Chandigarh: The Third Battle of Panipat, more than 250 years old, still casts its shadow on elections in Haryana.
The battle between the Marathas and the Afghans fought in 1761 left behind soldiers whose descendants — Rod-Marathas — in Karnal have always been wooed as a special votebank by the Congress, BJP and BSP in Haryana that will vote on 12 May in the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha elections.
The Rod-Marathas, numbering around 7 lakh, are spread from Karnal to Rohtak and Bhiwani. The community traces its lineage to the 500 soldiers of the Peshwa’s army that fought the battle, survived it and then got scattered in the jungles in the area. Many soldiers were jailed or taken away by Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali, whose forces had dealt a crushing defeat to the expeditionary Maratha army in Panipat.
Clout of Rod-Marathas
Leaders of this little-known but historically significant community of 1.8 lakh voters in Karnal have been accompanying candidates of various political parties during their election rallies.
“The Rod-Marathas are completely supporting the Congress in this election,” said Virendra Singh Verma, a Rod-Maratha and the president of Maratha Jagruti Manch, a Karnal-based community group.
Talking about the Rod-Marathas, Verma, a former bureaucrat in Haryana government, said: “The lifestyle, language, houses, food, songs and names of the Rods are similar to the Marathis. The Rods even have surnames like Pawar, Chavan, Bhosle, Sawant.”
Verma’s political clout is clear from the number of parties he has changed. He was the BSP candidate from Karnal in 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In 2009 elections, Verma had got over 2 lakh votes and one lakh in 2014.
Between 2009 and 2014, Verma had a brief stint with the BJP too. He then created his own party ‘Ekta Shakti’ and merged it with the Congress last year. Earlier this week, Verma had accompanied Congress candidate Kuldeep Sharma to Assand, a stronghold of the Rod-Marathas, for campaigning.
The Congress has asked former union minister and Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma to address a joint Karnal-Kurukshetra rally Friday as his ancestry has been traced to the Peshwa Brahmins, who had led the Maratha soldiers in the Panipat battle. This makes him a local hero for the Rod-Marathas.
“Yes, it is generally known that I belong to the Peshwa lineage and since people of that area have Maratha blood flowing in them, they can connect (with me),” Sharma told ThePrint, adding, he doesn’t believe in seeking votes on the basis of caste.
BJP eyes both Punjabi & Rod-Maratha votes
Traditionally a Brahmin seat, Karnal chose BJP’s Ashwini Chopra, a Punjabi, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Chopra is a cricketer-turned-media baron-turned politician.
This time also, the BJP has given the ticket to a Punjabi, Sanjay Bhatia. A close aide of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, Bhatia has been fielded keeping in mind the over two lakh Punjabi-Khatri voters, out of the total 19 lakh voters, in the constituency.
The BJP, however, seems to be receiving support from Rod-Marathas as well. RSS-BJP leader Pradeep Patil, a Marathi living in Karnal, said even though he was “vying” for a Lok Sabha ticket, he will support Bhatia. Patil said BJP leader Ved Pal, an advocate and a local Rod-Maratha, is also helping the party gain support of the community.
Patil said the BJP is targeting “60-65 per cent of the Rod-Maratha vote in Karnal”.
Among other parties, only the BSP, which is in alliance with the Lok Suraksha Party (LSP), has fielded a Rod-Maratha candidate — Pankaj Chaudhry.
Every year on 14 January, the day when the Battle of Panipat was fought, Rod-Marathas get together and celebrate the day as Shaurya Divas to mark the bravery of the Maratha warriors.