The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Friday came up trumps in the Kaij by-poll, retaining the assembly seat in Beed district of Marathwada that had been vacated due to the death of its leader Vimal Mundada.
The by-poll had become a prestige issue, with senior Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Gopinath Munde, who hails from Beed, pulling out all stops to defeat the NCP candidate. Munde and his daughter and legislator, Pankaja Munde Palave, had personally campaigned for the BJP candidate.
The results, however, showed that NCP candidate Prithviraj Sathe outstripped BJP candidate Sangeeta Thombre with a margin of over 5,000 votes.
The rivalry between Munde and NCP is decades old, with the former running an aggressive campaign against NCP chief Sharad Pawar during the latter's tenure as the chief minister of Maharashtra in the early 90s. Nearly three NCP legislators from the area have been former Munde rebels. The rivalry turned ugly this year when deputy CM Ajit Pawar poached on Munde’s elder brother, Panditanna, and nephew, Dhananjay, to make larger inroads into Marathwada.
Pawar’s political strategy had been viewed as a direct challenge to Munde, BJP’s only mass leader, on his home turf. In this election, too, Pawar put in his might to ensure a win, ensuring a majority of his party ministers campaign there. “Munde tried to make this a personal prestige issue and the BJP tried to play the caste card here, but failed. In the end, the work done by the NCP and the former legislator Mundada led us to victory,” said state party president Madhukar Pichad. Political observors said that this electoral defeat will further discredit Munde. Marathwada was a bastion of the Congress, but was later captured by the saffron combine. In the 2009 assembly polls, however, the Congress did better than the rest of the parties. But if one goes by the results of recently-held elections to municipal councils and zila parishads, the NCP is being taking the longest strides in the region.
The party of sugar barons that draws its power from western Maharashtra, NCP hopes to emerge as the largest party in the 2014 assembly polls. Pawar has been strategically spreading his hold in other areas including Konkan and Marathwada.