Mumbai: On Monday, reporters had gathered outside a house in Pune. Inside, a meeting of two members of the erstwhile royal families of Maharashtra — Udayanraje Bhosale of Satara and Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati of Kolhapur — was in progress.
Both are direct descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Both are Rajya Sabha members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both are trying to be the face of the Maratha community’s struggle to get a quota in government jobs and education, after the Supreme Court scrapped the reservation last month. Interestingly, both have not been a part of the BJP’s efforts to represent the Maratha community in their quota demand.
In the past one month, Sambhajiraje and Udayanraje’s stand on the quota issue hasn’t gone down well with the party. While Udayanraje has talked of holding leaders, irrespective of party affiliations, accountable for the loss of reservation, Sambhajiraje too has criticised both the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the BJP on the issue. The latter’s statements have especially antagonised the party.
Meanwhile, Sambhajiraje has called for silent protests against the SC verdict by the Maratha community across Maharashtra, starting from his home turf Kolhapur, Wednesday. In Monday’s meeting, Udayanraje, extended his support to the silent agitation.
The gesture is significant given that the two have been known to be cold to each other — both for historical reasons, as well as because of the differences in their characters.
While Udayanraje is the more “brash and aggressive” of the two – and known as ‘Dabang Sansad’ among the masses – the latter has more of an image of a “gentleman”.
A history of bad blood
Relations between the erstwhile Kolhapur and Satara royal families have historically been frosty, and while there has been no open rift between Sambhajiraje and Udayanraje, there has been no show of camaraderie either, making the meeting in Pune a rare one.
Chhatrapati Shivaji had two sons — Sambhaji and Rajaram. The Satara royal family traces its lineage to Sambhaji, while the Kolhapur royals are descendants of Rajaram.
In 1680, after Shivaji died, Sambhaji took over the reins of the Maratha empire and continued the fight against the dominance of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The younger Rajaram assumed the role of Chhatrapati after Aurangzeb’s army killed Sambhaji in 1689. Following Rajaram’s death, his widow Tarabai took over the control of the empire.
Seven years later, after Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mughals allowed Shahu, Sambhaji’s son who they had held captive, to return to Maharashtra. Shahu settled in Satara, triggering a power struggle with Tarabai.
Eventually, the treaty of Warna created the two separate kingdoms of Kolhapur and Satara, effecting a truce between the two factions in 1731.
Political commentator Hemant Desai told ThePrint that though “both the leaders are with the BJP, they are not comfortable on the same turf. They have their own tug-of-war, over whether the Kolhapur seat of power is superior to the one in Satara and vice versa. So, both try to build their individual political capital.”
But, it is not just the historical differences that have caused the two BJP MPs to be largely aloof, a Maratha community leader said.
“They are both very different in their nature, their lifestyle and their style of functioning. The Kolhapur royals have been more attached to social causes, while Udayanraje is more brash and aggressive,” said the leader who did not wish to be named.
The ‘Dabang MP’
In January this year, Udayanraje opened a road in Satara for public use, before the government authorities could plan a formal inauguration.
He emerged through the open sunroof of his car, as his supporters accompanied him on foot.
To raucous cheering, the MP turned up his shirt collar, and to reporters who had asked him when people may start using the road, he replied, “Abhi ke abhich (Right away)”, imitating actor Salman Khan’s mannerisms and gestures.
Of his collar-lifting gesture — one that he has indulged in repeatedly — he has said, “Whether or not anyone else praises me, I have the right to praise myself. And this is my style.”
This was classic Udayanraje, locally known as a ‘Dabang Sansad,’ because of his love for fast cars, habit of lifting his shirt collar and using Bollywood dialogues at press conferences and public addresses. He is also debonair and uses English phrases as often as he does lines from Hindi films.
To everyone’s amusement, even Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar had once turned up Udayanraje’s shirt collar during a public rally in Satara’s Karad town, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Udayanraje had been a member of the NCP back then.
This descendant of Shivaji has also landed himself in many controversies over the years.
He has turned up apparently drunk at a press conference, and thereafter criticised his own party (the NCP) in 2009; has posed with the service revolver belonging to a police inspector who had been part of his security detail in 2014; and has, in the late 1990s, spent time behind bars for a murder case in which he was later acquitted.
The BJP MP had started his political career in 1991 as a local councillor, before joining the BJP and serving as a minister of state in the 1995-99 Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra. In 2008, he briefly joined the Congress, before heading to the NCP in 2009 and serving as a two-term Lok Sabha MP from the party. In 2019, soon after winning the Lok Sabha polls, he left the NCP over some differences with the party and joined the BJP and was nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP.
Ever since the Supreme Court verdict quashing the Maratha quota, Udayanraje has been making statements about holding elected representatives, irrespective of their parties, accountable.
Like Sambhajiraje, Udayanraje is not part of the team of BJP leaders, who the leadership has chosen to tour Maharashtra’s districts, speak to local Maratha leaders and push the community to act against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government on the quota issue.
In Monday’s joint press conference with Sambhajiraje, Udayanraje avoided answering questions about the BJP’s efforts in the matter and instead demanded a special session of the assembly to discuss the Maratha quota issue. He, also targeted the MVA, cautioning it to act fast and avoid pushing the community to a boiling point.
Political analyst Prakash Bal said, “Udayanraje doesn’t have much importance within the BJP. For the party, it looks good to have Shivaji’s descendants among its members. But, neither he nor Sambhajiraje have any importance within the party affairs, nor have they done anything for the party as such.”
In Udayanraje’s own words, his ‘brother’, Sambhajiraje, is very unlike him. “He is a gentleman,” the MP said on Monday.
According to the two leaders’ election affidavits, Udayanraje has studied till higher secondary, while Sambhajiraje has completed his Bachelor of Arts and also has an MBA degree.
Sambhajiraje is the fifth descendant of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, who in 1902 became the first Indian king to implement a reservation policy for the socially and economically backward classes, including Muslims. In his quest to represent the Marathas in their quota struggle, Sambhajiraje often cites this legacy.
The erstwhile royal, who the BJP had approached in 2016 to be a presidential nominee to the Rajya Sabha, has had some friction with his party in the last month.
Sambhajiraje has spent most of May touring Maharashtra on his own, in the aftermath of the top court’s judgment, and met significant political leaders such as Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, NCP President Sharad Pawar, as well as Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s Prakash Ambedkar.
The MP has also said he tried to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue, but was not given time, and criticised the MVA as well as the BJP for the blame game after the Supreme Court’s decision.
Late in May, he gave the MVA government an ultimatum to act on a list of demands for the Maratha community and urged the state to file a review petition or a curative petition in the Supreme Court.
BJP leaders have not taken well to Sambhajiraje’s statements and independent approach. State BJP President Chandrakant Patil has asked Sambhajiraje to clarify his stand on the Maratha quota, while BJP Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane has said that though Sambhajiraje is a prince, he does not understand the needs of the masses.
Speaking to ThePrint, BJP MLC Prasad Lad said, “No one person can claim to be the flag bearer of the Maratha community. Having said that, whether it is Sambhajiraje or Udayanraje, they are our ideals. We party workers will do the groundwork. When it comes to larger policy planning we will be talking to them and getting their guidance.”
Monday’s meeting between the descendants of the two erstwhile royal families, ended with an embrace, visuals of which went viral.
However, experts have said that the current show of support may not necessarily translate into any mass mobilisation of the Maratha community, which comprises about 32 per cent of Maharashtra’s population.
Speaking to ThePrint, reservation research scholar Dr. Balasaheb Sarate said, “They are successors of our king. There is a lot of faith in that family and people respect them. But, politically, the Marathas don’t follow anybody in this manner.”
“The previous wave of protests (between 2016 and 2018) had a magnitude and system, mainly because there was no individualism. When you bring in individualism, it does not become a mass movement,” he added.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)