Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati distances himself from BJP, to contest RS polls as independent

Published on May 12, 2022 11:30 PM IST

In what may create a churn during the Rajya Sabha elections scheduled to be held next month, Kolhapur royal family scion Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati has distanced himself from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and thrown his hat into the ring as an independent candidate

Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati HT File Photo
Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati HT File Photo
By, Mumbai

In what may create a churn during the Rajya Sabha elections scheduled to be held next month, Kolhapur royal family scion Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati has distanced himself from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and thrown his hat into the ring as an independent candidate. The descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj has also announced the launch of a social outfit ‘Swarajya’, which may be converted into a political party later.

Sambhajiraje (52), who came to the fore during the protests by Marathas seeking reservation in jobs and education, and has a base in sections of the community, was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2016 from the President’s quota and his term expired on May 3. An aide of Sambhajiraje said he was not a formal member of BJP, but admitted to him being an associate member of the party in the House.

The elections to six Rajya Sabha seats from Maharashtra will be held on June 10. The tenures of Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena), Praful Patel (Nationalist Congress Party-NCP), P Chidambaram (Congress), and Piyush Goyal, Dr Vikas Mahatme and Vinay Sahasrabuddhe (BJP) are coming to an end. Sambhajiraje has set his sights on the sixth seat, which neither the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi nor BJP can win on its own but have surplus votes.

“I will not join any political party. I will fight as an independent. From today, I am not a member of any political party,” Sambhajiraje said at a press conference on Thursday. “I will contest the Rajya Sabha polls as an independent,” he added, while urging political parties and leaders across party lines to support him not just as a descendant of Shivaji Maharaj and Shahu Maharaj but also for his social work.

Sambhajiraje said while the MVA had 27 surplus votes, BJP had 22. To be elected, a candidate will need 42 votes.

He also announced the launch of a new social outfit ‘Swarajya’ that may be converted into a political party later. “Rajsatta [political power] is important for janaseva [public service],” he said, calling the launch of ‘Swarajya’ as “the first step of a political journey.” Sambhajiraje said he was also ready to contest the Lok Sabha elections in the future.

Sambhajiraje is the direct descendant of Chhatrapati Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, who was the first to launch quotas for non-upper castes in his princely state in 1902. He entered public life in 2007 by leading the celebrations of Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation at Raigad Fort on June 6, which were organised by Maratha groups like Sambhaji Brigade. In 2009, Sambhajiraje unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Kolhapur as an NCP nominee against independent candidate Sadashivrao Mandlik.

He was nominated to the Upper House of parliament in 2016 at a time when BJP was at the receiving end of the caste politics in the state. Then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, was being challenged by leaders from the dominant Maratha community and the party saw the obvious benefit of having a Maratha royal on its side.

Sambhajiraje also heads the development authority set up by the state government in 2017 for the development and conservation of Raigad Fort. In February, Sambhajiraje sat on a fast in Mumbai seeking quota and welfare schemes for the Marathas, and called off his protest three days later after assurances from the state government.

A former associate of Sambhajiraje said while the impact of his political plunge remained to be seen, the royal had a base in sections of the Marathas due to his association with the quota cause.

“Sambhajiraje’s brother Malojiraje [who is a former Congress MLA from Kolhapur] is reviving his association with the Congress. He campaigned for the Congress in the recent by-election to the Kolhapur North assembly constituency. In the coming months, either he or his wife Madhurimaraje may take a more active political position,” said the former associate, explaining Sambhajiraje’s political position.

Udayanraje Bhosale, the other descendant of Shivaji Maharaj, joined BJP soon after securing a third term to the Lok Sabha from Satara as an NCP MP, but was defeated in the subsequent by-election by Shrinivas Patil (NCP). He later made it to the Rajya Sabha as a BJP MP.

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