book review by Adv. Prasenjeet P. Dhage
History is laden with advisors who were kingmakers and played a monumental role behind the scenes to expand the empire of kings and queens far and wide. Chandragupt Maurya had Chanakya, a shrewd politician and a master strategist; Wilhelm I of Prussia had Otto Von Bismark, the prime minister who helped the king expand his kingdom to Germany.
The importance of advisors can be seen when Queen Victoria’s beloved husband died in 1861. In the subsequent years, the depressed queen reached a new low in her life. Daily political affairs seemed banal and tiring; this posed a danger to the empire. However, the times were about to change in 1874 when the seventy-year-old Benjamin Disraeli was elected as the Prime Minister of England. He was witty and quick to understand the psyche of the queen; this was necessary as his duty demanded that he have private meetings with the queen advising her from time to time. Disraeli exchanged letters with the queen with talks of gossip here and there. On one occasion he exchanged flowers with the queen, only problem was that the flowers of choice were primroses, which were so common that the royals may take that as an insult. Interestingly, the flowers came with a note: “of all the flowers, the one that retains its beauty longest is sweet primrose.” And before you know it the Queen’s interest in politics and administration soon revived.
We seldom come across a person advising the king who is not a prime minister or an appointed advisor. One such person is Ram Shastry Prabhune (RSP), who helped retain the law and order in the Maratha empire. The book that was released on 25th February 2023, “Ram Shastry Prabhune: An Icon of Judicial Integrity & Independence,” talks about the devotion and burden of duty that lay on RSP that he was unwilling to compromise.
The protagonist of the book, RSP, a judge, endeavoured to keep the Maratha empire intact at a time when the Peshwas were failing to meet the demands of the administration. This is vividly exemplified in the book When Madhavrao succeeded Nanasaheb as Peshwa his relationship with his relatives, mainly his powerful uncle, quickly turned sour. Hence, “To avoid any conflict with his uncle, Madhavrao ignored administration and kept himself busy in religious activities,” these would take up most of his time. On the other hand, Ram Shahtry Prabhune was upright, he believed devotion to duty was the primary activity in the office. At a time when no one dared to question the Peshwa, “Fearlessly Prabhune accosted the Peshwas and suggested to him if he was not happy with his duties as Peshwa he may as well proceed on pilgrimage to holy places like Banaras,” The courtiers alarmed at the insult of their monarch, tried to stop Prabhune but to no avail. “Ram Shastry told Madhavrao that though he was born a brahmin, his primary duty was that of a Kshatriya, or protector of his people and country.”
In another instance, RSP made amendments to the rule and changed the prescribed quantum of dakshina given to brahmins. The new rule as per Shastry now required the brahmins to prove their proficiency and education in order to get the dakshina. This change was naturally not welcomed. “It was said in exaggeration that brahmins wept so much that the floor of the hall was drenched as if it had rained heavily.” The more vivid reverberations of these two occasions are certainly worth reading in the book.
The book will be a delightful read especially, to history buffs, lawyers and students having arts background. No doubt the book is a gripping page-turner, originally written in Marathi by Adv. Vilas Patne which is now made available to the English audience thanks to Adv. Ramakant Khalap, former union law minister of India. The most striking feature, however, is the amalgamation of cognitive engagement that this book provides along with the historical storytelling about RSP’s willingness to challenge the religious dogma and face the consequences boldly.