The ruling Congress wrested the prestigious Daryapur (Amravati) and Chimur (Chandrapur) Assembly seats on Thursday from the Shiv Sena, giving Maharashtra Revenue Minister Narayan Rane a boost in the organisation.
The victory also proved that the former Sena heavyweight has succeeded in making inroads in all regions of Maharashtra.
Resignations by Prakash Bharsakhale and Vijay Wadettiwar, who quit Sena to join the Congress, had forced by-polls in these constituencies. Both are, it goes without saying, followers of Rane and it was the former chief minister’s connection which made them vulnerable.
It was victory of sorts for Rane, who campaigned in these constituencies for 15 days against heavy odds. Their alliance partners - the NCP and the RPI - were not cooperating, while a section of Congress leaders turned hostile in both the places.
In Chimur, the RPI had a tacit understanding with independent candidate Netaji Rajgadkar, while Congress rebel Kanchanmal Gawande tried to mar the chances of Bharsakhale in Daryapur.
The contest of Kanchanmala had created a flutter among the ruling camp as her husband, Kuldeep Gawande, is the former chairman of Daryapur Municipality and also an influential Congress politician in the region.
Bharsakhale defeated his nearest Sena rival, Balasaheb Hingnikar, by a margin of 4866 votes. He polled 45,908 while Hinginikar got 41,042 votes.
In Chimur constituency, Congress candidate Wadettiwar surprised many by securing 73,832 votes while his nearest rival, BJP nominee Dr Ramesh Gajbe, who created hype during the electioneering, received only 54,088 votes. This is the second victory for Wadettiwar from Chimur while Bharsakhale retained the seat for the fifth time.
Both the by-polls were seen as an acid test for the revenue minister. Earlier, his four erstwhile Sena loyalists won the by-polls while one Shyam Sawant from Raigarh in Konkan region suffered a humiliating defeat. Rane needed to get both these candidates elected to strengthen his position in the Congress.
Rane has earned more foes than friends in all the parties. The Sena hates him because he succeeded to defect several saffron legislators and marginalised Sena in Konkan, Mumbai and now Vidarbha. The Nationalist Congress Party dislikes him because he has strengthened the Congress. And a section of Congressmen distrust him for his ill-disguised ambition to regain the chief ministership.
Rane, however, succeeded to silence his critics and proved that he is a force in the state. The outcome has come as a morale booster not just for Rane, but also the Congress after the good performance in the just-concluded local self government elections.
On the other hand, the by-election result has come as a jolt for state BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who made a prestige point for the Chimur Assembly constituency. Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray and Gadkari had a war of words when the state BJP president insisted that Chimur seat should this time be given to BJP instead of the Sena.
The selection of the candidate for the Chimur Assembly, Dr Gajbe was also of Gadkari’s choice and he had camped there during the electioneering. Gajbe is an influential Mana community leader, whose voters are always a deciding factor.
"Money-power of the ruling party and full concentration of Rane in both the seats led to the dismal performance of the Sena-BJP candidates in both the constituencies," summed up Gopinath Munde, the senior BJP leader. Sena leader Subhash Desai described it as unexpected and shocking.
Reacting to the results, Rane considered it as a victory of the Congress and its policies. "I don’t consider it as my personal victory. Both the candidates won the elections due to the joint efforts of the party leaders," he further added.
With the winning of two more seats, the Congress and NCP will not have depend on other parties and independents. The strength of both the partners has now reached to 146 (Congress 75 and NCP 71) in 284-member House.