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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

In Maratha belt, the battle is between royalty and clout | Opinion

The upcoming polls could perhaps be the last in which Pawar is leading his party.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 14, 2019 04:08 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, Satara/Sangli/Kolhapur
National Congress Party (NCP ) President Sharad Pawar address a campaign rally for NCP candidate Vijaysinh Pandit at Gavrai in Beed , Maharashtra.
National Congress Party (NCP ) President Sharad Pawar address a campaign rally for NCP candidate Vijaysinh Pandit at Gavrai in Beed , Maharashtra.(Satish Bate/HT Photo)

History and modern-day politics have converged in this Maratha belt where the battle really is for the future leadership of the influential community. In a meticulously planned move, the Bharatiya Janata Party has ranged three descendants of the 17th century warrior king, Chattraprati Shivaji, against the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar who has held the Maratha patent for over three decades.

Western Maharashtra is perceived to be a Pawar stronghold despite the NCP’s incremental decline since the Shiv Sena-BJP first got to rule the state in 1995. A few months short of becoming an octogenarian, he’s still the state’s tallest Maratha with a clout no other leader has matched in recent years.

The upcoming polls could perhaps be the last in which Pawar is leading his party. For that reason, the BJP smartly raises the “who after Pawar” question in a scenario where neither his nephew Ajit Pawar nor daughter Supriya, both of whom are in politics, have grown in stature to fill the foreseeable void.

To rub in the query, the BJP plucked from the NCP’s folding Shivaji’s 13th direct descendant Udayanraje Bhosale and his cousin Shivendrasinh in the run-up to the impending polls. They are its candidates against those of Pawar in the parliamentary and assembly seats of Satara that, at one stage in history, served as the capital of the Bhosale dynasty. The kingdom’s other seat of power was in adjoining Kolhapur.

Shivaji’s title of Chattrapati denoted his umbrella lordship of the kingdom he created on fighting many wars. It’s hard therefore to miss the irony that his inheritors who switched sides had flourished under Pawar’s parasol. Udayanraje thrice won on the NCP ticket the Satara LS seat he vacated and is re-contesting. Same is true of his cousin who’s the BJP’s man for the assembly seat.

In pursuit of a Maratha helmsman of its own, the BJP has also taken its ‘vote for tomorrow’ campaign to Kolhapur to counter Pawar’s formidable traction with three generations of Marathas. The co-opted Shivaji scion there is Sambhajiraje Bhosale, nominated in 2016 to the Rajya Sabha for being the inheritor of the Marathas’ Kolhapur seat of power or “Gaddi.”

Only time will tell whether Pawar can be disinherited of the Maratha regard by the bearers of Shivaji’s legacy. He seemed to have turned the tables on the BJP by invoking — in response to the Enforcement Directorate’s money laundering case against him — the iconic King’s refusal to bow before Augranzeb’s Delhi. “I won’t bow before the Delhi throne. That’s not our culture. In Maharashtra, we follow Shivaji’s principles.”

The episode caused outrage among Pawar’s supporters in the region that has dominion and political links with five former chief ministers: Vasantdada Patil, Babasaheb Bhosale, YB Chavan, Sharad Pawar and Prithiviraj Chavan. Pawar isn’t contesting but the last named is the Congress candidate from Satara’s Karad (South) he won in 2014.

For his development work in the constituency as CM, Prithviraj Chavan showcases himself as “permanent aamdaar (friend of the people)” against the wealthy BJP candidate, Atul Bhosale. The latter is associated with the famous Pandarpur Devasthanam of Lord Vitthal (incarnation of Vishnu) and other institutions including cooperative banks.

Younger that he is to Chavan, the BJP nominee’s narrative is on same “past versus the future” theme. He touts his proximity to Devendra Fadnavis to show himself as a better bet than Prithviraj whose best asset is his clean image.

In fact, Fadnavis won Udayanraje’s gratitude the Prithviraj way, allocating funds for Satara with the generosity his Congress predecessor showed for Karad.

Till before that, the MP with the royal lineage won’t recognise even the Prime Minister. “I know no Modi except those who make kandi pedas,” he once quipped. The allusion was to a sweet that’s Satara’s speciality. It is mostly sold by people with the Modi surname.

On the face of it, the BJP-engineered defections have impoverished the NCP of force-multipliers to its main battle tank that’s Pawar. It has done so while building a leader from its own stock---the state party chief Chandrakant Patil. A protégé of Amit Shah, he is contesting from Pune’s Brahmin-dominated Kothrud. Local scribes to whom I spoke insisted that as a quintessential organisation man, he was more likely to be a Chanakya than a Chandragupta with mass following.

He’s seen nevertheless as being groomed to succeed Fandnavis in the event of the latter being moved to the Centre.

Even the incumbent CM was only known as an efficient legislator when elevated to the top slot. He has proved the sceptics wrong to become a leader in his own right.

Be that as it may, the NCP’s challenge is to secure its present to be hopeful of the future. It has to do better in Sangli — where its state unit president Jayant Patil is a candidate — and repeat its 2014 show in Satara, where it won four of the six assembly segments besides the Lok Sabha seat.

Unlike five years ago, there is an NCP-Congress alliance this time. Yet, the load is no less on Pawar. His close friend Srinivas Patil is fighting the Satara parliamentary by-election against Udayanraje. There, the choice before the people is between Shivaji, the King they revere and Pawar, the leader they love.