Akola: In BJP bastion, a real triangular fight this time | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Akola: In BJP bastion, a real triangular fight this time

Apr 19, 2024 09:40 AM IST

Since the beginning of the Ram Mandir movement in 1989, the Hindu nationalist party has won the seat seven out of nine times

Mumbai The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not lost a Lok Sabha election in the Akola constituency since 2004. Threatening its chances of making it five in a row are, ironically, allegations of parivarwad (dynasticism), with the ruling party fielding Anup Dhotre, son of four-time MP Sanjay Dhotre.

Anup Dhotre, son of four-time MP Sanjay Dhotre, refuted allegations of ‘parivarvad’.
Anup Dhotre, son of four-time MP Sanjay Dhotre, refuted allegations of ‘parivarvad’.

Meanwhile, the Congress’s decision to nominate a Maratha, Dr Abhay Patil, this time rather than a Muslim candidate like in 2014 and 2019 has altered the caste- and religion-based dynamics. There’s also a ray of hope for Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar, who’s hoping to end a series of defeats since 2004 in what is shaping up to be an enticing triangular fight.

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Akola was one of the BJP’s first bastions in Maharashtra for the general elections. Since the beginning of the Ram Mandir movement in 1989, the Hindu nationalist party has won the seat seven out of nine times. Now, with the recent inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the BJP would be hoping to extend its run.

With a sizable population of Muslim and Dalit voters, Akola has also provided the necessary ground for politics of polarisation. The BJP, with the help of its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and allied organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), cultivated Akola as its stronghold by promoting leaders from the majority Kunbi-Maratha community. Despite being an underdeveloped area, factors like caste and religion dominate the elections compared with issues related to development like water shortage and inadequate employment opportunities.

The last two general elections were completely one-sided in the BJP’s favour due to two reasons: the Narendra Modi factor and the Congress fielding a Muslim candidate, Hidayatulla Patel, which helped fuel the politics of polarisation. In 2019, Patel got 254,370 votes, mainly from the Muslim community; Ambedkar got 278,848, mainly from Dalit voters; and the BJP’s Sanjay Dhotre won by a huge margin of 554,444 votes.

This time, though, the Congress’ decision to field Patil could help it earn Maratha and Hindu votes at the expense of the BJP. Besides, Muslim voters and supporters of Shiv Sena (UBT) are also likely to vote for the grand old party.

Ambedkar, however, is confident that Muslims will vote for him after the Congress chose to field Patil. During meetings with Muslim community leaders, VBA leaders emphasise that Patil’s family belongs to the VHP and he was also connected with the RSS till a few years ago. Ambedkar, who is the grandson of Dalit icon Dr BR Ambedkar, could also get some Maratha votes due to his association with Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil.

“The Modi factor is missing this time, as people are unhappy with issues like the agriculture crisis, unemployment and communal conflicts. As such, the BJP will lose voters who supported it in the past. Besides, I will get the majority of Muslim votes and will win the election. There would be a direct fight between the BJP and VBA,” said Ambedkar, whose average voter base is around 250,000. The 69-year-old has won the Akola Lok Sabha seat twice, in 1998 and 1999, before the BJP wave took over.

Voters in Akola expect the Congress to put up a better fight against the BJP compared with the previous two elections. “My family has been voting for the BJP for decades, but the party gave a ticket to the son of four-time MP Sanjay Dhotre. Why is only one family getting every opportunity? This time, we will consider our options. The Congress has a Maratha candidate, so that is an option,” said a teacher from the Barshi-Takali village.

Razak Major, a voter from Balapur, believes the Congress made a smart move by nominating a Maratha candidate. “He can get votes from the Maratha community and other Hindu castes, which will reduce votes from the BJP’s vote bank. The Muslim community in a majority will support the Congress candidate and not Ambedkar as he may end up helping the BJP win due to the division of votes.”

Patil, along with Shiv Sena (UBT) MLA Nitin Deshmukh, is addressing joint rallies across the constituency. In speeches, they’re focussing on how farmers are not getting enough value for soybeans and cotton, the main crops in the region.

“PM Modi speaks about ‘parivarwad’ in his speeches and criticises the Opposition over it. But the BJP in Akola has given a ticket to the son of the current MP who has been there for 20 years. Is it not parivarwad? People are angry over it,” said Patil. He added that besides the traditional Congress voters, around 150,000 voters of Shiv Sena (UBT) will also switch from BJP and ensure his victory.

The BJP is aware of the anti-incumbency sentiment, along with the threat of division of Hindu and, prominently, Maratha votes. That’s why it has focused on the defection of village-level leaders from other parties so that voters under their control will come under the BJP umbrella.

RSS and VHP workers are reaching out to the beneficiaries of government schemes and members of organisations working in different sectors. Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had appointed Anup Dhotre as co-ordinator for the Akola Lok Sabha constituency a year ago. During this time, Dhotre has already reached out to party workers and voters in the constituency. So, it’s like the second phase of the campaign for him. BJP workers are also running a whisper campaign that Patil is not originally from the Akola region but an outsider from Jalgaon.

Dhotre accepted that the elections in Akola this time would be tougher than the last two polls, but refuted the allegation of dynastic politics. “BJP never promotes family politics, I was selected by the party on the basis of merit. People want development, and only BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi can fulfil the aspirations,” he said.

The hard planning and deployment of human resources on a large scale indicate the BJP is gearing up for a proper three-horse race for the seat.

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