Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Balasaheb Gawde in Baramati, the political fortress of the Pawar family for nearly 35 years, broke the unwritten rule in Maharashtra politics: no opposition leader will set foot in Baramati to fight the Pawars.
The decision was a key part of the BJP’s strategy to win a majority on its terms in the upcoming assembly election with Modi campaigning in traditional strongholds of important state leaders, party sources said. Modi had not campaigned in Baramati in the general election earlier this year.
Also, the BJP decided that it would have to send out a strong signal that it has no truck, overt or covert, with the Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar, sources added.
Pawar’s nephew and former deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar is seeking re- election from Baramati for the fifth time.
“This election is an all-out war to win the state on our own. We played our biggest trump card where it’s symbolically significant. Take the state by taking on Pawar was our line,” said Vinod Tawde, BJP leader and leader of Opposition in the legislative council.
Modi is tapping into a stream of anti-Pawar sentiment that prevails in pockets of the district where a few villages do not even have water supply. “Anyone can come and campaign. It’s for the people to decide who they want to back, and they know our work,” Pawar said.
Not since the late Gopinath Munde in the 1995 assembly election has any opposition leader attempted to take on Sharad Pawar or his family members in Baramati. Munde had turned Pawar’s alleged proximity to the underworld into an election issue then, but had not campaigned in Baramati.
The opposition parties have refrained from putting up candidates in Baramati, preferring to back independents contesting against the Pawars.
Opposition leaders have skipped campaigning in Baramati since t he 1980s. Neither BJP’s LK Advani nor former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed election meetings in Pawar’s territory. The late Indira Gandhi had campaigned in Baramati when Pawar had turned his back on the Congress.
Shiv Sena chief, the l ate Bal Thackeray, who otherwise heaped abuse on Pawar, did not challenge him in Baramati. Uddhav Thackeray campaigned in nearby Pune this week, but did not go to Baramati.
BJP sources said it was Pawar who broke the unwritten rule by addressing four meetings in a month in Beed, the late Munde’s constituency, in the general election this year for the NCP candidate Suresh Dhas.
Even if Ajit Pawar wins by a smaller margin than he did in 2009, it will send out the message that the Pawars are vulnerable on their hometurf.
He had won the 2009 Assembly elections with a total of 1,28,544 votes and a margin of 1,02,797 votes against an independent candidate Ranjankumar Taware.
In the general election, Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule kept her seat, Baramati, but her margin had drastically shrunk from nearly 3.5 lakh votes in 2009 to barely 69,000 votes this year.