Political observers feel Pawar’s move aimed at mollifying restive Maratha quota agitators happy
Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has put his political weight behind Kolhapur royal Chhatrapati Sambhajiraje bid as an independent in the upcoming biennial Rajya Sabha elections. The NCP chief announced his support for the Kolhapur royal even as the NCP’s allies in the Maharashtra government, the Shiv Sena and Congress are yet to support Pawar’s stance.
Chhatrapati Sambhajiraje is an influential Maratha community leader and a direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Last week he had announced his decision to contest the biennial Rajya Sabha election after his term as a President-nominated MP ended. The Kolhapur royal was sent to the Upper House in 2016 with the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Of the 57 RS seats across India going to polls on June 10, six seats are from Maharashtra.
Going by the respective numerical strength of the major parties in the State, the opposition BJP -which is numerically the single-largest party (with 106 seats) are set to get two seats, while the three ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ (MVA) coalition parties – the Shiv Sena (56 seats), the NCP (53) and Congress (44 seats) – are set to get one seat each.
The BJP-led NDA has a total 113 legislators (106 of its own plus five independents and two from smaller parties) in the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly, while the ruling MVA alliance has a total 169 MLAs on their side (besides the Sena, NCP and Congress’ cumulative strength of 153, the alliance has the support of eight independents and eight other smaller parties).
On Monday, Pawar while speaking in Nanded, said that the remaining votes after electing the NCP candidate, could be given to Sambhajiraje, who has appealed to all parties in the State to support him as an independent candidate for the sixth RS seat from the State.
Political observers feel that Pawar, in promptly announcing his support for Sambhajiraje, has cleverly played the ‘Maratha card’ by backing an influential Maratha community leader.
As a former BJP MP, the Kolhapur Royal has been spearheading Maratha community efforts in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling repealing the Maratha quota law in May last year. At the same time, Sambhajiraje has emphasized that the reservation for backward classes ought not to be tampered with to make way for the Maratha quota, thus acting as a bridge between the two communities.
Despite being elected in 2016 with the BJP’s help, Sambhajiraje has been reportedly miffed with the saffron party; according to sources, the Kolhapur royal was upset that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not give him a sympathetic audience on the Maratha quota issue.
Ever since the Supreme Court scrapped the Maratha quota law (which had been passed during the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government), the ruling MVA has been targeted by both the BJP as well as pro-quota Maratha outfits.
Given that Sharad Pawar is widely seen as the ‘architect’ of the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA alliance, a number of Maratha community leaders in the forefront of the reservation agitation have castigated the NCP chief for not doing enough to ensure reservation for the community – given that Pawar senior himself is one of the tallest Maratha leaders in the State today.
Political analysts argue that supporting Sambhajiraje could be a political move to rein in the restive Maratha community, the Shiv Sena and the Congress have yet to declare their support for the royal.
According to sources in the MVA, far from endorsing Sambhajiraje for the sixth RS seat, the Sena is considering propping up its own candidate with the intent that the seat must belong to an MVA party and not an independent.
The BJP, on the other hand, is mulling over extending support again to the estranged Kolhapur royal or fielding a candidate of their own for the sixth seat.
According to local BJP leaders, the Kolhapur royal has charted his own political course while refusing to participate in BJPs programmers and poll campaigns. A case in point was the recently held Kolhapur North Assembly by-poll.
Chhatrapati Sambhajiraje recently announced his intention of floating a new social outfit and beginning a statewide tour soon. He met pro-BJP, Independent MLA from Uran Mahesh Baldi recently. According to observers, the Kolhapur royal will not be shy in seeking support from the BJP as well as the MVA parties given the perception of himself as being a crucial mover-and-shaker in the Maratha quota agitation – one whom all parties may wish to have on their side.