Lok Sabha polls: Ramtek constituency in Maharashtra to witness triangular fight | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha polls: Ramtek constituency in Maharashtra to witness triangular fight

Apr 17, 2024 03:19 PM IST

Kishore Gajbhiye, a bureaucrat-turned-politician has entered the race with the support of the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi

With the Lok Sabha election campaigning for the phase of polls coming to an end on Wednesday, an intriguing three-way contest is on the cards in Maharashtra’s Ramtek (reserved for SC), which goes to polls on Friday.

VBA-backed Kishore Gajbhiye’s candidature may have repercussions for the Congress, potentially benefiting Shiv Sena (Shinde) candidate Raju Parwe. (Representative Image)
VBA-backed Kishore Gajbhiye’s candidature may have repercussions for the Congress, potentially benefiting Shiv Sena (Shinde) candidate Raju Parwe. (Representative Image)

The ruling Mahayuti coalition pulled out all the stops to give an edge to its candidate Raju Parwe of the Shiv Sena (Shinde) in terms of campaigning. The Congress, on the other hand, left waiting for the star campaigners.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a rally at Kanhan in Ramtek constituency in support of the Mahayuti candidate while chief minister Eknath Shinde, his deputy Devendra Fadnavis, Union minister Nitin Gadkari and many other high-profile leaders also rooted for Parwe in Ramtek.

The Congress stares at numerous problems in Ramtek, a constituency once represented by former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.

Parwe, a Congress MLA, switched sides just before the nomination date and filed his candidature from Mahayuti. On the other hand, the caste certificate of the Congress’ official candidate, Rashmi Barve, was rejected by the District Caste Certificate Scrutiny Committee of the Social Justice Department, which led to the party to field her husband, Shyam Barve, a novice in politics.

Kishore Gajbhiye, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, garnered 4, 68,738 votes (39.30%) in the 2019 elections as a Congress candidate, competing against Shiv Sena’s Krupal Tumane who secured 5, 94,827 votes (49.90%). Despite not receiving a Congress ticket, Gajbhiye entered the race with the support of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).

Former Nagpur University professor Dr Srinivas Khandewale believes that the decision not to field Gajbhiye may have repercussions for the Congress, potentially benefiting Parwe, who appears to have an advantage over the other candidates.

Gajbhiye, citing his performance in 2019, believed he was the rightful claimant for the Ramtek Lok Sabha seat. This will be Gajbhiye’s third electoral battle since the 2014 Assembly polls, each time representing a different party. In 2014, Gajbhiye contested from North Nagpur Assembly constituency on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket. For 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Gajbhiye joined the Congress and contested from Ramtek against sitting MP Krupal Tumane (Shiv Sena).

Despite being the runner-up in 2019, Gajbhiye feels he deserved another opportunity, given his performance and the significant voter support he commands. The source of his electoral strength, whether from the party itself or due to Gajbhiye’s personal credentials, remains open to interpretation.

Expressing discontent as a Congress rebel, Gajbhiye highlighted that a considerable number of party leaders had informed the Congress high command about Rashmi Barve’s unsuitability due to her invalid caste certificate. Gajbhiye criticised the decision to replace Rashmi Barve with her husband, Shyam Barve, who had not even sought the party’s nomination, labelling it as detrimental to the party and unjust to him. Gajbhiye emphasised that his opponent, Congress nominee Shyam Barve, was not an active party member, while Rashmi Barve, a protégé of senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra minister Sunil Kedar, attributed the cancellation of her caste certificate to political motives.

Senior Congress leader Narendra Jichkar pointed out that the growing sympathy for former Congress candidate Rashmi Barve after her nomination was declared invalid and the discontent among Shiv Sena cadre over fielding an ‘outsider’ are posing major challenges for Shinde-led Shiv Sena in Ramtek. This is the only seat being contested by the Shinde-led Sena in the first phase of general elections on April 19.

The involvement of Congress stalwart Sunil Kedar in supporting Shyam Barve adds an interesting dimension to the contest. Kedar wields significant influence in rural Nagpur politics, making him a key player in the electoral dynamics.

Even Kedar’s detractors, like former Maharashtra minister Anil Deshmukh, accept that Kedar is a force which cannot be ignored in neither the dusty bylanes of Nagpur district villages nor the semi-urban towns (tehsil areas). A five-time MLA from Saoner in Nagpur district (one of the six Assembly segments of Ramtek), Kedar won for the first time in 1995 and since 2004 he has not lost from that Assembly constituency. Despite the BJP wave, he retained control over Nagpur ZP in 2022 which gave him more leverage in development work in the rural pockets.

Even though there was infighting within the Congress in the 2022 ZP polls, Kedar ensured that both the ZP President and Vice-President were from his camp. In December, Kedar, who lost his membership of the Maharashtra legislature due to his conviction in the Nagpur District Central Cooperative Bank scam, is considered a single man army behind the party’s Ramtek campaign

“We are confident that we will be victorious in Ramtek,” Kedar claimed. The poll battle is now also for Kedar’s political legacy, as a victory here could raise his stature much higher. Kedar also admitted that he has been active in politics for nearly four decades, but this is the biggest electoral challenge so far.

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