Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, the descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, has set a cat among the pigeons in the mud pit of Maharashtra politics. The retiring Rajya Sabha MP has expressed his desire to become a member of the Upper House again, smartly proposing that he hopes to be elected by consensus.
Given Sambhajiraje’s Shivaji links, no Maharashtra party can afford to antagonise him. The BJP in fact helped him to the Rajya Sabha seat last time as a presidential nominee, as a way of neutralising the Maratha quota agitation against its government in the state.
The problem is which party will give votes to help Sambhajiraje this time.
In a statement Thursday, Sambhajiraje said: “I am keen to contest as an Independent candidate for a Rajya Sabha seat. I will reach out for support from both the BJP and Maha Vikas Aghadi (the coalition of Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena) and Independents… I am not a member of any political party, nor do I intend to join any party. Going by my performance in the Rajya Sabha, I think all parties should support me for a second term.”
The Rajya Sabha elections are scheduled on June 10, with the nominations to be filed by May 31.
Six seats in Maharashtra will be up for election, of which the BJP currently holds three (Piyush Goyal, Vikas Mahatme and Vinay Sahasrabuddhe). While the BJP will have to accommodate Goyal as he is a Union minister, the party is considering new candidates for the remaining two seats.
To get a candidate elected to the Rajya Sabha, 41 votes are needed approximately. Elected MLAs vote in a Rajya Sabha election. In the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP has 105 MLAs, the Congress 44, the NCP 54, the Shiv Sena 56 and smaller parties / Independents together are 29.
As per the arithmetic, the BJP can get two people elected on the votes it has. A section within the party believes that after getting its two candidates, it can consider transferring the surplus 23 votes to Sambhajiraje. However, for Sambhajiraje to win, votes would be needed from other parties.
The MVA parties, Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena, can get one candidate each elected on their own. This would leave them with 30 surplus votes – enough to get Sambhajiraje elected if they join hands with the BJP.
The BJP is yet to make its stand clear on Sambhajiraje, though party sources indicated they were inclined in his favour. Earlier this week, Sambhajiraje met former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had played a crucial role in getting him a Rajya Sabha berth in 2016.
Ties between them, however, have been strained. After becoming an MP, Sambhajiraje had refused to share stage with BJP leaders.
While the MVA too is silent on the issue, Congress minister Satej Patil earlier reached out to Sambhajiraje to come work with the party, and senior NCP minister Hassan Mushriff also sought him out.
Apart from announcing his desire for a Rajya Sabha seat, Sambhajiraje also announced a new outfit called the Swarajya Sanghatana, to work for the welfare of people. He said he was committed to social reforms, carrying forward the legacy of Shivaji, Shahu Maharaj, and fighting for reservation for Marathas and OBCs.
A senior BJP functionary from Western Maharashtra said that while they would “lose nothing” by supporting Sambhajiraje for the Rajya Sabha, “it will have to
be watched how he campaigns for Maratha reservation”. Should Sambhajiraje’s campaign for the same via his Sanghatana take off, questions will be directed at the MVA government for its failure on the same.
Marathas account for around 30% of the state population, and a sizeable number that are loyal to the Congress-NCP are a force to reckon with in Western Maharashtra, where the BJP is struggling to make inroads, the BJP leader pointed out.
Sambhajiraje has been flirting with politics since long. In 2009, he contested the Lok Sabha seat from Kolhapur on an NCP ticket but lost. Next was the Rajya Sabha nomination.
After the Maratha quota demand rose in 2017, Sambhajiraje emerged as the voice of the community. The state government too sought him out to hold talks on the matter as the Maratha outfits were divided among leaders owing allegiance to the BJP and Congress-NCP.
Maruti Bhapkar, a coordinator of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, played down the development. “Sambhajiraje has lost his credibility… He contested the Lok Sabha election in 2009 on an NCP ticket, and then became a Rajya Sabha MP with the support of the BJP. It seems he has no ideology. He became MP of a party which does not follow the ideology of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj of carrying everyone together… I don’t think the Maratha community will come in full support of the ‘raje’ if he starts a political party,” Bhapkar said.
Congress minister Satej Patil, however, said he supported Sambhajiraje’s bid to start a new outfit and he had the support of the Maratha community.
BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhaye also extended his best wishes to Sambhajiraje. “As regards support to him for the Rajya Sabha, the party will take a decision,” he said.
NCP spokesperson Ankush Kakade said: “He is free to start a party if he wishes… But the political field is a different cup of tea, as he himself realised in 2009.”
While Sambhajiraje comes from the royal family of Kolhapur, the other descendants of Shivaji hail from the Satara royal family. They include cousins Udayanraje Bhosale and Shivendraraje Bhosale. Udayanraje lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to an NCP candidate. Shivendraraje is a BJP MLA.
Giving a hint that he very much nurses political ambitions still, Sambhajiraje said Thursday: “Everyone is insisting I should set up a political party. But in the first phase, I have decided to set up this organisation… If it turns into a political party, it should surprise none.”