MUMBAI: BJP minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha stoked another controversy on Wednesday by comparing Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde's revolt against Uddhav Thackeray to Shivaji Maharaj's grand escape from the Agra fort.
During celebrations at the Pratap Fort, tourism minister Prabhat Lodha recalled how Shivaji Maharaj was imprisoned by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in Agra, but managed to slip away by hoodwinking Aurangzeb. He said Eknath Shinde had in the same way escaped from the clutches of Uddhav Thackeray and formed the government with the BJP. It was like Shivaji had formed the Hindavi Swaraj all those years ago, Lodha added.
The opposition was quick to pounce on Lodha for comparing Shivaji's great escape with that of CM Shinde's revolt.
With the statement coming just days after Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari termed Shivaji an 'olden-times' icon, they alleged that these constituted systematic attempts by the BJP and those affiliated with the saffron party to diminish the stature of the Great Maratha king.
Leader of Opposition and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar said the BJP should rein in such motormouths who make one controversial statement or the other against Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and disturb the social atmosphere in the state.
"After Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Sigh Koshyari's controversial and defamatory remarks against Shivaji Maharaj, BJP should restrain others from making such statements, but they continue to stir fresh controversies. How come he (the Governor) can compare Eknath Shinde's revolt against Uddhav Thackeray with Shivaji Maharaj's historic Agra escape? BJP should stop all this nonsense," Pawar said.
Crucially, BJP Rajya Sabha MP and direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Chhatrapati Udayanraje Bhosale, skipped the Shivaji Maharaj function at Pratap Fort chaired by Maharashtra CM Shinde.
Udayan Raje Bhosale is reportedly unhappy with the BJP for the lack of action against the Governor and the BJP's national spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi. Bhosale had even broken down before media persons. Trivedi, according to the NCP, had claimed that the founder of the Maratha empire had apologised to Aurangzeb on five occasions.
Maharashtra BJP president Chandrashekar Bawankule tried to defuse the situation by saying he shared Udayan Raje Bhosale's sentiments. Bawankule said he agreed that Governor Koshyari was wrong in calling Shivaji Maharaj an "olden-times" icon.
"However, the Governor's is a constitutional post and removing the governor is not in our hands. The concerned authority will take the call over it. We are not here to defend the Governor, but we should also understand this is not a deliberate error by the Governor," Bawankule said.
Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had earlier said that Udayan Raje Bhosale's sense of hurt has been conveyed to people at the right places.
What happened in Agra all those years ago
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his son Sambhaji Maharaj were sent a letter and invited by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for the latter's 50th birthday. It was a ploy and on arrival, Shivaji and his son Sambhaji were imprisoned.
Once in jail, the Maratha king was always under guard with at least 1000 men on duty. But a little over three months later, Shivaji Maharaj escaped from the Agra fort in sweet boxes after hoodwinking the Mughal king on August 17, 1666. His half-brother Hiroji Farzand played a big part in the escape, standing in for Shivaji by covering himself in a quilt and by slipping in on Shivaji's gold wristlet on to his outstretched right arm. This ensured that the guards were fooled long enough to enable the great Maratha king to make his way to freedom.