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What Can We Learn From Shivaji's Leadership?

Published on: 19th Feb, 2018

Often, Indians look to foreign shores when it comes to taking cues on Leadership. For millions of us still under the colonial/western yoke, Sir Winston Churchill and Napolean Bonaparte are an epitome of Leadership during wartime rather than our very own Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhonsle and General Sam Manekshaw.

Today is the birth anniversary Chhatrapati Shivaji, arguably amongst the greatest of nationalist heroes that we have seen in the past 600 years, if not more. Shivaji laid the foundation of a Maratha empire that, at its peak, covered 2.5 million square km from Tamilnadu in the south to Peshawar in the east and Bengal in the west. Among the very top of Hindu Kings, the Chhatrapati was a versatile military leader and a man of phenomenal martial skills and immense fortitude.

The Chhatrapati left behind a legacy of leadership skills worthy to be emulated by politicians, men in uniform and us common folks that encompass all facets of life. Shivaji was a natural born leader as is evident from his early military successes against the Mughals. He carved out an independent empire right under Aurangzeb's nose and fought throughout his life to preserve and expand his fiefdom both against the Mughals and the British. Shivaji did that with elan and charismatic pride. Such was his leadership talent both in peace time and war that his guerrilla tactics at taking on much stronger and larger rivals remain relevant in military warfare even today.

So, what can be gleaned from Shivaji's leadership style? He was a master strategist who believed in practical outcomes of military battles. The warrior would only take on a larger army if he was sure the outcome would be in his favour. For that he chose the terrain of battle very carefully. A bigger rival is a menace on a flat plain where he can manoeuvre his forces to his advantage, but not on mountain passes. The Mughal army was traditionally a motley collection of infantry, cavalry and artillery. It moved slowly in mountains and that is where Shivaji chose to weaken the enemy before the battle began. His guerrilla tactics ensured that a considerably weakened rival arrived to battle.

Shivaji was a man of honour as a true leader should be. He was quick to forgive a defeated enemy once the battle was won. There are numerous examples in history where he upheld Dharma by letting off enemy soldiers and not converting them to slaves. He buried the defeated with honour and this is evident in him constructing the tomb of Afzal Shah, his rival, after the Battle of Pratapgad where Maratha forces routed Adil Shah's much larger army. Such was his magnificence that he gave safe passage to Afzal Shah's son as well.

A man ahead of his time, Shivaji believed immensely in having a strong navy. A sea force, coupled with dozens of forts near beaches, helped him consolidate his hold over the empire and boost trade with European and Middle East nations. His military genius lay in recognizing that whoever rules the seas also rules the Land. Is it any wonder that the most powerful military in the world today -- the US -- is a maritime power and projects its military might through large sized sea-based battle groups!

So, just as India finds her rightful place under the comity of nations, so should the heroes of our past. Shivaji's glorious achievements need to highlighted at the national level and no better day than today to start the process!

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A blog by Dr Ajeenkya D Y Patil, President, Ajeenkya DY Patil University

A look at all the aspects of Human Life - at home, school and work; now and in the future. Here are my views on how we may live and work in the coming decades, what skills we would need to survive and prosper, and what difference technological advances such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and big data will make to the same…and additionally, a few other things that I am passionate about.

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