NOT FORMER deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar or Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde, but Shirur MP and actor Amol Kolhe is the main attraction of the ongoing Shiv Swarajya Yatra of the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, which has been marred by defections ahead of the Assembly polls.
The yatra, which started from Shivneri Fort in Pune district — the birthplace of Shivaji Maharaj — in the first week of August, is full of symbolism and rhetoric linked to the 17th century king and his legacy. It also shows how the NCP is trying to negotiate the rise in saffron fervour and nationalism in the state, and weaving it in, albeit symbolically, in its own campaign.
Kolhe, is one of NCP’s five MPs in the state, was elected from Shirur after defeating three-time Shiv Sena MP Shivaji Adhalrao Patil in a surprise upset. He is a household name in Maharashtra as he plays King Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son who was executed by Aurangzeb in 1689, in the eponymous and extremely popular TV series.
During his Lok Sabha campaign, Kolhe had capitalised on his image as ‘Sambhaji’. He had surpassed the Sena in invoking Shivaji’s legacy, at times riding on horseback and evoking fables and parallels from 17th century in his speeches.
Apparently buoyed by the success of Kolhe’s formula, the NCP seems to have decided to test it across the state by liberally using Shivaji’s name, symbolism and rhetoric which, until now, were used to this extent only by Sena.
At public sabhas and bike rallies held as part of the yatra, omnipresent are the saffron flags, as many as the party’s own party flags. Every bike has an NCP flag and a saffron flag with Shivaji’s image.
Recently, the yatra reached Parbhani district of Marathwada, where the NCP has a strong base but has failed to win a Lok Sabha seat. Addressing a rally in the heart of Pathri town, Kolhe made several references to Shivaji’s rule as an ideal form of governance and the need to oust the current regime to establish such a rule.
“The purpose of this tour is to establish a Rayatecha Rajya (people’s rule, a reference to the reign of Shivaji, who is often called ‘Rajatecha Raja’, the king of the people) where the powerful have to think twice before stealing so much as a leaf of vegetable from a farmer, where our mothers and sisters are honoured and the future of our youth is safe and secure,” said Kolhe to a gathering of a few thousand people.
Whether this strategy works will become clear only after the elections, NCP workers, meanwhile, point out that Kolhe’s star power and appeal as ‘Sambhaji Maharaj’ is helping them garner crowds for the rallies.