All Rajes gathered, BJP advances in Maharashtra

Even as the elections for the Maharashtra State Assembly are now around the corner, there is hardly any discussion in private or in public about the issues before the people.

The state recently experienced a severe drought in most of Vidarbha and Marathwada followed by terrible floods in the Southern districts, in which many people and hundreds of cattle-head lost their lives and public and private property worth crores of rupees drowned.

Metropolis and cities like Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Nashik and Pune faced rain fury for over a fortnight. However, to my surprise, no political party, their leaders or the masses are talking about these issues that have affected their daily life.

Each of them are talking only about the recent influx in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena from the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

With the formal declaration of Assembly elections due any time now, the floods in the ruling alliance is increasing every moment. As I write this column, the Satara NCP Stalwart Udayan Raje Bhosale has resigned his seat in Lok Sabha and has joined the BJP with a great fanfare in Delhi in presence of the BJP Chief Amit Shah and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

This is considered to be a severe jolt to the NCP Stalwart Sharad Pawar. The entry of Udayan Raje is more significant as he is the direct descendent of the Great Maratha Warrior King Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. With the entry of Udayan Raje, the BJP has gathered extra strength in South Maharashtra, so far considered the main bastion of Marathas and thus the NCP.

Clout in South Maharashtra

But that is not the only significance of Raje's entry into the ruling side. Udayan Raje is no doubt the most popular politician in Western Maharashtra. But that's not all.

His clout amidst the South Maharashtra population, particularly the Maratha community is such that he returned to Lok Sabha on three occasions before, when the political climate was not in favour of his party.

Now that he has quit his Lok Sabha seat, he will have to seek fresh mandate, elections for which are likely to be held along with the ensuing Lok Sabha polls.

While Raje is confident of retaining his Lok Sabha seat, his presence in the BJP would surely help the party not only wrist most of the seats in Satara districts but all districts (Sangli, Kolhapur and Sholapur) in southern Maharashtra.

If Raje manages to perform this magic, it would be a severe body-line blow to the NCP in general and Sharad Pawar in particular. This is because so far these sugarcane growing districts have exhibited their unabated love and affection for NCP stalwart Sharad Pawar.

While Pawar is already facing rough weather in politics, if Raje manages to turn the tide in favour of the BJP, Pawar would be reduced to an insignificant force to reckon with in the state politics. Considering that Maharashtra is the backbone of Pawar's national ambitions and politics, he would face tough time, if he cannot retain his clout in his home state.

The question is if Raje has such an important position in the politics of the NCP, why a shrewd political leader like Pawar could not retain him within his party-fold?

Not that Udayan Raje is crossing the floor for the first time. He was once elected as a BJP nominee in late 90s and had become a Minister of State in then Manohar Joshi's cabinet before he left the BJP to join the Pawar force.

Raje had faced a turbulent time when he faced murder charges and was put behind the bars. He was however acquitted by the court. He also lost elections twice when he was fielded against his own uncle and cousin. However, the brash Maratha leader re-established his clout and is now sitting pretty.

Sway Over Marathas

Chief Minister Fadnavis has managed to hit many targets with one bullet. While on one hand establishing his sway over South Maharashtra, Fadnavis cut his arch political rival Sharad Pawar to his size, Udayan Raje's entry would also help the BJP and Fadnavis to establish their sway over the powerful Maratha community in the state.

The BJP was so far considered to be the party of upper caste Brahmins and Bunyas. Fadnavis managed to extend the influence over OBCs also. Now with the inclusion of Udayan Raje and his cousin Shivendra Raje, Fadnavis is making attempt to bring in Marathas also under the influence of the BJP.

Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje of Kolhapur was already nominated MP by the President. He has joined the BJP. Now Shivendra Raje and Udayan Raje have also come in the party-fold. It means all three descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj are now with the BJP.

Is this a beginning of yet another “Social Renaissance” in Maharashtra? Only time will tell!

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

(To download our E-paper please click here. The publishers permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal