Politics

Sambhaji Brigade Vandalises Playwright’s Statue for ‘Insult’ to Shivaji a Century Ago

The group removed the bust of Ram Ganesh Gadkari from a park in Pune because they felt a play he wrote about a 100 years ago ‘insulted’ Shivaji’s son Sambhaji.

After Gadkari's bust was removed by the Sambhaji Brigade. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

After Gadkari’s bust was removed by the Sambhaji Brigade. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

A Maratha group in Pune is on the warpath against the playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari (1885-1919). Why? Because he wrote a play more than a hundred years ago that they think ‘insults’ Shivaji’s son.

Right-wing Maratha organisation Sambhaji Brigade early on Tuesday morning pulled down the bust of the writer in Sambhaji Park, Pune. Sambhaji Brigade, named after Shivaji’s son, whose memory they are ‘protecting’, accused the writer of defaming Sambhaji.

The move of vandalising the bust has been criticised as a political gimmick and it comes soon after an announcement that the Sambhaji Brigade will, for the first time, contest elections to key municipal corporations to be held in January and February across the state. With poll fever building up, Maharashtra’s political parties are laying claim to Shivaji’s legacy and the Sambhaji Brigade does not want to be left behind.

Santosh Shinde, head of group in Pune, claiming responsibility for the removal of the bust, said, “Four youth from the brigade early on Tuesday morning removed the bust and threw it in the Mutha River. Gadkari, in his play Rajsanyas had portrayed Sambhaji as an addict and a womaniser. Other writers followed suit and portrayed Sambhaji, who is our inspiration and god, in a bad light. Even artists and writers following the ideology of the RSS sometimes slander Sambhaji. And we will not tolerate this.”

When asked why the bust, which was installed in 1962, was vandalised now, Shinde, said, “To install the bust of Gadkari, who portrayed Sambhaji in a bad light, in the garden named after Sambhaji is a paradox. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) did not pay attention to our repeated demand to remove the bust from the garden over the last seven or eight years. We had to take the law into our own hands, since the legal ways didn’t work.”

Shinde refuted the allegations that this was a publicity stunt to garner public attention as the Sambhaji Brigade prepares for the civic polls in Pune, Mumbai and Nashik. He said, “We can reach people with many political and developmental issues to get votes.”

Pune police have arrested suspects Pradip Kanse, Harshvardhan Magdum, Swapnil Kale and Ganesh Karle for theft and destruction of public property.

The four-decade-old Sambhaji Brigade is known for taking aggressive stands on social and cultural issues. It first made the headlines for vandalising the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in 2004, saying that the institute had helped American author James Laine with his book Shivaji: A Hindu King in an Islamic Kingdom. The book saw some controversy, with certain groups alleging that the book contained ‘derogatory’ remarks about Shivaji. The agitators hadn’t read the book. The brigade was also one of the major organisers of the massive Maratha Kranti morchas across the state, recently demanding reservations for Marathas.

After the protest marches, the Brigade announced it had formed a political party and would contest in the upcoming municipal polls. They are eying the Pune, Nashik and Solapur municipal corporations, as the group has a strong presence in these areas.

Artists and writers condemns the move

Artists and writes collected at the site after the vandalism. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

Artists and writes collected at the site after the vandalism. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

The vandalism drew the ire of the artists and writers’ community which asked the government to remove the statues and busts of all artists and writers from the state to avoid a repeat of such acts. Over 30 writers and artists from the Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad and the Maharashtra Natya Mandal gathered at the park within hours of the vandalism to condemn the removal of the bust by the Sambhaji Brigade.

Milind Joshi, executive president of the Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad, said, “The act of violence of removing the bust is nothing but cultural terrorism. Gadkari, who even this generation of readers and writers revere, died 100 years ago. Why is he being targeted for book he had written so long ago? His thoughts through his books and plays will be alive forever. They can criticise the work of Gadkari by writing counter-articles, plays or other works. Writers and artists are being targeted unnecessarily. Through violence like these, political parties try to gain publicity.”

In his short life, Gadkari wrote four plays (Prem Sanyas, Punya Prabhav, Bhav Bandhan and Ekach Pyala), a collection of 150 poems under the pen name of Govindagraj and humorous articles under the pen name Balakram. His plays are staged even today.

Rajsanyas, the play over which the controversy has erupted, is about the confrontation between Shivaji and his son Sambhaji, and was unfinished at the time of Gadkari’s death.

Bal Thackerey founded the Shiv Sena in the king’s name and mentioned it at almost every rally. The BJP, till recently known as a party of Brahmins and traders, is now trying to grab the mantle of the true upholders of the Maratha king’s legacy and is building a Shivaji statue off the Mumbai coast that will cost an estimated Rs 3,600 crore. The state government recently added the word ‘Maharaj’ to the Chattrapati Shivaji Termimus (the old VT station) as a mark of honour.

Note: The article has been edited to remove an incorrect reference to ‘Kusumagraj’ as the pen name of Ram Ganesh Gadkari. His pen name was in fact Govindagraj. Kusumagraj was the pen name of the writer. Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar