Mumbai: Following the controversy over opposition leader Ajit Pawar’s remarks that Chhatrapati Sambhaji was not a ‘dharmaveer’ (defender of religion), a section of NCP leaders is wary of the backlash from the politically significant Maratha community which has been supporting the party for decades.
Amid concerns, party supremo Sharad Pawar tried to defuse the controversy by saying there was nothing wrong in calling Chhatrapati Sambhaji ‘Swarajya Rakshak’ (protector of an independent state), given the historical facts. Pawar added that he had no objection if people called the Maratha king ‘Dharmaveer’ either as long as they believed that Sambhaji had fought to protect the state without a thought for his life.
In his speech made in the state assembly last week, Ajit said that the Maratha king had never upheld dharma in his life and was never a dharmaveer though “some people” deliberately called him that.
The attempt by another NCP leader, Jitendra Awhad, to defend Ajit Pawar added fuel to the fire. Awhad declared that if Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was a Hindu hater, he would have destroyed the Vishnu Temple, which was close to Bahadurgad Fort where he blinded Chhatrapati Sambhaji.
NCP leaders fear that these remarks could lead to their losing Maratha votes in the forthcoming local body polls, as the BJP has been constantly raking up the issue for political gains. The party has been seeking an apology from Ajit Pawar for his ‘insult’ to the Maratha warrior king.
Rajendra Kondhare, Maharashtra president, Akhil Bhartiya Maratha Mahasangh, said the controversy would not damage the NCP because a division of votes on the basis of ideology had always existed. “It is more of an exercise to remain close to their voter base by drawing a clear line vis-a-vis ideology,” he said. “The NCP knows that those who follow right-wing ideology will not come to them anyway.”
Sudhir Bhosale, working president, Sambhaji Brigade, said that political parties, be it the NCP or the BJP, were doing this for political benefit. “There was no need for Ajit Pawar to say that Sambhajiraje was a ‘Swarajya Rakshak’ and not a ‘Dharmaveer’ because as the king, he was both,” he said. “However, why is the BJP so interested in Sambhajiraje now when their icons M S Golwalkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar maligned him in the past?”