Rajya Sabha polls: Uddhav Thackeray’s move puts candidature of Shivaji’s descendant in jeopardy

Shiv Sena’s announcement on Tuesday to field party’s Kolhapur district president Sanjay Pawar as the second candidate for the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections has ruined the chances of Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, who has announced to contest as an independent
Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati on a hunger strike at Azad Maidan HT File Photo
Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati on a hunger strike at Azad Maidan HT File Photo
Published on May 25, 2022 12:30 AM IST
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By, Mumbai

Shiv Sena’s announcement on Tuesday to field party’s Kolhapur district president Sanjay Pawar as the second candidate for the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections has ruined the chances of Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, who has announced to contest as an independent. A direct descendant of Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, he was counting on the unanimous support from the three ruling parties as he was keen on working for the Maratha community and the state, without any political affiliation.

Last week, Sambhajiraje made an emotional appeal through an open letter to MLAs from all parties, urging them to help him win as the sixth candidate from Maharashtra. “I have been active in social work and working in the interest of the people rising above party politics since 2007. Even as an MP [2016-2022], I chose to stand for the people without thinking about personal political benefits. The political seat always helps while working in the interest of the people and I realised this during my first term to the Rajya Sabha. Hence, I am seeking your support to win the sixth seat.”

Elections to the six seats of the Rajya Sabha will be held on June 10. The seats are currently held by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Piyush Goyal, Vinay Sahastrabuddhe and Vikas Mahatme, Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Praful Patel, and Congress’s P Chidambaram. Since candidates are to be elected by 288 members of the assembly, BJP can elect two, while the three Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) partners can send one member each to the House. Sena has decided to renominate Raut.

The required number of votes to win is 42. With BJP having 106, Sena 55, NCP 53, and Congress 44 members in the assembly, every party has excess votes over the quota to win stipulated seats, but they fall short to bag an additional seat. The three ruling parties claim to have 171 members, including a few independents and smaller parties, on their side, while BJP says its tally stands at 115. It means the MVA is in a better position to win the sixth seat.

Sena’s condition

After Sambhajiraje met NCP chief Sharad Pawar and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis, Pawar had announced to support his candidature. Later, Pawar changed his stand and said his party would vote for the Sena candidate being fielded as the fourth of the MVA (Under an arrangement between the three coalition partners, the additional seat in the Rajya Sabha elections goes to Sena). BJP has believably assured the former Rajya Sabha MP with its additional 22 votes.

Sena, last week, announced that it was ready to field Sambhajiraje as its candidate if he joined the party. A delegation of three Sena leaders met Sambhajiraje in Mumbai to convey the party’s decision, which was turned down by the leader. On Tuesday, Raut announced the candidature of Sanjay Pawar as the MVA’s fourth candidate.

“We respect Sambhajiraje and hence, offered him to join the party. He himself had contested the Lok Sabha elections as an NCP candidate in 2009, while his brother was a Congress MLA. His father Shahu Maharaj had contested the Lok Sabha polls on the Sena ticket. Why should he have any problem in joining a political party? We have finalised the name of our hardcore party worker Sanjay Pawar though the official announcement is yet to be made,” Raut said.

A senior Sena leader, on condition of anonymity, said, “We cannot be taken for granted by anybody. Sambhajiraje did not take us into confidence before announcing his candidature. Had he discussed it with us beforehand, we would have considered him for the sixth seat. If he joins Sena, we still can consider his candidature. He will have to take the call accordingly. He cannot be supported just because he is a descendant of the Maratha empire.”

The Sena stand has put Sambhajiraje in a fix and the former MP may find it difficult to get elected. “Of the 13 independents and 16 MLAs from the smaller parties, very few are with Sambhajiraje. BJP will support him with five more independents and a couple of more from smaller parties, besides its own 22 excess votes. But it does not help Sambhajiraje reach the quota of 42 votes. The MVA has more than 35 additional votes and has an edge if the elections happen for seven candidates,” an NCP leader, who did not wish to be named, said.

The leader, however, said there was still room for change in the stand taken by the MVA. “The candidature of Sanjay Pawar has not been officially announced. There are eight more days left to the last date of filing nomination and hence, there is ample time to take the final call. Sena has not fielded any prominent name or a key aspirant, but has fielded one of its district presidents. It can still change its mind if the three parties arrive at an amicable solution. Sena could grab the credit by pretending to have withdrawn its candidate for Sambhajiraje.”

A leader close to Sambhajiraje said even if Sena opposed, they would have the support of most of the 29 members who were either independents or from smaller parties, besides BJP’s 22 excess votes. “If Sena or the MVA decides to field an additional candidate, it will expose the rift within the ruling parties which will damage the coalition beyond control. We accept an amicable solution to avoid horse trading.”

The leader further said Sena chief and chief minister Uddhav Thackeray should reciprocate the favorable stand taken for the MVA government by Sambhajiraje during the Maratha agitation over the last two-and-a-half years. He claimed that most of the independent MLAs had agreed to second Sambhajiraje’s candidature.

Who is Sambhajiraje?

Sambhajiraje, 51, is a direct descendent of Shivaji and heir of the Kolhapur royal family. He is also a great grandson of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, who was the first to allocate quota to socially backward castes in his princely state in 1902. The royal family of Kolhapur is widely respected in the Maratha community and across the state, especially western Maharashtra. Sambhajiraje contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections on the NCP ticket but lost to Sadashiv Mandlik, an NCP rebel, who fought as an independent. His younger brother Maloji Raje was a Congress MLA from 2004 to 2009 but lost the assembly elections in 2009.

Sambhajiraje lent his support to the agitation started by Maratha outfits seeking reservation in government jobs and education. Amid the aggressive protests by Marathas during the Devendra Fadnavis government tenure in 2016, BJP sent him to the Rajya Sabha from President’s quota in June that year. The party did not utter a word against the MP even though he took the opposite stand against BJP and criticised prime minister Narendra Modi in the last two years. The Maratha leader, however, said last week that he was not the BJP representative in the Upper House and was chosen from President’s quota.

After the change in guard, Sambhajiraje was given leadership by Maratha outfits to push for the reservation which was stayed by the Supreme Court in September 2020 and was struck down next year. He held statewide rallies and even sat on an indefinite hunger strike in support of the demand.

Rajendra Kondhare of Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh has appealed to all political parties in the state to support Sambhajiraje. “He is the face of the Maratha community and has announced to work for the state without aligning with any political party. He is soft spoken, down to earth, and mingles with people easily. Not only from Maratha organisations he has also garnered support from the people in western Maharashtra and Marathwada.” Kohdhare said they may have differences of opinion, but they stand strongly by him for his candidature.

Political analyst Hemant Desai said though Sena had taken an unexpected stand, the six seats would likely be elected unopposed. “By announcing to field one more candidate, Sena has sent out a message not only to Sambhajiraje but also to the NCP that they cannot take it for granted. It appears to be a right political move on their part and a reply to the detractors who taunt Thackeray to be a pawn of Pawar. The party can take the credit for the win of Sambhajiraje if they arrive at an amicable solution and if it decides to support him,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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