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Rebels refuse to back down

Last-ditch efforts by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to coax rebels out of the electoral fray have failed, reports Dharmendra Jore, Satyajit Joshi & Pradip Kumar Maitra.

mumbai Updated: Sep 30, 2009 01:19 IST

Last-ditch efforts by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to coax rebels out of the electoral fray have failed.

The large-scale rebellion — not seen in the last three Assembly elections — is expected to damage the alliance’s prospects in 50 seats across Maharashtra.

The NCP has the maximum number of dissidents, with the rebellion during the Lok Sabha polls earlier in the year refusing to die down.

It was the same story in the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) camp, with few rebels opting out before the last date of withdrawal. The number of saffron rebels, though, is smaller.

Minister of state Dr Sunil Deshmukh, who objected to President Pratibha Patil’s son Rajendra Shekhawat’s candidature in Amaravati, quit the Congress and the Cabinet on Tuesday despite the party offering him a Legislative Council seat and a Cabinet berth.

“I don’t want the BJP to win this seat. I will win hands down,” Deshmukh told Hindustan Times.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was unfazed. “In every election, people revolt. It’s not a major concern,” he said, adding that the Congress would take action against rebels who did not support the official candidates.

State NCP chief RR Patil said he would ask his party’s rebels to announce support to the official candidates within 24 hours or face expulsion.

Several Congress rebels — Anantrao Deshmukh (Risod), Azhar Hussain (Akola), Prakash Bharsakale (Akot) Subhash Thakare (Washim) — and the NCP’s Suresh Deshmukh (Wardha) rejected these calls.

Rebels in the NCP stronghold of Western Maharashtra — three sitting MLAs — remained unmoved. Party chief Sharad Pawar camped in Baramati for two days to contain the damage, but with a little success. Baburao Pacharne (Shirur), Laxman Jagtap (Chinchwad) and Vilas Lande (Bhosari) did not withdraw.

In Kolhapur, former minister Digvijay Khanvilkar, who quit the NCP recently, will fight as an independent against the Congress nominee.

The NCP-Congress alliance will face the biggest challenge in Satara with NCP rebels posing a serious threat in five out of eight constituencies. Shalinitai Patil (Koregaon), Balasaheb Patil (Karad North), both sitting NCP MLAs, Rajendra Shinde (Patan), Vilas Vatharkar, Nitin Bhargude and Makrand Patil (Wai) will contest against the official candidates.

Among the rebels who opted out was Congress MLA Chandrakant Chhajed, who had filed his nomination from Shivajinagar and Wadgaon Sheri, both in Pune city. In Sangli, Ajit Ghorpade (Tasgaon-Kavthe Mahankal) and Suresh Patil (Sangli) also withdrew.

Industries Minister Narayan Rane heaved a sigh of relief in Kudal as his Congress colleague Pushpasen Sawant pulled out.

In Ahmednagar district, there was revolt in five constituencies — Babasaheb Bhos and Anna Shelar from Shrigonda (where Forest Minister Babanrao Pachpute is contesting), former NCP MLA Vasantrao Zavre (Parner), Rajiv Rajle (Shevgaon), Ashok Bhangre (Akole) and Abhay Agarkar (Ahmednagar).

High-profile BJP leader Girish Vyas withdrew his nomination from Nagpur (North) on Tuesday, while former BJP MLA Mohan Mate refused to withdraw from Nagpur (South).

Nagpur’s district Sena chief Shekhar Sawarbandhe withdrew his nomination from Nagpur (South) after being party executive president Uddhav Thackeray spoke to him.