Descendants of two heavyweight political families — which had produced two chief ministers of Maharashtra — have locked horns in Latur ahead of the municipal corporation election to be held on April 19.
On side of the arena is Congress leader Amit Deshmukh who is the son of late chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The party had lost the district council elections held this February but the 41-year-old enjoys a stronghold in Latur. Apart from trying to counter the BJP, Amit has been fighting unrest within the party as senior Congress leaders such as Shivraj Patil, Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar and his uncle and party leader Diliprao Deshmukh are upset over his leadership.
Competing with Amit is state labour minister and Latur’s guardian minister Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar (38). He is the grandson of former Maharashtra chief minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar and has been considered responsible for leading BJP to its victory in the district council elections.
Sambhaji was first elected to the Assembly in 2004 when he defeated his grandfather and then in 2014 after he got the better of his uncle Ashok Patil-Nilangekar. He was inducted in the Cabinet in June last year. Sambhaji, however, is facing a criminal case of financial misappropriation which is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation. He was the guarantor for a loan given to a ‘fraud account’.
Congress’ tally in the 58-seat district council fell from 35 to 15 in February. The BJP, meanwhile, improved its performance and won 37 seats compared to the eight it had won in the last elections.
Deriving confidence from their past victory, the BJP has been boasting that it can repeat history during the municipal corporation elections. Currently, it does not have any representation while Congress has 49 corporators in the 70-member body.
“BJP has put all its might behind Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar. Heavyweight party leaders including chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari are holding rallies for the campaign. In comparison, however, apart from Patangrao Kadam and Balasaheb Thorat, no major Congress leaders have organised rallies to counter the BJP’s campaign,” said a local Congress leader. “The BJP absorbed candidates from all other parties, irrespective of their background, only on the basis of their chances of being elected. This move may benefit them during the elections,” he added.
The Congress leader, however, said that voting patterns in rural parts of the district council and urban parts in the municipal corporation cannot be compared as the Deshmukh family still holds the fort in Latur city.
Muslims, Lingayats and Marwaris form significant portions of the voter base in Latur. But the Muslim voters are likely to be divided between AIMIM and Congress. Also, Congress may lose its traditional Lingayat voter base as the BJP had installed a lingayat corporator as president of the district council last month.
“We have a fair chance of winning more than the existing number seats and all the party leaders are fighting towards it in unison. The results will be different that of the district councils,” said Amit Deshmukh.
“Let us not project it like a fight between two families as Shivajirao Nilangekar Patil is in Congreess and Sambhaji Nilangekar is heading the BJP campaign. We are leading the race in terms of candidates, campaign and people’s response.”
Shailesh Lahoti, city president of BJP said, “We have been getting tremendous response from across all castes and communities. Sambhaji has done a lot of work for the public in the last two years and it will help us winning at least 41 seats.”
Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar was not available for comments.