Friday 27 February 2015

An Ode to March

March is a very special month for the lovers of India. The month of March also has two very important events of national significance – Shivaji Jayanthi and Rama Navami

Unfortunately in the history curriculum Shivaji is systematically depicted as Maratta chieftain belonging to medieval period. Even in recent TV serials popular in some private networks he is shown more as a local Maratta chieftain rather than a visionary with a pan-Indian vision. This depiction hides an important truth. Shivaji lived in the seventeenth century. In Europe it was the time when the nation-states were getting born. And this was accompanied by blood-bath of the wholesome massacre of rivalling Christian cults and ethnic minorities. At a time when European naval forces were destroying human cultures and ravaging nature everywhere through colonialism, Shivaji not only gave importance to building a strong navy for the nation but more importantly aware of the environmental concerns of the ordinary Indians whom the navy should protect. In one of his edicts Shivaji had forbidden the cutting of fruit bearing trees such as mango and jackfruit for use in building ships for his navy, on grounds that this would result in considerable sufferings for the peasantry in his kingdom (Madhav Gadgil, Social Restraints on Resource Utilization: The Indian Experience, 1985). Shivaji also stood against the British and Dutch discouraging and forbidding slave trade despite the fact that it was then a highly profitable trade. Every European nation that is today high on human rights has built their luxuries –including the luxurious human rights trade is built- on the transatlantic slave trade that existed for more than two centuries. In India it was prevented largely because of the power of Shivaji’s Hindu state.  Shivaji also recognized the federal nature of Indian nation. When Chattrasal of Bundelkhand wanted to join Shivaji’s army to fight against Mughal oppression, Shivaji advised him to raise a separate banner of revolt centered on his own region. However he also made Chattrasal realize that they were united in a greater cause for an unifying Dharma and culture. Hence when alien forces attacked any of the Indic regional states they should at once unite and make themselves one and retaliate. We find that in history this really happened. When Marattas were treacherously trapped by Mughals Chattrasal did arrive with his forces and both Marattas and Chattrasal inflicted a humiliating defeat on the enemy.  Here Shivaji seems to have prefigured what Dr.Ambedkar envisioned as the nature of Indian state - harmonizing both federal and unitary character.  According to Dr.Ambedkar 'In normal times Indian Constitution is framed to work as a federal system. But in times of war it is so designed as to make it work as though it was a unitary system. Thus Veer Shivaji can rightly be considered as the precursor of modern Indian state. Unlike European nation-states formed on the idea of one-blood or one language and one state, Indian nation-state is founded on the basis of unity in diversity. Founding of such a nation state can be traced to the genius of Shivaji.

Thousands of years before Shivaji was Sree Rama. Rama represents the national soul of India. He is the personification of duty and dharma. He is the ideal ruler archetype enshrined in the collective psyche of India. We have his Rama Navami this month.

The month saw some of the greatest sacrifices and achievements and movements in the history of India’s march towards freedom. It was on 13th March 1910 that Veer Savarkar was arrested by the British police when he returned from Paris to London. He was arrested in connection with the assassination of then British Collector of Nasik, A.M.T. Jackson.  It was the beginning of a great ordeal. He languished in the Andaman jail for the next one decade before he was moved to Ratnagiri where again he was interned.  Again it was in On 13 March 1940, Udham Singh shot Michael O'Dwyer – the British general responsible for the massacre of Amritsar. This was the last act of revenge enacted by the Indian revolutionary outside the Indian soil, in the very den of British itself, against the British atrocity in India. On March 10 1942 Indian troops stationed at so-called Christmas islands belonging to Australia revolted killed five British officers and captured the remaining British soldiers and officers as prisoners. This facilitated the Japanese takeover of the island. Gandhi too launched his Dandi March against the Salt Tax by the British on 11th March 1930.   

Remembering all these great men and their achievements should inspire us to achieve great things for our nation collectively. Man. Eknath Ranade rightly points out: “We Indians believe in the incarnation of great men for great work, while Westerners achieve the goals through collective work. We require a Shivaji, a Ramakrishna, a Vivekananda, a Tilak, a Gandhi or a Savarkar to achieve great goals. We have been successful in performing wonderful deeds, but only when the great men are born. We have a galaxy of great men. In the West, the common people have worked wonders by amicably coming together and putting forth combined efforts.”

So let this month of March remind us that we come in the line of these great men and we have their power in us and their memories as well as achievements to inspire us to do great things collectively while getting inspired individually.

Aravindan Neelakanan

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