passed away in 1680 CE. Misfortune befell the Marathas in 1689 when his eldest son and successor Sambhaji Raje was treacherously abducted and killed by Aurangzeb. Shivaji’s second son Rajaram passed away in 1700 CE at the mere age of 30 years. When Aurangzeb received news of Shivaji’s death, he wasted little time in setting out in 1681 CE to conquer the south.
But alas! Aurangzeb’s dream turned into a nightmare. He spent the remaining 27 years of his life in trying to conquer the empire of Swarajya that was spread throughout the Sahyadri region. His failure to conquer Swarajya, even though Shivaji was not present, was indeed spectacular. In the end, utterly defeated, Aurangzeb died in the south in 1707, completely disheartened and broken in spirit.
The reason for Aurangzeb’s failure and Swaraj eventually triumphing against its most powerful adversary was that Shivaji had made it an idea and ideal that was embraced by one and all. Despite innumerable military setbacks, changing leadership and an uncertain future at most times, the flame of Swarajya could never be extinguished. The reason for this was that every soldier and their commanders, especially those in charge of forts did not wait for orders from above and would set out to do what they felt was best in the interests of Swarajya or what Shivaji would have expected of them, had he been alive. These soldiers and warriors did not worry about their pay, their future, nor victory or defeat. They would refresh their tactics, rework their strategies, fight; would suffer the occasional defeat but go on to win a few more victories.
Shivaji made ample use of the age-old strategies of Saama (making peace with adversaries), Daama (buying off one’s adversaries), Danda (using force on adversaries) and Bheda (sowing discord among adversaries)
But under no circumstances Shivaji’s men allowed the idea of Swarajya, the ideal of freedom and their beloved saffron flag to waver or to be lowered. Indeed there were moments when it was felt that Swarajya had become leaderless, but even in the darkest of hours, neither did the administration loosen nor did the struggle cease. It was this unyielding determination, unflagging zeal and indomitable willpower of Swarajya and its progeny that the mighty Mughal Aurangzeb had to confront. Finally, tired and worn out beyond endurance, Aurangzeb’s spirit and physical frame both collapsed. This was possible solely because of the self- driven system and polity created by Shivaji and the self-inspired soldiers and citizenry developed by him.
His Swarajya not only withstood the Mughal storm but ultimately quelled it. Indeed, it is benign thoughts that really rule and attain immortality and it is such noble thoughts that form the basis of society’s struggle against demonic tendencies and powers. It is these ideals that lend sustenance and determination to society in defeat and help it balance its power when it is victorious.
It was this seminal difference between the ruling systems of Shivaji and Aurangzeb that eventually determined their respective fates. Shivaji’s kingdom not only continued the struggle even after his passing away but also continuously expanded in the years to come. From the beginning of the 17th century till its fag end, the Maratha Empire had expanded throughout the subcontinent and straddled a territory from Afghanistan to Bengal. On the other hand, the shrinking of the Mughal Empire after Aurangzeb’s death never ceased until its eventual collapse.
The true test of any leader is what happens when he is no longer there. How do the people manning the system he has left behind, work? What kinds of decisions do they make? How do they confront challenges and critical situations? These are the factors that evaluate the true worth of any ruling system.
Many organisations and movements in the world have sprung up and spread on their own. They gain the benefit of leadership quite late, or sometimes not at all. If they ever grow into a mighty edifice, it is because each individual belonging to their organisation or movement believes himself or herself responsible for it and selflessly and voluntarily works towards its goal. Such individuals do not expect rewards for their efforts nor wait for instructions or orders. But it is equally true that such moments in the history of individuals and societies are rare and do not happen easily.
If cultures like India and China have survived for centuries, and have been successful in safeguarding themselves despite innumerable struggles, the reason for that is the same as we have described above. Such civilisations by their very nature are self-driven and self-controlled. They do not have any single founder or controller. They contain many faiths and sects within them but have the capacity to rise above all of these. Every village, family and individual of India is a living embodiment of this eternal culture. Despite outward differences of milieu, expression and mode of worship, their outlook and philosophy is the same. This is the reason for its everlasting nature. If despite the countless invasions, exploitation and religious conversions that have happened here, India has not been extinguished, it is solely because of its self- inspired and self-driven innate nature.
There are many who even today try to propagate the myth that India has been enslaved for many centuries and has been in the dark ages throughout these centuries. Such propagandists somehow want others to believe that it is possible for a patient of asthma or jaundice, also unable to see properly and devoid of hands and legs, to climb Mount Everest by himself.
When Shivaji wrote to Aurangzeb on Jaziya
When Aurangzeb imposed the Jaziya tax (a religious tax which had to be paid by infidels, i.e., all non- Muslims), Shivaji wrote a letter to him in 1679, saying, “If you hold faith in your holy book the Quran, it describes God as Rab-ul-Aalami or the God of all beings. Rab-ul-Aalami does not mean the God of only Muslims. He is worshipped everywhere, be it in a mosque or a temple. Finding fault in anyone’s religion or faith is actually the rejection of what God has created. If people are persecuted, He shall be unhappy; and the flames arising out of His unhappiness will consume your reign as no visible flame can. The poor are weak and there is no glory in inflicting sorrow or misery upon them”. Shivaji also reminded Aurangzeb in the same letter that his ancestors Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan had abolished the Jaziya tax. It is, of course, unclear as to how much effect Shivaji’s blunt and forthright message to Aurangzeb had on the latter, but the courage shown by the Hindu ruler in stating the truth is a quality every true leader must have.
Shivaji’s outlook towards, and treatment of, minorities is devoid of either appeasement or abasement. His balanced, reasoned and lofty administration is a glittering jewel in the illustrious crown of Hindu Padpaadshahi, for which any ruler, dynasty or ideology would yearn for.
(Edited Excerpts from Shivaji & Suraj: An Iconic Leader & Good Governance)
This is utterly ridiculous. In other words, something like this is not humanly possible in any age. The same holds true for India. Its saga of constant struggle over the centuries is not one of defeat or slavery, but of glorious struggle and victory. That is why we are there where we were thousands of years ago. The mystery of this lies in the self-inspired, self-sustained and highly developed consciousness of Indian society.
Shivaji undoubtedly gave birth to Swarajya but even after his death, the ideal of Swarajya continued with alternating intensity from 1680 to 1857 CE. It did not extinguish even after 1857 but found expression through different agitations and movements, culminating in independence in 1947
There are other innumerable examples in world history; Shivaji’s Swarajya being one among them. Gandhi’s Swadeshi, the First War of Indian Independence (1857 CE), the French Revolution of 1789 CE, the Glasnost and Perestroika reform initiatives by Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia in the early 1980s and the American Independence War of 1776 CE are all examples of the expression of the consciousness of these respective societies in various ways. These were movements which were not begun by any leader, or did not have any single leader or figure. Some of these were shaped by a few leaders but soon became self-reliant as they forged ahead with energy and continued incessantly to reach their goal even after their leader had quit the mortal world.
Shivaji undoubtedly gave birth to Swarajya but even after his death, the ideal of Swarajya continued with alternating intensity from 1680 to 1857 CE. It did not extinguish even after 1857 but found expression through different agitations and movements, culminating in independence in 1947. If any leaderless organisation or movement attains a long life, it is because of its own innate purity or that of its creator.
(Excerpts taken from Anil Madhav Dave’s book Shivaji & Suraj: An Iconic leader & Good Governance)