Game changer: Bitter battle of bigwigs in western Maharashtra

  • Dharmendra Jore, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Oct 02, 2014 20:48 IST

With 70 seats at stake in six districts, all parties have their eyes set on the state’s most prosperous region — western Maharashtra.

This is the region where Nationalist Congress Party (NPC) chief Sharad Pawar draws his might from. The party won half its total Assembly strength here in 2009.

It has been the genesis of many political upheavals, has given the state most of its CMs, cabinet ministers, national leaders, sugar barons and top industrialists.

It is still the state’s growth engine in terms of manufacturing, processing, information technology and automobile industry, and innovative farming and horticulture.

With the state’s political equations undergoing a drastic change, western Maharashtra can be a game changer in the October 15 elections.

Till now, Pawar has been the driving force behind western Maharashtra’s development and he will rely on this for his party’s success.

Despite the NCP’s dismal show in the Lok Sabha in other parts, it sent four party MPs, two more than former ally Congress, in the region.

This prompted the NCP to demand more seats from the Congress, which, propped by another big leader from the region — former chief minister CM Prithviraj Chavan — chose to break ties with its partner.

NCP derives its core strength from senior leaders who are still loyal to both Pawar and his nephew Ajit. However, some have shifted loyalties to other parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The satraps, said a party insider, can win NCP seats in areas of their influence.

Being in power for years, the NCP leaders (who were earlier associated with the Congress) are dominant in sugar cooperatives and allied industries.

They have diversified into more lucrative manufacturing and real estate sector, which create job opportunities for people in their districts.

The NCP will have to work hard to gain more in southern districts where it has been losing grip in the past 10 years because of the weakening cooperative sector, which has been which is under constant threat from the Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Shetkari Paksha.

Shetti, who was re-elected as MP from the sugar belt of Hatkanangale, began the NCP-Congress downfall in the region, and plans to field at least eight candidates in the region with the BJP and three other allies.

Also, Pune city’s core area has been a major worry for the NCP, even though it won 10 out of 21 seats of the district in 2009.

The NCP controls the outer, semi-urban seats where Ajit Pawar rules the roost. The Congress, BJP and Sena shared the spoils in the urban parts.

The BJP expects Prime Minister Narendra Modi to swing the votes in its direction by holding rallies in the region, starting from Kolhapur.

Modi had single-handedly turned the tables on two undefeated Congressmen — former home minister Sushilkumar Shinde (Solapur) and his cabinet colleague Pratik Patil (Sangli).

The Pune city, too, voted massively for the BJP, taking it closer to the NCP during the LS polls.

The Sena lost Kolhapur, but won Maval and Shirur, while Congress lost all its seats.

Other than Sharad Pawar, western Maharashtra will also put Chavan under the scanner.

The former CM is under threat in Karad South where Congress rebel Vilaskaka Patil Undalkar has challenged him.

A senior Congress leader said they will have to put up a tough fight to remain in power. “The Congress and NCP are separate forces now, but they have lost so much to the BJP and Sena in the Lok Sabha elections.

Local leadership, better candidates and effective poll management can win both parties a few seats. The fight between the saffron parties can benefit us significantly,” he said.

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