It is the birthplace of the sugar cooperative movement and has 18 cooperative sugar factories—the highest in the state.
That is why second-generation sugar barons contesting the October 13 polls are desperate to retain their traditional political strongholds, especially when the sugar industry is passing through a big crisis and delimitation has upset their established political calculations.
Most sugar barons, to retain control of the industry and the district, have fielded their sons in the Assembly polls. Sugar-daddies-in-the-making include agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat (son of Bhausaheb Thorat), education minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (son of Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil who started the sugar cooperative movement) and Shankar Gadakh (son of Yeshvantrao Gadakh).
Political equations in Ahmednagar, the state’s largest district spread over 17,034 sq km, are different from those in the rest of the state. Allies Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have either fielded their candidates or are working against each other in 12 Assembly constituencies here. Politics for them is secondary to control over the capital of sugar cooperatives.
Ahmednagar district contributes 18 per cent share of the total sugarcane, crushed during every season in the state. The district thus gave rise to sugar barons, mainly from the ruling combine. Senior journalist and political observer in Ahmednagar for more than four decades, MS Khedkar (70), said Ahmednagar was once a Communist bastion.
“The dividing line between the cooperative movement and politics became thin in the course of time as the latter derives political strength because of economic power,” said Khedekar.
Over the past few years, BJP national general secretary Gopinath Munde has been making his presence felt in the Congress-dominated sugar industry. Munde has taken over almost eight sugar factories. This showed in the Lok Sabha polls when the saffron alliance bagged both seats in the district. Several sugar barons have also preferred to stay with the Congress, posing a serious challenge to the earlier undisputed leadership of NCP chief Sharad Pawar.