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Sharad Pawar supports Kolhapur royal’s bid in Rajya Sabha polls

NCP chief Sharad Pawar. File

NCP chief Sharad Pawar. File | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has lent weight to Kolhapur royal Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati’s bid as an independent in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections by announcing support for him even as the NCP’s allies in the Maharashtra Government, the Shiv Sena and the Congress, are yet to support Mr. Pawar’s stance.

Mr. Sambhajiraje, an influential Maratha community leader and a direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji, had last week spelled out his decision to contest the Rajya Sabha election after his current term ended. The Kolhapur royal had been sent to the Upper House in 2016 with the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Of the 57 Rajya Sabha seats across India going to polls on June 10, six 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), is set to get two seats. The three Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition parties — the Shiv Sena (56 seats), the NCP (53 seats), and the Congress (44 seats) — are set to get one seat each.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has a total of 113 legislators (106 of its own plus five independents and two from smaller parties) in the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly, while the tripartite MVA alliance has a total 169 MLAs on its 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, Mr. Pawar, speaking in Nanded, said that the votes remaining after electing the NCP candidate could be given to Mr. Sambhajiraje, who has appealed to all parties in the State to support him as an independent for the sixth Rajya Sabha seat from the State.

Observers say that Mr. Pawar, in promptly announcing his support for Mr. Sambhajiraje, has cannily played the Maratha card by backing an influential community leader.

As a former BJP MP, the Kolhapur royal has been spearheading Maratha community efforts in the wake of the Supreme Court’s repeal of the Maratha quota law in May 2021. At the same time, Mr. Sambhajiraje has emphasised that reservation for Other Backward Classes ought not to be tinkered 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, Mr. Sambhajiraje is reportedly miffed with the saffron party. Sources said he was upset that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not give him a sympathetic audience on the Maratha quota issue.

Ever since the Supreme Court scrapped the Maratha quota law, which was 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 Mr. Pawar is widely seen as the “architect” of the 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 Mr. Pawar himself is one of the tallest Maratha leaders in the State today.

While supporting Mr. Sambhajiraje could be a politic 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, far from endorsing Mr. Sambhajiraje for the sixth RS seat, the Sena is considering propping 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 marched to the beat of his own drum while refusing to participate in party programmes and poll campaigns, a case in point being the recently concluded Kolhapur North Assembly bypoll.

On his part, Mr. Sambhajiraje, who has announced his intention of floating a new social outfit and beginning a State-wide tour soon, met with Mahesh Baldi, an independent pro-BJP MLA from Uran.

According to observers, the Kolhapur royal will not be shy in seeking support from the BJP as well as the MVA parties, and is banking on the fact that all parties may wish to have him on their side, owing to a perception of him being a crucial mover in the Maratha quota agitation

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2022 11:42:43 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/sharad-pawar-supports-kolhapur-royals-bid-in-rajya-sabha-polls/article65423161.ece