It’s almost 12 o’clock and the temperature is reaching 40 degrees. There are few people on the road in Bawda, a part of Kolhapur, a city built by Maratha King Shahu, some 450 kilometres south of Mumbai.
Suddenly, the crackers start bursting and there is an announcement: “Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati aplya la bhetayala ale ahet” (King Sambhajiraje is here to meet you). Residents come out of home to greet the scion of the royal family. Women perform aartis and apply a tikka of vermilion on his forehead. Some people try to touch his feet as a sweating but smiling Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati (38) tries to prevent them.
“Keep loving us the way you people have loved us,” he tells a gathering of 50-60 excited people. He need not request them to vote. Happy with the response, Sambhajiraje moves to the next lane, walking fast. “I don’t remember when was the last time any of my ancestors walked around in these bylanes like this,” he quips but then adds: “but I am enjoying this.”
Local legislator Bunty Patil, who is accompanying Sambhajiraje with a group of youths, adds: “We are surprised by his enthusiasm.”
Sambhajiraje, scion of the Maratha King Shivaji and Shahu’s royal family is contesting from Kolhapur constituency on a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ticket. He is pitted against Vijay Deone of the Shiv Sena. The NCP Chief Sharad Pawar denied a re-nomination to party’s sitting MP Sadashiv Mandlik and, instead, picked Sambhajiraje to contest from Kolhapur. An angry Mandlik has now turned rebel and jumped into the fray as an independent.
In Satara constituency, Pawar has fielded another royal member, King Shivaji’s descendent, Udayanraje Bhosale. This is the first time that two royal family members who represent lineage coming from Maratha King Shivaji’s two sons are contesting the elections. Pawar’s decision to field both the royal family members is seen as his effort to ensure that Maratha votes are not split and the NCP wins two seats without much efforts. He does not want to take any chances in western Maharashtra.
Both the royal families — known as Kolhapur and Satara thrones — are loved and respected in the region, especially by the Maratha community. “I am thrilled by the amount of respect I get. In fact, that will be challenge for me after I win. I will have to fulfill their expectations.” Known as a down-to-earth person, Sambhajiraje is just like his father (his name is Shahu Chhatrapati). He does not drive expensive cars like other royal family members in India do. “We can buy Rolls Royce but we are people’s kings.”
“I had an option to go abroad for studies but I chose to study here in Kolhapur. I did my MA as well as management course,” says Sambhajiraje who owns about 200-acre land. He has declared wealth of a little over Rs 1 crore. The royal family stays in a magnificent palace built by King Shahu in the middle of Kolhapur city. Sambhajiraje’s elder brother Malojiraje is a Congress legislator.
Shahu Maharaj, a descendent of Shivaji who died in 1922, is regarded as one of the most popular social reformers in Maharashtra’s history.
Sambhajiraje says the people would not forgive him if he doesn’t deliver.
About a 150 km away in Satara, it is Udayanraje Bhosale who has locked horns with Shiv Sena’s Purushottam Jadhav. Unlike Sambhajiraje, Bhosale has been in the politics for quite some time.
From 1992-93 till now, the political graph of Bhosale (43) witnessed several ups and downs with ideology always taking a backseat. Bhosale joined the BJP and became a minister in the then Sena-BJP government in 1998. However, he went to the Congress in 2001. Now, he is with the NCP as the party was keen to field him in Satara. Bhosale may be from the royal family, but when it comes to connecting with the rural people of Satara, he is more rustic than the locals. During his campaigns, he prefers to speak more about himself rather than ideology or his current political party.
Bhosales, who live at Satara’s 250 year-old grand palace called Rajawada with his mother Kalpana Raje, is a politically divided house. Udayanraje’s cousin Shivendra Raje Bhosale, an NCP MLA lives in the palace next door. Despite being one family, political differences have kept both cousins away from each other.
A father of five-year-old son, Udayanraje also has a chequered history as he was accused for his alleged involvement in the murder of an NCP worker Sharad Leve in 1999. Later, he was acquitted by the court.