Suresh Chavhanke’s ‘Kill and Be Killed’ Oath and the Mystery of Shivaji’s Letter

After administering a pledge that seeks to commit acts of terrorism, Chavhanke claims the oath is a verbatim copy of the one taken by a 15-year-old Chhatrapati Shivaji. But are his claims true?

A winter crop is sown in much of North India in the months of November and December. The harvest is taken in spring. This season, seeds of a winter crop of hatred have been sown with much aplomb, and they are currently being fertilised. We await the harvest. 

Let’s pay some attention to the sowing of the seeds, because these are acts that are still fresh in the memory. 

An assembly of ‘saints’, a ‘Dharma Sansad’ at Hardwar in the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand, from December 17-19, 2021 has attracted a great deal of attention for allowing its platform to be used for making repeated calls for the genocide of Indian Muslims. 

As a belated consequence, a few first information reports (FIRs), under relatively modest sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) have been registered at a police station in Haridwar. We are yet to see what action will be taken on these FIRs. Some of those who are named as ‘accused’ in these FIRs have themselves registered counter-complaints with the Uttarakhand police, and have posed for group photos with the police officer to whom they have submitted this complaint. One man, a certain Kalicharan Maharaj, has had an FIR filed against him and has also been arrested by the Chattisgarh police for his statements against Gandhi and minorities, at yet another ‘Dharma Sansad’ in Raipur, the capital of the Congress-ruled Chattisgarh. 

But relatively less attention has been conferred on another gathering, that occurred, not in Haridwar, not in Raipur, but in the national capital, Delhi, also on December 19, where the Haridwar genocide call found a distinct echo. 

The ‘Dharma Sansad’ at Haridwar. Photo: Video screengrab

This was an event organised and hosted by the Delhi section of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, at the Banarasidas Chandiwala Auditorium, near the Govindpuri metro station. The Hindu Yuva Vahini describes itself as a “fierce cultural and social organisation dedicated to Hindutva and nationalism.” Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Bharatiya Janata Party leader, is its chief patron and founder. It has a record of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence in Uttar Pradesh. 

At this event, Suresh Chavhanke, chairman, managing director and editor-in-chief of the right-wing news channel Sudarshan News administered an oath to the more than 250 people who had gathered at the venue. 

The oath, in Hindi, was as follows: 

Ham sab, shapath lete hain, vachan dete hain, sankalp lete hain – ke –  apne antim pran ke kshan tak, is desh ko, hindu rashtra banane ke liye, banaye rakhne ke liye, aage badhane ke liye, ladenge, marenge, zaroorat padi to maarenge, kisi bhi balidaan ke liye, kisi bhi keemat par, ek kshan bhi, peeche nahin hatenge. 

Hamara yeh sankalp, pura karne ke liye, hamara gurudev, hamare kul-devata, hamare gram-devata, hamare purvaj, bharat mata, hamko shakti dein, hamko shakti dein, hamko jay de, jay de, vijay de, vijay de, vijay de, bharat mata ki jai, bharat mata ki jai, bharat mata ki jai, bharat mata ki jai, vande mataram, vande mataram, vande mataram. Jai Hind.” [Emphasis supplied]

A verbatim translation may be rendered as: 

We all, take this oath, give our word, resolve that until our life’s last breath, we, will remain prepared to fight, to die, if necessary, to kill for the sake of establishing a Hindu rashtra in this country; and to make sure that it persists and that it expands in the future. 

We will not step back, even for a moment, when called upon to offer any sacrifice, pay any price.

May our teachers, the gods of our clan, the deities of our village, our ancestors, Bharat Mata give us strength, give us strength, give us strength; give us victory, victory, victory, victory, conquest, conquest, conquest. Victory to Bharat Mata. Victory to Bharat Mata. Salute the Mother. Salute the Mother, Salute the Mother. Jai Hind.”

The oath was administered under a banner featuring a portrait of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, in the presence of Rajeshwar Singh, a co-founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, and a minister of state in the Uttar Pradesh government headed by Yogi Adityanath. This call to kill, and to be killed, was not a gathering of ‘holy men’ in Haridwar, who can be dismissed as fringe mavericks (though they are not fringe mavericks, and although this gathering too had its fair share of saffron-clad ‘holy men’, just as the Haridwar gathering had its own fair share of mid-level Bharatiya Janata Party politicians from Uttar Pradesh). But it would be impossible to say that this call ‘to kill’, in other words, to commit acts of terror, did not have the official sanction of the Uttar Pradesh government. The chief minister of UP is the patron of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, and a minister in his cabinet was in attendance. He took the oath, ‘to kill’ along with everyone else. In his speech, (which has been reported even less than Chavhanke’s oath has been), Rajeshwar Singh says that Hindus must take up arms against the ‘sons of Laden’ who, although they are only 14-18% of the population, still make it impossible for Hindu sisters and daughters to be safe. His intent is as clear a dog-whistle as can be. He is calling for violence against Muslims. 

Subsequent to this event, Suresh Chavhanke sent Sudarshan News staff to administer the same ‘oath’ to children in schools in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The principal of a school (Vimla Inter College, Robertsgunj) in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra district – where children, including some who were very young, were recorded taking the oath to kill and be killed, complained that this activity was undertaken in stealth, and without his knowledge or permission. 

In each instance that people, adults or children, took the oath, their right arm is raised in a slight diagonal, an almost exact replica of the gesture that embodied the Nazi ‘Sieg Heil’ salute.

Understandably, this act of administering an oath that incites people, including children, to be complicit in acts of terrorism (how else can we understand the phrasing of ‘to kill and be killed’?) has raised some eyebrows. An attempt was made, unsuccessfully, to file an FIR in Delhi. And the reason why it was unsuccessful may have less to do with the contents of this incitement to terrorism and more with the embarrassment of the presence and participation of a minister from a neighbouring state in the event.

Be that as it may, Suresh Chavhanke has decided to perform bold defences of his ‘oath administration’ on television, and on social media. He has tweeted on his own timeline, appeared live on Aaj Tak, and been part of a more than an hour-long conversation with Madhu Purnima Kishwar on the Manushi YouTube channel.

In his conversation with Madhu Kishwar, (from 2:20 to 3:28 in the video) Chavhanke can be heard saying:

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj-ji ne, chabbees (26) April, solah sau paintallis (1645) ko Raireshwar Mahadev mandir mein jo shapath li thi, apne 15 varsh ki aayu mein, Hindu Rashtra ki sthapana ki, us shapath ko main ne shabdashah Dilli mein padha tha, aur main bachpan se padhte aaya hun. Aur is varsh, main ne, Ganpati ke, Ganesh Utsav ke pehle din se is abhiyan ko vyapak taur se shuru kiya hai, aur kisi bhi karyakram mein main aaj kal jaata hun to is shapath ko padhta hun. Voh Sadhu-Santon ka ho, ya kisi bhi prakaar ke ho. Ab piccole dinon, Gujarat mein bhi kai hazaar sadhuon ke saath mein padha tha, abhi-abhi Maharashtra se aaya tab bhi hazaaron logon ke saath is shapath ko liya gaya tha. Usi, mujhe lagta hai, uske temperature high hone ka climax, Dilli ke shapath mein aaaa, aur Dilli ke us shapath ko lekar Hindustan ke rudaali karne valon jitne media vaale hain, jitne vaami hain, kaami hain – mere us shapath ko lekar sawaal uthaya – aur kaha ke Suresh Chavhanke ke upar NSA lagaña chahiye, Rashtriya Suraksha Kanoon lagana chahiye, kyunki main ne Hindu Rashtra ki shapath li.”

This is where things get really interesting.  

Chavhanke’s defence of the ‘kill and be killed’ phrase has two main points. 

First, that this is a pledge not dissimilar to the ‘do or die’ pledge articulated by Gandhi, the ‘Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it’ stated by Tilak, and the ‘give me blood and I will give you freedom’ phrase attributed to Subhash Bose.

This is what he told on an Aaj Tak panel.

Second, that the pledge is a verbatim copy of the oath taken by a 15-year-old Chhatrapati Shivaji, together with some of his young companions, at the Raireshwar Mahadev temple in the Sahyadri hills, near Bhor, at some distance from Pune, on April 26, 1645. And that therefore, no one can have any objection to it. 

In both instances, he is defending the oath by alluding to persons revered by many Indian nationalists. Gandhi, Tilak, Bose, and then, Shivaji. 

The first parallel is not a watertight one. There is a great difference between ‘to do’ and ‘to kill’, between ‘giving’ and ‘shedding’ blood, or between wresting swaraj (autonomy) as a ‘birthright’ and killing for the sake of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. 

The second parallel is born of an insistence that the oath administered by Chavhanke on December 19, 2021 or by his employees to children in a school in Uttar Pradesh, is identical to the pledge taken by Shivaji and his companions in Raireshwar sometime in the spring of 1645. 

Let’s try and see if this is possible, as Chavhanke claims it is. 

The first thing that strikes as odd is what is uttered at the very end of the oath. The ‘Vande Mataram’ (‘Salute to the Mother’) invocation, in triplicate, and the climactic, single, proclamation, ‘Jai Hind’ (‘Victory to India’). 

Now we know that ‘Vande Mataram’ was a phrase written in a poem by the Bengali novelist and writer Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, apparently, on November 17, 1875, and subsequently published in his novel, Anandamath in 1882. ‘Jai Hind’, popularised by the Azad Hind Fauj and the Indian National Army, has been variously attributed to Subhash Bose, his aide Z.A. Hasan, and even to the maverick adventurer and Malayali rebel of Berlin and Vienna, Chempakaraman Pillai. In any event, it could not have been coined before the early decades of the 20th century. How then, could phrases like ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Jai Hind’, travel from late 19th century Bengal and the early 20th century Central Europe to the Sahyadri Hills in the Maratha country, sometime in the middle of the 17th century, and then return to 21st century South Delhi. Either Shivaji or Chavhanke must be time travellers for this to be true.

People celebrating Shivaji Jayanti. Photo: PTI/File Photo

Leaving aside the possibility of a spectacular violation of the laws of physics, there are a few other historical problems that the ‘verbatim’ transference of what is purported to be Shivaji’s ‘Raireshwar’ oath. 

Basically, the problem is that we have never had access to any text, in any of the voluminous literature around Shivaji’s life and times, that contains the words of this ‘oath’. Yes, reference to an oath taken at Raireshwar exists, but only shadowily, in a letter that Shivaji might have written in 1645, to his contemporary and comrade Dadaji Naras Prabhu, Deshpande of the Rohida valley. In different accounts, this letter is dated, either March 18, 1645, or April 17, 1645, or May 16, 1645. 

The words, in Marathi, are as follows : 

शहाशी बैमानगिरी तुम्ही आम्ही करीत नाहीरोहिडेशवर तुमचे खोऱ्यातील आदी कुलदेव तुमच्याडोंगरमाथा पठारावर सेंदरीलगत स्वयंभू आहे त्यांनी आम्हास यश दिले पुढे सर्व मनोरथे हिंदवी स्वराज्य करून पुरविणार आहेतर बुवांस खामखा हवाल होऊ नये सांगावे.”

You and I are not being disloyal to the Shah (Adil Shah, the Bijapur King, of whom Shivaji, and his father Shahji, were vassals). Srirohidesvara, the original presiding deity of your valley, exists in self-created form next to the Sendri tree on the plateau at the crest of your mountain: he has given me success and will in future fulfil the desire of creating Hindavi Swaraj. So say to the Bava (addressee’s father), ‘Do not be unnecessarily downcast’.”]

Another version of the letter is given, in English translation, by the eminent Marathi historian, Govind Sakharam Sardesai, in his magisterial work A New History of the Marathas, Volume 1, Shivaji and his Line, 1600-1707.

It reads, in Sardesai’s account, as follows:

The Shah is entirely misinformed. Neither you nor I have turned disloyal. Please see me with that letter immediately. You have no reason to feel distressed. Raireshvar, the divine master of your valley, inspires you and me alike and gives us success. He gives us power enough to establish Hindawi-Swarajya. We are mere instruments in divine hands. Come what may, we should stick to the secret oaths we have exchanged, as advised by Dadaji-pant, in the presence of Raireshvar. He wills it all. Don’t lose courage.

The most accessible and widely read version of the oath is probably the one that is included in Shivachhatrapati, the Class IV Maharashtra state school textbook for environmental studies. Here, Shivaji says to his friends:

Friends, our path is clear. We shall all strive to attain our ideal, work for it till it is achieved. All should be ready even to sacrifice their lives for this ideal which is ‘Hindavi Swaraj’. We will have our own Raj, yours and mine and everybody’s. We refuse to live as slaves any more. Let us take this oath with Lord Raireshwar as witness; we give ourselves completely to the great task of establishing our own Raj, Swaraj.

However it may be rendered, there is agreement on the fact that this document was first brought to light in 1912 by the tireless collector and editor of Maratha historical documents, V.K. Rajwade, who published it in his 22 volume Marathyancya Itihasanci Sadhanen (The Sources of Maratha History). This ‘letter’ (no 268) is published on page 272 of the 15th volume. However, Rajwade himself says about this letter, “मतलब खरा पण पत्र अविश्वसनीय” (‘The contents are true, but the letter is unreliable’) 

The authenticity of the letter is also doubted by D.V. Apte, another collector of Shivaji’s correspondence, in Shivkaleen Patra Sar Sangrah (Part-I). He says, ‘हो पत्रे भाषेच्या दृष्टिने तरी विश्वसनीय नाहीत असे निश्चयाने म्हणता येते  (From a philological point of view these letters are definitely unreliable).’ 

S.M.R. Pagadi continues:

One difficulty in going through the source material available on the life of Shivaji is that a large number of spurious documents are also in circulation. These documents were contributed by various families in Maharashtra only in the 19th century when they were submitted to the Inam Commission just to show how close to Shivaji their ancestors were and what great exploits they had performed. Similarly, a number of documents produced by the families of Watandar Deshmukhs and Deshpandes in the course of 19th century civil litigations have also been found to be of a doubtful nature. The letter of 1645, in which the words ‘Hindavi Swarajya’ occur, is also probably unauthentic, as its language is distinctly modern and far too polished to belong to the 17th century. There is also no other evidence to show that Shivaji dreamt of an independent State in the year 1645. The story of oath taking in the temple of Raireshwar, romantic as it is, has therefore to be disbelieved.

Even if the letter is considered authentic, there is another aspect of the matter which must be taken into account. Words undergo a change of meaning with succeeding generations and historical dictionary of the language is really necessary. When Shivaji spoke of ‘Swarajya’ in 1645, he may not have necessarily meant an independent State. He was perhaps only referring to securing a free control over his jagir at Poona.

The eminent conservative historian, Jadunath Sarkar, perhaps the most acclaimed of Shivaji’s 20th century biographers in English, also shared a deep suspicion about the veracity of the ‘letters’ in Marathi, particularly the early ones. But more importantly, Pagadi’s scepticism about the trope of ‘Hindavi Swaraj’ is an echo of Jadunath Sarkar’s considered view of the limited compass of the young Shivaji’s ambitions. This is what Sarkar has to say in Shivaji and His Times:  

With his Mavles (hillmen) young Shivaji wandered over the hills and forests of the Sahyadri range, and along the mazes of the river valleys, thus hardening himself to a life of privation and strenuous exertion, as well as a getting any intimate knowledge of the country and its people. During his  residence at Puna his plastic mind was profoundly influenced by the readings from the Hindu epics and sacred books given by his guardian and other Brahmans, and still more by the teaching of his mother. The deeply religious, almost ascetic life that Jija Bai led amidst neglect and solitude imparted by its example, even more than by her precepts, a stoical earnestness mingled with religious fervor to the character of Shiva. He began to love independent and loathe a life of servile luxury in the pay of some Muslim king. It is, however, extremely doubtful if at this time he conceived any design of freeing the Hindus in general from the insults and outrages which they were often subjected by the dominant Muslim sect. An independent sovereignty for himself he certainly coveted; but he never posed as the liberator of the Hindus all over the country, at all events not till long afterwards.

As is evident from even a cursory reading of this passage, Sarkar is by no means unsympathetic to the idea that Shivaji saw himself as a pious Hindu, and that he cherished independence, but he is clear in his view that the young Shivaji could not have developed a sense of himself as a ‘liberator of Hindus’. 

Even though Sarkar’s sympathies lie definitely with Shivaji, not all Maharashtrian historians take kindly to his scepticism about the veracity of Maratha sources. The military historian Gajanan Bhaskar Mehendale is deeply critical of Sarkar’s dismissal of the Maratha sources. And yet, even Mehandale is clear in his opinion that the letter with the ‘Hindavi Swaraj’ reference, is a fabrication. Accordingly, Mehandale makes no reference whatsoever to the incident of the Raireshwar oath in his magnum opus Shivaji, His Life and Times

V.D. Savarkar, who clutches at every straw to establish his ‘Hindutva/Hindu Rashtra’ thesis, also makes a cursory reference to this letter, specifically of the phrase ‘Hindavi Swarajya’, in his Hindutva text, and says that Rajwade has a pratilipi or copy of this letter.

I have detailed all these readings of this ‘letter to Dadaji Naras Prabhu’ simply to show that while we do have the phrase ‘Hindavi Swaraj’ and a reference to the ‘oath at Raireshwar’ in a letter that is in all probability a fake, there is still no way in which ‘Hindavi Swaraj’ can be glossed as ‘Hindu Rashtra’. There is also no reference to ‘killing and being killed’ as there is in the pledge administered by Suresh Chavhanke.

The word ‘Hindavi’ refers, at the most, to a linguistic community, those who spoke one of the ‘Hindavi’ languages, and may suggest, at best, a loose idea of an autochthonous community, which certainly does not coincide with the Hindu faith, for many Muslims could also be Hindavi or Hindavi speakers. It is in this sense that Amir Khusrau wrote poems and riddles in Hindavi, or, for instance, composed his rhyming lexicon of the Hindavi languages and Persian – the Khaliq-e-Bari – in 1320.

‘Hindavi’ was another name for the dialect of Deccani Urdu/Hindustani that Shivaji and his father would have been familiar with, especially as the state of Bijapur, which they both served as vassals, had replaced Persian with Hindavi as the official language of court and administration under Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah’s reign in 1535, a hundred years before Shivaji thought of Hindavi Swarajya. The ‘Shah’ whom the writer of the letter refers to in the text is the King of Bijapur, and his declaration of autonomy (Swarajya) is prefaced by an insistence that he is not being ‘disloyal’ to the Bijapur state. What he probably means, and this is what the historian Setumadhav Rao Pagadi insists he means, is an affirmation of the presence of those who are ‘Hindavi’ as in ‘sons of the soil’. None of these mean Hindu. For at the same time, he is in conflict with other ‘Hindu’ chieftains, such as the Moré of Javali, and also willing to ally with different Muslim powers, including, initially, even the Mughals. 

Assuming that the letter is just halfway authentic, even then, the Hindavi Swarajya it envisions is very far from Chvhanke’s or the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s ‘Hindu Rashtra’. We get a shadowy gesture towards an oath. But that oath leaves behind no textual trace. We have the memory of a promise of a promise, but no words to hold on to. Nothing that says ‘kill or be killed…for Hindu Rashtra’. 

So, if no text of the oath exists, and if a reference to the oath itself is available to us in a letter which is in all probability a forgery, then how does Suresh Chavhanke get hold of the ‘verbatim’ transcription of the oath, which he says, was ‘repeated by K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, in Nagpur, in 1925 and which he, himself, has committed to memory from the time when he was but a child? Chavhanke makes an explicit claim to being a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh during the conversation with Madhu Kishwar.

Sudarshan TV head Suresh Chavhanke in a video released through his Twitter account on the ‘UPSC Jihad’ show. Photo: Video screengrab from Twitter/@SureshChavhanke

How can this be seen as anything but a hurried and ornamental hoax? And isn’t that what the entire Hindutva project is, because it is so reliant, in every possible way, on fabrication, and the perpetuation of fabrication by means of amplification through those who are either ignorant or simply not willing to do the work of discerning the chaff of fakery from the wheat of history. That is where amplifiers like Madhu Kishwar, who despite being a ‘national professor’ with a degree in history, is so willing to entertain a hoax like ‘Shivaji’s Raireshwar oath in a Chavhanke rendering’.

 In a previous article for The Wire, I had shown how the word ‘Hindutva’ itself is a recent fabrication, and now, shortly after, we have once again to face the fact that a television loudmouth has to invent an ‘oath’ to buttress the tattered legitimacy of Hindu Rashtra. 

Could it just be that Suresh Chavhanke, whose sense of fact and fiction (as we know from the ‘news’ he puts out daily on his channel) is, at best, a bit blurry, might have entirely made up the oath, and is now passing it off as ‘Shivaji’s Raireshwar oath’, in order to shield himself from the charge of having made people take pledges to commit acts of terrorism? Does he think that people will hesitate to press charges against him simply because he can use a forgery of Shivaji’s words as his shield? 

Telling lies in order to sow seeds of hatred and violence is bad enough as an offence. The wording of the Raireshwar oath is an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Suresh Chavhanke. Some people might also find it hard to digest that a man like Suresh Chavhanke is basically insulting the memory of Shivaji by attributing to him the words that he has made up himself in order to pursue his agenda of divisive hatred. 

You can take your pick of which, amongst these two ‘offences’ hurts you more. I find it enough that a man like Chavhanke should abuse the enormous resources and reach available to him to make children take pledges to kill and to be killed. It’s a combination of child abuse and abetment to murder. Towards the end of his conversation with Madhu Kishwar, Chavhanke holds out the promise of an ambitious public programme building on the ritual of the Raireshwar oath. He is reluctant to offer more by way of detail of what this is going to do but makes an appeal for volunteers. Madhu Kishwar offers her services. They end, upbeat, riding the rising arc of a lethal lie that propels blood lust, the call to ‘kill and be killed’. 

For that alone, Chavhanke, like many of his accomplices, belongs, not in a television studio, but in a prison. I hope he and they all get there someday, to do time for the offence of dangerous hate speech and sowing the winter crop of hatred.