Shivaji Maharaj's Vision for Inclusive Governance: Empowering Women, Youth, Farmers and The Poor

 

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Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj remains an iconic figure in Indian history, leaving behind a legacy that transcends time. His reign, marked by visionary leadership, military prowess, and administrative acumen, has had a profound impact on the modern world. In the intricate tapestry of India's historical legacy, the reign of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj stands as a beacon of enlightened governance and progressive policies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in one of his speeches, succinctly delineated four significant castes that form the cornerstone of our nation's prosperity – women, youth, farmers, and the economically underprivileged. This essay delves into the visionary policies and perspectives of Shivaji Maharaj specifically concerning these four pivotal "castes." By examining the historical context, administrative initiatives, and socio-economic principles championed by Shivaji Maharaj, we seek to unravel the profound impact his governance had on women, youth, farmers, and the poor, shedding light on a chapter of history that continues to resonate with contemporary discussions on inclusive and equitable governance.

Women

The respect accorded to women by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his soldiers served as a defining characteristic of the Swaraj, distinguishing it from the prevailing norms of the time. An incident, etched in the history of the Maratha Empire, exemplifies Shivaji Maharaj's commitment to upholding the dignity of women even in the midst of conflict.

During one particular military campaign, a lieutenant in the service of Maharaj captured the treasury of an enemy, including the cavalcade of women from his family. This lieutenant, perhaps influenced by the prevailing practices of the time, decided to bring not only the captured treasury to the court but also the women. His rationale was grounded in the notion that emulating the enemy's actions, which did not spare the women of Swaraj, was a justified strategy.

However, upon learning of this action, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj responded with strong disapproval. He understood the profound importance of respecting women, irrespective of the circumstances. Shivaji Maharaj recognized that adopting the unethical practices of the enemy did not align with the principles and values that defined Swaraj. In an unequivocal act, Maharaj reprimanded the lieutenant for his actions, emphasizing the fundamental principle that the honor and dignity of women should never be compromised.

In an exemplary display of leadership, Shivaji Maharaj not only corrected the course of his lieutenant but also took decisive steps to rectify the situation. Rather than perpetuating the injustice, he released the captured women, underscoring his commitment to principles of justice, humanity, and gender equality. His actions were not merely a response to a singular incident but were reflective of a broader philosophy that championed the respect and dignity of women in all circumstances.

To symbolize this commitment, Shivaji Maharaj directed his queen to offer an "oti" to the released woman. The "oti" included a sari and a blouse piece, along with a coconut, haldi-kumkum (turmeric and vermilion), bangles, mangalsutra (a symbol of marital status), and rice. This gesture was not just a token of apology but a profound acknowledgment of the importance of preserving the honor and dignity of women, even in the tumultuous context of warfare.

This incident became a watershed moment in the history of Swaraj, setting a precedent that would be emulated by generations of soldiers. Shivaji Maharaj's act of respectfully escorting the daughter-in-law of the Subhedar of Kalyan back to her family became a lasting example of chivalry, honor, and adherence to ethical standards in the Maratha military ethos. It reinforced the identity of Swaraj as a principled and enlightened kingdom that prioritized justice, even in the heat of conflict, and championed the respect and dignity of women as an integral part of its identity.

Youth

The formidable geographical terrain known as "Sahyadri" bestowed upon the Marathas an advantage that proved instrumental in their resistance against external forces—a strategic edge that the Rajputs, facing a different topography, could not exploit as effectively. In the art of warfare, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj wielded the potent weapon of "Ganimikawa" or guerrilla warfare, an ancestral legacy passed down through generations, including the tutelage of the Mores and Shirkes. This guerrilla warfare, akin to the mythical Brahmastra, became a cornerstone of the Maratha military strategy.

Shivaji Maharaj, a visionary leader, not only harnessed the geographic advantage of the Sahyadri range but also sowed the seeds of "Hindavi Swarajya" in the fertile minds of the youth in the Maval region. The concept of Hindavi Swarajya, an indigenous form of self-rule, resonated with the local populace, inspiring a sense of identity and purpose. This visionary approach to nation-building led to the formation of the legendary Mavlas, a dedicated force that epitomized courage, loyalty, and unwavering commitment to the cause of Hindavi Swarajya.

Understanding the importance of the soldiers who were the backbone of his military might, Shivaji Maharaj implemented policies that ensured their well-being. Recognizing the financial strain on families, he ensured that his soldiers were adequately compensated, establishing a precedent that emphasized the welfare of the warriors and, by extension, their families. This humane approach not only instilled a sense of loyalty but also reinforced the strength and resilience of the Maratha military.

Shivaji Maharaj's foresight extended beyond the land, recognizing the significance of maritime strength in securing the nation. Credited as the father of the Indian Navy, he comprehended the pivotal role a naval fleet played in ensuring the security and sovereignty of a nation. The establishment of a formidable naval force under his leadership highlighted his strategic vision, acknowledging the importance of dominance not only on land but also on the high seas.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's strategic brilliance, combined with his visionary leadership, transformed the Sahyadri terrain into an asset, empowering the Marathas against external forces. His adept utilization of guerrilla warfare, the instillation of Hindavi Swarajya ideals, the formation of the Mavlas, and his recognition of the importance of a strong navy collectively shaped the destiny of the Maratha Kingdom.

Shivaji Maharaj was a visionary in recognizing the potential of the youth. Believing that their energy needed to be channeled purposefully for the attainment of Swaraj, he laid the groundwork for empowering and involving the youth in the overarching objective of self-rule.

Farmers

One of the striking aspects of his rule was the emphasis on the welfare of farmers, the backbone of the economy in the Swaraj. The famous directive, "Shetkaryachya bhajichya dethala suddha haat laavu naye," encapsulates his commitment to safeguarding the interests of the agricultural community.

Shivaji Maharaj recognized the vital role farmers played in sustaining the kingdom's prosperity. His instruction to his soldiers, not even to touch the leftovers from the vegetables belonging to the farmers, reflects a level of empathy and concern for the agricultural class that was uncommon in his time. This directive served as a powerful symbol of the respect he accorded to those toiling in the fields, ensuring that even the remnants of their produce were not to be taken lightly.

A key aspect of Shivaji Maharaj's approach towards supporting farmers was his belief in providing them with essential resources rather than direct cash. He understood that direct monetary assistance could be misused or diverted to non-productive avenues. Instead, he advocated for a more sustainable model wherein farmers would be supplied with seeds, fertilizers, and other raw materials necessary for farming. This approach not only ensured that the support reached its intended recipients but also contributed to the overall improvement of agricultural practices and productivity.

The reasoning behind Shivaji Maharaj's stance against providing direct cash to farmers was strategic and reflective of his acute understanding of the socio-economic dynamics of his time. He foresaw the potential pitfalls of cash distribution, expressing concerns that farmers might misuse the funds or divert them towards personal expenses, such as marriages and dowries. By supplying seeds, fertilizers, and other essentials directly, Shivaji Maharaj aimed to ensure that the support extended to the farmers directly contributed to enhancing their agricultural capabilities and, in turn, the economic strength of the kingdom.

This unique approach demonstrated Shivaji Maharaj's commitment to fostering sustainable and self-reliant agricultural practices. By providing farmers with the necessary resources, he not only addressed immediate needs but also invested in the long-term growth of the agricultural sector.

This foresightedness reflected a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of economic stability and the well-being of the farming community.

Shivaji Maharaj's emphasis on supporting farmers through tangible resources rather than cash resonates with modern discussions on rural development and sustainable agriculture. The contemporary challenges faced by farmers, such as access to quality seeds, fertilizers, and modern agricultural techniques, echo the very issues that Shivaji Maharaj sought to address centuries ago.

The Poor

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's governance philosophy was deeply rooted in the welfare of his people, particularly those from the lowest strata of society. Recognizing the historical oppression faced by these marginalized groups under the rule of Sultans, Shivaji Maharaj sought to uplift them, ensuring they were no longer subjected to harassment.

One of Shivaji Maharaj's remarkable measures was relieving the poor from the burden of taxes when they were unable to pay. This empathetic approach to governance exemplified his commitment to social justice, alleviating the economic woes of the underprivileged and fostering a sense of relief and security within the lowest rungs of society.

Innovative and bold financial strategies were also employed by Shivaji Maharaj to fill the treasury and sustain the economic well-being of his kingdom. Notably, the audacious move of looting Surat showcased his resourcefulness in seeking alternative avenues for revenue generation. This strategic thinking and unconventional approach distinguished him as a leader willing to take bold measures for the benefit of his people.

A profound humility underscored Shivaji Maharaj's leadership style, as reflected in his famous proclamation: "Swarajya vhave hi to Srinchi iccha, amhi tar keval nimitta matra." This sentiment encapsulates his belief that the establishment of Swaraj, self-rule, is the divine wish, and he considered himself merely an instrument in its realization. This humility and acknowledgment of a higher purpose showcased a rare blend of spiritual conviction and pragmatic leadership.

Shivaji Maharaj's economic policies were not limited to revenue collection; he recognized the interdependence of agriculture, irrigation, and trade in creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. His promotion of these sectors aimed at fostering economic prosperity, ensuring food security, and facilitating robust trade networks. This comprehensive approach reflected his visionary understanding of the intricate connections between different facets of the economy.

In conclusion, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's governance was characterized by a profound commitment to social justice and economic well-being. His alleviation of the tax burden on the poor, audacious financial strategies, humble acknowledgment of divine will, and promotion of agriculture and trade collectively underscored his holistic approach to governance.

As we navigate the historical and contemporary landscapes of governance, the policies and perspectives of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj offer invaluable insights into the enduring principles that underpin a just and inclusive society. By examining the approaches towards empowering women, nurturing the youth, fostering agricultural prosperity, and alleviating poverty, we find that Shivaji Maharaj's legacy endures as a testament to the fusion of strategic acumen and visionary leadership, leaving an indelible mark on the pages of Indian history.

This article is written by Gaurav Kulkarni, National Co-convenor, Think India (Alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indore) on the occasion of Shivaji Jayanti in Feb 2024