It is almost noon, but farmers and villagers brave scorching heat at a centrally located place in Satara city, waiting for sitting MP Udayanraje Bhosale to address the election rally along with leaders of social group Shramik Mukti Dal.
“We prefer to go to Jal Mandir ( Udayanraje’s palatial residence) rather than visiting the office of district collector to get our work done,” says one of the Dal leaders in his introductory remarks, evoking huge applause from the audience.
Udayanraje, the13th direct descendant of the 17th century Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji. “People love me because I work for them. I neither had lust for power nor did I eye any post. I want to work for my people as they have a lot of faith in me,” says the 48-year NCP MP.
“I know my responsibilities towards my people being from royal family, and I am executing it with best of my abilities,” he tells The Indian Express on the sidelines of election campaigning.
Known for often refusing to toe the party line, Udayanraje was even behind bars in connection with the 1999 murder of NCP corporator Sharad Leve, a case in which he was acquitted subsequently. His election affidavit mentions a long list of cases he faces, including those relating to public agitations.
Shramik Mukti Dal leader Bharat Patankar, who has offered issue-based support to the sitting Satara MP and other few Lok Sabha candidates, however, describes Bhosale as an “accessible” and “efficient” public representative.
“He is different from other politicians. He is frank and calls a spade a spade and therefore misconstrued by many as a rash person. Since he was associated with several of our agitations in the past, we are supporting him now during polls,” he said.
However, opponents accuse Bhosale of still having regal ways and often resorting to arm-twisting.
The scion of Maratha rulers had shifted to the BJP camp during mid-90s and was made vice-chairman of Krishna Valley Development Corporation, cabinet-level post, before becoming minister of revenue when Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came in power in the state in 1999. Also known for shifting loyalties, Bhosale was recently in touch with Shiv Sena and BJP leaders before the NCP made delayed announcement of his Lok Sabha candidature.
In the 2009 LS polls, Bhosale had defeated his rival Shiv Sena candidate by 2.97 lakh votes, the third highest victory margin in Maharashtra.
This time, 18 candidates are in the fray for the seat, including RPI-Athavale group’s Ashok Gaikwad, who is supported by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. But observers say Bhosale’s victory is assured.
The saffron alliance is facing rebellion in the form of Purushottam Jadhav, a former chief of Shiv Sena’s Satara unit. The Aam Aadmi Party’s Rajendra Chorge along with Jadhav himself standing as an Independent are only expected to put up some fight before Bhosale.
Chorge, however, says people of Satara are disillusioned with Bhosale. “In last five years, he has offered hardly any help to people here. Issues related to rehabilitation of dam-affected people, irrigation and industries have aggravated further during his term, throwing Satara way behind on path of progress,” Chorge alleges.
Bhosale, however, refutes the allegations. “During my tenure as an MP, I have ensured adequate health facilities for my constituency. I have initiated work on Bondarwadi dam and also expedited work on other lift-irrigation and canal projects. I paid special attention for laying down railway line between Karad and Chipulun. The work of six-laning of national highway number 4 passing through Satara has been taking speed due to my efforts. I am taking efforts to ensure Satara district receives maximum benefits from proposed Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Making my constituency an education hub is one of my priorities,” he says.
Satara Lok Sabha seat, which has more than 16.92 lakh registered voters, consists of Satara, Karad north, Karad south, Mahabaleshwar, Wai, Koregaon and Patan Assembly constituencies. The district is the stronghold of NCP and Congress. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan hails from the same region.