A down to earth royal family man with utmost simplicity and concerns for common man, Sambhaji Raje is the heir of Kolhapur royal family, who has over the last two decades travelled across Maharashtra and adjoining states working on various programs for the masses. He has a distinct public image that has been built through consistent, transparent, diligent and clean work in spheres of social justice by promoting education, economic opportunity and the spirit of entrepreneurship. Sambhaji Raje is the direct 13th heir of the royal family of Shivaji Maharaj and the erstwhile social reformer, Shahu of Kolhapur. He is the grandson of late H.H.Major General Shahaji Chhatrapati Maharaja of Kolhapur. He is the elder son of the present Maharaja and 12th direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Shrimant Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur. On June 11, 2016, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President of India. He spoke about the empowerment of people through reservation and removing casteism from the society with our Editor-in-Chief Vaidehi Taman.
What has motivated you to associate with BJP?
I was nominated by the President and the Prime Minister. He was gracious enough to call me and bestow the Member of Parliament. He took the cognizance and recommended my name to the President. Generally, President’s nominee is a neutral person. For the first six months you have an alternative to remain as a member of BJP or become an independent. For working for the welfare of the common man several aspects needs to be taken care of. So I need to be a part of them. Restoration of forts is also in my agenda and I am the brand ambassador of Maharashtra. We have sanctioned Rs 600 crore for the restoration of Raigad fort. For doing all these works you should associate with a party. I am a part of BJP but I am an associate member of the party, which supports them as of now in the Parliament.
Don’t you think it is the influence of Shivaji Maharaj?
That is for PM to decide, whether he wants to play on me. My concern is that he has inducted me into the Parliament and gave the highest honour to my family. It’s a red carpet treatment which is given to me.
Do you offer credit to Shivaji Maharaj for this?
Of course! I am only the reason to be there. I follow the path of Shivaji Maharaj and Shahu Maharaj. If I would have been a commoner, they would not have taken me there. There are several other leaders who have worked harder than me.
It’s so humble of you to accept this. When do you feel Royal and when do you feel common?
I don’t feel royal at all as simplicity is my biggest asset in life. If I would have been royal, I would not have been sitting with you for an interview. I would not have been talking to the Prime Minister. How did he get in touch with me? How did I reply to him? How did I get so easily accessible to him? No royals get so easily accessible. My life is very simple. Shivaji Maharaj had united all the religions. Shahu Maharaj worked for the welfare of Bahujan Samaj and I follow the same motto.
How do you define Royal?
For me royal is being as simple as possible and working for the welfare of common man. My forefathers have taught me that a common man has to be bigger than a royal. We don’t need to prove ourselves as royal. Let the common man become royal. That is what Shahu Maharaj and Shivaji maharaj has taught us.
Sometimes people say that you are very blunt and arrogant while talking. What is your take about it?
No. That is the wrong perception as I am a very simple person. My biggest asset is my simplicity and I have never been arrogant.
Why are you not arrogant at times?
I have been brought up in such a manner that royal arrogance does not peep into me. I think this quality is my biggest asset.
Political parties are politicising Shivaji Maharaj’s legacy. How do you feel about it?
Everybody has been using the royalties of Shahu Maharaj and Shivaji Maharaj’s name. I have nothing against them. By using the name of these personalities if you can work for the welfare of the common man then it is better to use it.
Do you think today’s politicians are doing anything in the name of Shivaji Maharaj?
That’s for them to decide and I don’t want to judge them. My job is to follow Shivaji Maharaj and Shahu Maharaj and work accordingly.
What is the biggest challenge in restoring the forts?
Political will is necessary for the restoration of forts. Unfortunately, Maharashtra is not a pro-tourism state like Rajasthan. With my efforts for the restoration of Raigad fort Rs 600 crore has been sanctioned and we expect to start the project in a months-time. Fortunately, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Principal Secretary Pravin Pardesi have been very kind and they are supporting me.
The saddest part of our history is people don’t know that Shivaji Maharaj ruled the Rajgad fort for almost 24 years. They are even unaware of Tararani- the daughter-in-law of Shivaji Maharaj, who fought against Aurangzeb for seven years without losing a war.
Have you asked anyone to include this part of history in the text books?
I have informed Vinod Tawade, Minister of Higher and Technical Education and he has taken initiative to collate information pertaining to Shivaji Maharaj. But, still so much has to be done.
Heritage is not only buildings. It is our culture, monuments and how we want to present Shivaji Maharaj’s history. I also have an opportunity to represent Marathas in Rajasthan state.
Nowadays many forts are converted into hotels where unwanted things are happening. What is your perspective towards restoration of forts?
When you ask me about the restoration of forts, there are few types. One is restoring those pieces of history for tourism, like Raigad. You can always have Raigad fort as a tourism destination. And then, to keep the sanctity of that place cottages with basic facilities can be built to attract tourists as without them visiting the fort Shivaji Maharaj’s history will be untold. People should know why it is compared to the biggest fort in the world Gibraltar.
How many historians will be a part of this project? Have you ever thought about involving them?
Raigad fort will soon become Raigad pradhikaran and for the purpose I will be heading to Raigad to meet the Commissioner of Konkan, Collector and the entire PWD department to take this project forward. I will definitely consider opinion of the historians as it is important to project the history properly and perfectly. Raigad should be restored in such a way that it will be the foremost destination to know about Shivaji Maharaj and his legacy.
What is the plight of Maratha in India with reference to agitations they are being part of?
Shivaji Maharaj’s Maratha terminology was different. What Shivaji Maharaj defined Maratha is not by religion or any caste. He believed whatever religion you belong to, you are a Maratha first. Shahu Maharaj realised discrimination between various castes and wanted to bring all of them under one word called Bahujan Samaj. He was the first person to grant reservation in the year 1902 offering 50% reservation in Kolhapur that includes the Marathas. In Kolhapur people don’t require reservation as everyone is happy because of Shahu. But in Marathwada, people address Dalits as Dalits, call Marathas as Savarna. Savarna is the upper class but they have been denied reservation. My role was to grant reservation to them and bring them under one forum called Bahujan.
Do you think Brahmin being ever granted reservation? Are we talking about Sarva Dharma Samabhava?
You tell me there are how many poor Brahmins?
It’s almost 90%.
Reservation should be granted on the basis of economic criteria. Our social strata constituted in our constitution are very strong and you can’t change it. If you ask me personally, give it on economic strata…why give it on social backwardness!
Will you ever fight for this cause?
You should listen to a speech delivered by me in Rajya Sabha on Backward Commission. First reservation was granted by my forefathers Shahu Maharaj in the year 1902, but during that period casteism gained prominence. There should be one day when everybody will be treated equally. The first boarding started by him was known as Shivaji Maratha Boarding. Although, it has the word Maratha, but he had brought all the religions under the same shelter. But they could not stay under one shelter because of the distinction prevailing between their castes. Later he had to form 21 hotels for different religions. To eradicate casteism it was necessary to educate people first. The social strata have been constituted by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar which one needs to respect and follow.
What is your message to the people who are deriving political mileage by creating discrimination? What message would you like to give to the society?
I respect Shivaji Maharaj, Shahu Maharaj, Mahatma Jyotibai Phule and B.R. Ambedkar. Sardar Vallabhai Patel is a different personality but I follow these four personalities. I work according to their ideology. How people want to use it for their benefit is their concern. Why should I speak on their behalf?
Where you see yourself after 10 years of politics?
I have received a platform to work in Delhi. I believe in working hard, thinking positive and everything will fall in place.
Can we ever see you as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra?
Who knows what future holds for me. I never aspired to be a MP, neither the PM nor CM. My aspiration is to work for the welfare of the common man. Let the future take its own course, why dream about unnecessary things.
Have you given up on Sharad Pawar?
I respect him as a leader. He inducted me into politics and issued me a Lok Sabha ticket. But I don’t think he could enable me to realise my full potential like Devendra Fadnavis and PM Modi have done.
So you got encashed by people?
Of course if somebody is taking note of my work and encashing for the welfare of common men, what’s wrong to accept it?
You are encashed for common man or encashed by politicians?
That is for them to decide. They have honoured me and my family. I should look at the positive aspect.
What is the positive side of Sharad Pawar?
You have to respect him as he has been into politics for 50 years. Even though he belongs to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and I am associated with BJP, you must respect him. I also respect Balasaheb Thackeray. You must respect Narendra Modi who has become a Prime Minister without serving as a cabinet minister in the centre. He possesses that charisma.
How do you place these three leaders – Balasaheb Thackeray, Sharad Pawar and Narendra Modi?
All are great in their own perspective.
Which footpath do you want to choose?
I am following the footsteps of Shivaji Maharaj and Shahu Maharaj.