Eye on Maharashtra: What a game of chess it was and what a win for Uddhav Thackeray

It was breathtaking to see Uddhav Thackeray checkmating BJP and putting Devendra Fadnavis in his place in the anticipated use of Shiv Sena to have Sambhaji Raje Chhatrapati re-elected to Rajya Sabha

Eye on Maharashtra: What a game of chess it was and what a win for Uddhav Thackeray

Sujata Anandan

Just when I was beginning to believe that I had seen it all in Maharashtra and Indian politics, it was breathtaking to see Uddhav Thackeray checkmating BJP and putting Devendra Fadnavis in his place in the anticipated use of the Shiv Sena to have Sambhaji Raje Chhatrapati re-elected to the Rajya Sabha.

Sambhaji Raje, one of the two 13th direct descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji, had been a BJP Rajya Sabha MP. With the end of his sixyear term he announced that he would this time be contesting for the Rajya Sabha as an Independent candidate. He expected support from both Shiv Sena and the NCP.

The grapevine, however, maintains that after winning a seat in the Rajya Sabha with Shiv Sena-NCP support (BJP had to accommodate too many loyalists), he would have joined the Union cabinet of PM Modi. It would have left Uddav Thackeray with egg on his face and would have been hailed as yet another master stroke by the BJP. Even if the MVA survived the betrayal, it would have become a laughing stock among its rivals (read Devendra Fadnavis and his cohorts).

Thackeray sensed or was briefed about the possibility. He therefore offered to support Sambhaji Raje if he joined the Shiv Sena or tied the ‘Shiv Vandhan’, a sacred thread, on his wrist so as to cement their brotherly ties. Since the threads are tied in a Shiv temple, it would have been a public affair and helped Shiv Sena varnish its Hindu credentials. It would have also made it embarrassing for Sambhaji Raje to switch sides. As a result, Sambhaji and BJP (read Devendra Fadnavis) are the ones who are left with egg on their face. Poor Sambhaji has missed the bus.

Sambhaji Raje is now grumbling about being betrayed by the Shiv Sena while Fadnavis is complaining that NCP and the Shiv Sena had sown a rift within the royal family.

Sambhaji Raje’s father, Shahuji Maharaj Chhatrapati, apparently believes that Sambhaji made a miscalculation in both assessing his political clout and by presuming that he could get something (a nomination) without offering anything (loyalty) in return. Sambhaji Raje now plans to launch his own political party (Swarajya) but his father believes the son is again being impractical.

Fadnavis too seems to have overestimated the so-called growing clout of Sambhaji Raje among Marathas which threatened the NCP and OBCs. Had this been true, the royal heir would surely have sought a popular election than seeking a route to power through the Rajya Sabha. And BJP would not have let him go!

Yuvraj Sambhaji Raje Chhatrapati of Kolhapur is not the only direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji. The other 13th direct descendant is Udayan Raje Bhosale of Satara. Both Sambhaji Raje and Udayan Raje have been associated with BJP ever since the party decided it wanted to capture all the royals in Maharashtra to lay claim to Shivaji’s legacy. Shivaji’s son Sambhaji was captured and put to death by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who then took his young son, Shahu, and kept him and his mother in captivity in his own palace until his death.

By the time Shahu returned to his kingdom there was an usurper – his stepbrother Rajaram -- and the Mughals hoped the Marathas would get busy in internecine wars and self-destruct.

However, Shahu Maharaj was in no mood for fratricide and allowed Rajaram to move to Kolhapur and set up his own dynasty in that region. Since then, the Satara and Kolhapur dynasties have both been recognised as legitimate heirs to Shivaji’s legacy.

None of the descendants of Shivaji however ever won an election to even the local municipal council without the support of one of the mainstream political parties. Despite the support of the Congress and NCP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Sambhaji Raje lost from Kolhapur to an NCP rebel and sitting MP Sadashiv Mandlik. Udayan Raje too lost one election after another until Sharad Pawar took him under his wings and fielded him on an NCP ticket from Satara.

Udayan Raje won three consecutive Lok Sabha elections until deciding, three months after winning on an NCP ticket in May 2019, that he was better off joining the BJP.

He resigned and contested again on a BJP ticket. It is now part of Maharashtra’s political legend how a soaked-to-the-bone 80-year-old Pawar campaigned under pouring rain to retain the seat for his party and the people chose him – and the retired bureaucrat he had put up as his candidate – against this other royal. Fadnavis thought he could play grandmaster on the political chessboard. He has been checkmated - again!

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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