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“I am ready to go. I have no fear”: Chhatrapati Shahu

“I am ready to go. I have no fear.”— Chhatrapati Shahu

(A reply to Abhinav Chandrachud regarding the chapter on Chhatrapati Shahu in his book  ‘These seats are reserved’. )

Dr. Bhushan Amol Darkase

“In fact, there is evidence that the British might have provoked Shahu to take strong actions against the Brahmins in Kolhapur as part of their age-old divide-and-rule policy. Writing to the Secretary of State in England after the Vedokta controversy, Governor Northcote took credit for Shahu’s actions against the Brahmins. Shahu had visited British officials in Mahabaleshwar before his decision against the Rajopadhye. Northcote wrote, “We quietly instilled a little pluck into him.” Northcote felt that Shahu would otherwise have given in to the Brahmins on the matter. Further, during his trip to England in 1902, Shahu visited Secretary of State George Hamilton, who advised him that he “ought to stand up to the Brahmins.” [1]

“The 1902 resolution reserving 50 per cent seats for non-Brahmins might therefore have been inspired by Hamilton.” [1]

“However, colonial officials did not think very highly of Shahu. “I only wish we had a more resolute ally than this timid prince,” wrote Hamilton. Governor Northcote called him an ‘arrant coward’.” [1]

The above passages are from the book ‘These Seats Are Reserved’ by Abhinav Chandrachud. The ‘Nothcote’ and ‘Hamilton’ statements are cited from the book ‘The Myth of Lokmanya’ by Richard Cashman. Dhananjay Keer also mentions this in his book, but with an apt reply*, which we will see below. The line that Hamilton might therefore have inspired the reservation of 50% seats is without any reference.

After the Vedokta controversy in 1901, Shahu issued the order to perform all palace ceremonies according to the Vedas, which royal priest Rajopadhye refused to do, so Shahu withdrew the inams of Rajopadhye on May 6, 1902.

The resolution of 50% reservation was issued on July 26, 1902. Chhatrapati Shahu was inaugurated with the investiture ceremony on April 2, 1894.

The circumstances under which Chhatrapati Shahu took charge are best explained in this passage:

“His administration was mostly under the grip of the Brahmins. In the State services there were 60 Brahmin officers and only eleven non-Brahmin officers. Even in the Khasagi or Private Department there were 46 Brahmin officers and only 7 non-BrahminsBesides, the bureaucracy of Kolhapur constituted the British, the Brahmin and the Parsis. It was not to cooperate with him. The British officers had grown insolent and overbearing….In addition to that, Ex-Dewan Mahadev Barve came from Konkan had imported many Brahmins from Konkan to sway Kolhapur administration. In practical life, therefore, the Brahmin bureaucrats were more powerful than the BritishThe Parsis, who knew well how to protect their own interests, had joined the bureaucracy instead of supporting Shahu Maharaja. They were in tone with the British-Brahmin league in the bureaucracy.” [2]

Now we will see the chronology of Shahu’s actions after taking charge as Chhatrapati on April 2, 1894.

In one instance, a Brahmin teacher, Vasudev Krishna Narwane—a paid teacher-servant of the Kolhapur State—reported that the Mudsingi Village school should be closed because no Brahmin boys were enrolled. The issue had been hanging since January 1894 and was brought to the young Maharaja’s notice for a final ruling. The Maharaja ordered him to continue teaching at the same school. But the teacher wanted the closure of the school. As a result of the Brahmin teacher’s obstinate demeanor, the school was kept open while his services were immediately terminated. [3]

Chhatrapati Shahu first disbanded the Council of Administration (mostly Brahmins) to take charge of the bureaucracy, which had previously governed the State of Kolhapur. He created a new office in place of that Council—the Huzur Office, or Secretariat of the Chhatrapati. His former teacher, Mr. Raghunath Vyankaji Sabnis, was named Huzur Chitnis, the Chief Secretary to that Secretariat. The Kolhapur State Gazette declared, “All orders passed by His Highness are issued under the signature of the Huzur Chitnis, who signs by order of His Highness the Maharaja.” [4]

Mr. Raghunath Vyankaji Sabnis was a Kayastha. In the Peshwas’ time, there was intense competition between the Brahmin diplomats and the Kayastha diplomats. Therefore, the Kayastha community had to suffer social and religious persecution from the Peshwas. [5] The Brahmins always despised the Kayasthas. The Brahmins were profoundly offended and upset by this and launched a campaign to discredit Chhatrapati Shahu by portraying him as the anti-Brahmin Chhatrapati.

In such a tense atmosphere, he again appointed Bhaskarrao Vithoji Jadhav, a Maratha from the Konkan area, as the Probationary Assistant Sarsubha (equivalent of today’s District Magistrate) in June 1895. Mr. Jadhav was educationally far superior to all the Brahmin officials in the services of the Kolhapur state. [6]

But in Kolhapur, the Brahmins did not want any non-Brahmin to have a position of authority over them. Ranade showed weakness when he asked Mr. Raghunath Sabnis if Jadhavrao, then newly appointed by Kolhapur, really worked well. “Why, he is a Graduate with high educational honors,” replied Mr. R. Sabnis. “That is true,” said Mr. Ranade, “but my question is if he works as well as you and I would do?” [7] Ranade failed to recognize fully and unreservedly the capacity of non-Brahmins to rub shoulders with Brahmins.

Early in 1891, and shortly after His Highness assumed the management of the State, he consulted Rao Bahadur Mhaske of Poona regarding young and educated Maratha graduates available for employment in his services. [8]

Not only Brahmins but also Europeans were upset with Shahu. In November 1895, his friend informed the Maharaja that there was a general complaint that Europeans were not wanted in the Kolhapur Service. The Maharaja gave a characteristically outspoken reply: “You know that I like a mixture of different races (castes) in the administration…..”

But he understood that the non-Brahmins’ entry into government services was only possible with education. With this in mind, Chhatrapati Shahu opened a boarding house for all the poor students in the state-owned Rajaram College of Kolahpur in 1898. [Report on the General Administration of Kolhapur for 1898–99, p. 37] [9] He also inaugurated the first boarding house, the Victoria Maratha Boarding for Maratha students, on April 18, 1901. He gave the order to allow Muslim students to reside in the Maratha boarding house as inmates of the Maratha students. [10]

There is also another intriguing story about the poisoning of Col. Wray, the political agent (1897–1899), in which a Durbar employee was charged with planning to poison the agent during a ceremonial dinner held in the Darbar hall. This was done to discredit the Darbar and the Chhatrapati. While the Chhatrapati was securing the integrity of the Darbar, the Brahmin clique orchestrated the ‘conspiracy’ to undermine the Darbar and complicate his position. However, Wray was unable to hold the Darbar accountable. Therefore, Chhatrapati Shahu made a plea to Bombay to replace Wray. [11][12]

In his book, Keer aptly replies*, “A contemporary magazine accurately describes this. It states, “Shahu’s shyness in the presence of foreigners makes it difficult to assess his qualities at first sight.” Some British officials misunderstood his modesty, caution, and simplicity to mean that he was a coward. With the support of a mighty empire, it was easy for a governor like Northcote to call Shahu a coward. But it is needless to say that a man like Northcote would have been exhausted in the Wray poison case where Shahu came out with courage, slowness, and diplomacy.” [13]

So, the Brahmins have been furious since Chhatrapati Shahu’s investiture in 1894. While Chhatrapati Shahu’s campaign was initially not explicitly anti-Brahmin, pushing up Marathas meant bringing down Brahmins. [11]

Before his journey to London, the Brahmins, as a last resort and to instill fear, cursed Shahu and his journey. Chhatrapati Shahu answered, “Then we will travel to London with the curse of the Brahmins. Because I know that those who took their blessings have not returned safely.” [14] It was a beautiful and brilliant answer. Its brilliance was that it destroyed the pretensions. The roar of that answer was cataclysmic. [14]

From the above answer, it doesn’t look like Chhatrapati Shahu was afraid of Brahmins. For Shahu, the ‘system’ which he was fighting was Brahmin bureaucracy. To use S.M. Fraser’s explanation, “Shahu opposed Brahmins as a system.” [15] Thus, inevitably, Darbar would have to deal with the Brahmin community’s leaders.

Thus, it is superfluous to such an extent that Northcote believed Shahu would have ultimately caved in to the Brahmins on the issue. Furthermore, it is irrelevant that Hamilton said Shahu “ought to stand up to the Brahmins” in 1902 because Chhatrapati Shahu had been confronting this threat since his investiture in 1894.

Additionally, there is a false nationalistic aura surrounding the various Brahmin characters. The British were concerned about nationalist leaders, who were predominantly Brahmins, and their involvement in ‘Indian unrest’ and their influence in ‘centers of active disaffection’, such as lower Bengal and Maratha regions; so there was a Brahmanophobia among the British. [11]

Whatever they were afraid of might be real; however, if we look at Kolhapur’s Shivaji Club, which primarily consisted of young men from the Brahmin community, this fear appears to be misplaced.

At the beginning of the Shivaji Utsav Movement, Shahu Chhatrapati fully agreed with the movement’s goals, but the members of the Shivaji Club in Kolhapur started collecting weapons in 1895. Chhatrapati Shahu was not a supporter of robberies and political murders. Hence, after this incident, he withdrew his support for the Shivaji festival in 1895. [16]

According to Mr. Bhausaheb Limaye, the Shivaji Club’s head, who styled himself as a king, “believed that the people would be happy after the establishment of Brahmin rule.” [17] [18]

This one sentence encapsulates the nationalistic fervor of the Brahmin head of the Shivaji club.

Furthermore, more elements, in this case, require description. Vishalgad, Bavda, Kagal, and Ichalkaranji were Kolhapur’s four principal feudatories. Ichalkaranji was controlled by the Chitpawan Brahmins; Vishalgad and Bavda were under the Deshsth Brahmins. Since Maharaja Shivaji IV did not have an heir, they adopted Shahu (Yashwantrao alias Babasaheb), the eldest son of Abasaheb Ghatge (Kagal chief), who became the king of Kolhapur. Shahu’s younger brother succeeded at Kagal.

Chhatrapati Shahu was aware of the dominance of Chitpawan Brahmins in administration in the era of Rao Bahadur Barve (Diwan of Kolhapur in the 1870s), “who filled almost every public office in the state with his caste-fellows.” Since the beginning, Maharaja has been against this dominance, which we have seen above in his policies from 1894.

Soon after his accession as Chhatrapati, Shahu tried to win back the jurisdiction of the four feudatories taken away in 1862. In November 1895, the Maharaja wrote to Lord Harris about the same. So, there was a tug of war for the jurisdiction over these feudatories, which Shahu wanted to include under his governance.

So when Professor Bijapurkar and his associates at the Rajaram College were arrested for fomenting sedition, the ringleaders of the plot to assassinate Ferris (a political agent) were members of the Shivaji Club, who were inspired by the writings of Tilak and Bijapurkar. Their original plan had been to assassinate Ferris. [During the Vedokta controversy, Chhatrapati Shahu issued an order to perform all palace ceremonies according to the Vedas, which royal priest Rajopadhye refused to do, so Chhatrapati Shahu withdrew Rajopadhye’s imams in May 1902. Rajopadhye appealed to Political Agent Colonel Ferris, but Ferris saw no reason to interfere with the legitimate authority of the Maharaja and turned down the request. Soon, Ferris, due to his support to Maharaja against Brahmins, became as much an object of derision in the Chitpavan press as the Maharaja himself.]

The plan was to assassinate Ferris and Chhatrapati Shahu at the celebration to mark the marriage of the Maharaja’s daughter in March 1908. When this failed, one of the conspirators tried to shoot Ferris on board the train taking him to Bombay, but he missed. The main instigator of the plot, a Chitpavan Brahmin, Damu Joshi (an active member of the Shivaji club), was captured shortly afterward; however, his fellow conspirator and fellow Chitpavan, K. D. Kulkarni, found refuge in Ichalkaranji (Chitpawan Brahmins controlled Ichalkaranji). So even though we see this plot under the gaze of nationalistic glasses, it was, in a deep sense, a Bramhin grudge against Chhatrapati Shahu and Ferris, who have decreased their dominance.

It can also be seen from the article in the Vishravritta where Professor Bijapurkar exhorted his compatriots to “take up arms and protect religion.”

In another article, ‘Vaidik Prarthanachi Tejswita’, one can see that he was targeting Chhatrapati Shahu and Sayajirao Gaikwad of Badoda.

A newspaper called ‘Samarth’, started by Bijapurkar, registered its staunch disapproval of granting Chhatrapati Shahu’s Vedokta rights. In August 1900, Bijapurkar wrote an article titled ‘Caste discrimination and the lost glory of the Marathas’ in which he disrespected the Chhatrapati Shivaji clan. [19] The devotees of the Bijapurkar at that time called him ‘modern Ramdas.’ [20] So, one can imagine the future of non-Brahmins under this modern Ramdas.

The intention of the terrorists in making Kolhapur the center of their conspiracy was that their actions should endanger the position of the Maharaja of Kolhapur, who was supporting the non-Brahmins. If Kolhapur had become a stronghold of terrorists either with Chhatrapati’s consent or because of his willful neglect, Chhatrapati’s statehood would have been threatened, and the British would have dethroned him.

So, it is not difficult to understand why Brahmin terrorists should make Kolhapur their center of terror activities and why Sangli, Miraj, or Ichalkaranji [21] should not be made the center of their activities by these Sansthan terrorists. It is because this would lead to endangering the position of their jahagirdars, who were Brahmins [Sangli & Miraj belong to Konkanasth Brähmans of the Patvardhans [22], while Ichalkaranji’s head was a Chitpawan Brahmin].

Ian Copland aptly says, “This conspiracy in turn derived much of its impetus from Brahmin resistance to the Darbar’s policy of favouring non-Brahmins. The feudatory question, the agitation of the extremists and the struggle between the Darbar and the Brahmins, were three different facets of the same problem. Only by seeing them as a whole can the complex web of Kolhapur politics be disentangled.” [11]

So, the quarrel between the Maharaja and the Kolhapur Brahmin leaders came into the open in 1900. However, elements of conflict were present as early as 1894, when the Maharaja first launched his policy to help non-Brahmins.

Another excerpt from the book ‘These Seats Are Reserved’ by Abhinav Chandrachud says, “Interestingly, at around the time of the Vedokta controversy in Kolhapur, Tilak and Shahu were on opposite sides of the highly contested Tai Maharaj adoption case. In 1897, a wealthy man called Baba Maharaj died, leaving considerable property to his widow, Tai Maharaj. In his will, Baba Maharaj asked his widow to adopt a son, but she needed the approval of the executors of the will to do so. Tilak, one of the executors, wanted the widow to adopt a boy from Aurangabad, while Shahu wanted her to adopt one from Kolhapur.” [23]

This is incorrect, as Chhatrapati Shahu did not want her to adopt from Kolhapur. Lokmanya wanted that lady to adopt a boy of her choice. But the lady wanted to choose a boy from her relations. The matter was ultimately taken to the Court of Kolhapur State. Chhatrapati Shahu supported a verdict in favor of that lady, which made Lokmanya feel insulted. [24] (For more details, refer to Latthe and Keer)

As far as the 50% reservation policy is concerned, Chhatrapati Shahu completed his education under liberal-minded Stuart Milford Fraser, an I.C.S. and a graduate from Oxford, as a tutor and guardian. In addition to politics, economics, science, and languages, he was trained to practice as an advocate and administer justice as a district judge.

He was also taken on three extensive tours, exposing him to the ground realities. These tours provided him with the reality of social life in India. He was made aware of the caste system, caste differences, and social gradations of Hindus. On one of the tours, Shahu refused to bathe in dirty holy water.

In the last months of 1894, Shahu rested at Panhala. There were complaints that people were not allowed to meet the Maharaja. Then, a friend reminded Chhatrapati of Mama Parmanand’s famous book, ‘Letters to an Indian Raja’. In that book, Mama Parmanand explains in detail what the duties of a king are. Mama Parmanand was a friend of Mahatma Phule.**

Mahatma Jotirao Phule, who led the social movement that the profession of priesthood should not be based on caste, met Sayajirao Gaikwad in 1884 and discussed the principle of Satyashodhak Samaj with him. Damodarpant Yande propagated the thoughts and principles of truth seekers in the weekly ‘Baroda Vatsal’. [25]

Shahu Maharaj was in touch with Sayajirao Maharaj, and in one of the letters on December 5, 1901, Sayajirao wrote to Shahu Maharaj, “I congratulate you that you are working wholeheartedly for the benefit of our people. We will always keep up the correspondence. Your welfare gives me constant pleasure.” [26] Even during the Vedokta controversy, Shahu Maharaj asked for Maharaja Sayajirao’s help to send documents that would help him support his Kshatriyahood.

Chhatrapati Shahu was aware of the social revolution stirred by Mahatma Jotiba Phule. It may be argued that the period of 1890–1910 is no doubt the period in which the urban base of Satyashodhak Samaj diminished, but it was also a period in which it spread to the Vidarbha and Kolhapur regions.

Shahu’s involvement with the Satyashodhak Samaj seems to have begun in the 1890s, when Shahu appointed Bhaskarrao Jadhav and Khanderrao Bagal as first-class magistrate and Munisff, respectively, in 1895 and 1898. Jadhav and Bagal, along with Annasaheb Latthe, who worked in the Kolhapur state administration, were prominent members of the Satyashodhak Samaj.

After ‘Satyshodhak Samaj’ and ‘The Deccan Education Society’, the third organization to spread education among all the backward classes was the ‘Maratha Aikyechchhu Sabha’ established in May 1888 in Bombay. On August 22, 1896, the workers of this Maratha Aikyechchhu Sabha presented a certificate of honor to Shahu Chhatrapati at Boribandar station in Mumbai. At that time, Krishnaji Arjun Keluskar, a renowned scholar, ceremoniously gifted a copy of his ‘Tukaram biography’ to Shahu.” [27] In his student life, when he was on an educational tour of North India, the Arya Samaj honored him at Mathura. In 1902, Pratap Singh Maharaj of Idhar introduced him to the philosophy and principles of Arya Samaj. #

As far as time was concerned, Chhatrapati Shahu was surrounded by revolutionary ideas. It is very poor to say that the most revolutionary decision of 50% reservation was (and might, therefore, have been) inspired by Hamilton. This shows an unconscious prejudice that the non-Brahmins are not capable of making any revolutionary decisions on their own or need help from the Britishers. The two-to-three-page topic covering Chhatrapati Shahu in ‘These Seats Are Reserved’ by Abhinav Chandrachud doesn’t do justice to Chhatrapati Shahu.

Chhatrapati Shahu never asked anyone to do what he was not prepared to do himself. His last words, we are told, were, “I am ready to go. I have no fear,” and for the first time in the history of his race, the obsequies of a Chhatrapati Maharaja were performed, as he desired, by men of his own caste and not by the Brahmin priests. [28]



1] These Seats Are Reserved (Digital version) by Abhinav Chandrachud Page 24

[2] Chhatrapati Shahu and his reservation policy by Dr. M.D. Nalwade Page 31, 32

[3] Ibid Page 39

[4] Ibid Page 33

[5][Keer, Dhananjay Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati Page 127

[6] Ibid Page 53

[7] Latthe, Memoirs Of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaja Of Kolhapur Volume I 1924. Page 325

[8] Ibid Page 95

[9] Chhatrapati Shahu and his reservation policy by Dr. M.D. Nalwade Page 41

10] Ibid Page 43

[11] Copland, I. (1973). The Maharaja of Kolhapur and the Non-Brahmin Movement 1902-10. Modern Asian Studies7(2), 209 225.

[12] Latthe, Memoirs Of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaja Of Kolhapur Vol-I Volume I 1924 Page 116-23

[13] Keer, Dhananjay Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati Page 198

[14] Keer, Dhananjay Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati Page 199 (Digital edition)

[15] Latthe, Memoirs Of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaja Of Kolhapur Volume I 1924. Page 12)

[16] Keer, Dhananjay Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati Page 142,160

[17] Ibid 159

[18] Chhatrapati Shahu and his Reservation Policy by Dr. M.D. Nalwade Page 51

[19 Keer, Dhananjay Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati Page 172 Digital edition

[20] Ibid Page 289

[21] Ibid Page 275

[22] Imperial Gazetteer of India, v. 23, p. 53

[23] These Seats Are Reserved (Digital version) by Abhinav Chandrachud Page 24

[24] Chhatrapati Shahu and his reservation policy by Dr. M.D. Nalwade Page 48, 49

[25] Keer, Dhananjay Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati Page 169

[26] Ibid Page 186

[27]Ibid Page 188

[28] Latthe, Memoirs Of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaja Of Kolhapur Volume I 1924. Page Preface IX

* Reply by Dhananjay Keer to Nothcote.




Dr. Bhushan Amol Darkase is an Assistant Professor in BJMC and Sassoon Hospital, Puneand has an M.D. Dermatology, and Fellowship in Diagnostic Dermatology.

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