Congress rebel’s entry could queer the pitch for BJP & Sena (UBT) in Sangli - Hindustan Times
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Congress rebel’s entry could queer the pitch for BJP & Sena (UBT) in Sangli

May 06, 2024 04:23 PM IST

After the Sena (UBT) fielded Chandrahar Patil, a wrestler, as its candidate, things changed further. Upset by the developments, Vishal Patil, a Congress leader, also entered the fray as an independent, turning the contest unexpectedly triangular

A month is a long time in politics. This was evident in Sangli where the atmosphere did not look conducive for the BJP till the first week of April when the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) jointly announced that the seat would go to the Shiv Sena (UBT) and not the Congress.

Vishal Patil (wearing Nehru cap) claims that he is fighting to keep the Congress alive in the district. (HT PHOTO)
Vishal Patil (wearing Nehru cap) claims that he is fighting to keep the Congress alive in the district. (HT PHOTO)

If the decision turned the atmosphere sombre at Congress Bhavan, there was cheer in the BJP’s office, as its leaders felt that the contest had become easier. A Congress candidate, they believed, would have posed a tougher challenge to their two-time MP Sanjaykaka Patil.

After the Sena (UBT) fielded Chandrahar Patil, a wrestler, as its candidate, things changed further. Upset by the developments, Vishal Patil, a Congress leader and grandson of former chief minister Vasantdada Patil, also entered the fray as an independent, turning the contest unexpectedly triangular.

For local Congress workers, the seat may have gone to the Shiv Sena (UBT) but the villain was its other ally, the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar). “We believe Jayant Patil played politics behind the curtain in order to weed out the Congress from the district. Now we have decided to stand firmly behind Vishal Patil,” said Nitin Pandhare, a Congress worker. Patil, who also hails from Sangli, has refuted the allegations.

Pandhare elaborated how the late Vasantdada Patil and the Congress used to be two sides of a coin in Sangli. “Hence, Vishal Patil’s battle is not against the BJP but a fight against those who want to throw out the Congress from the district,” he said.

The Sangli parliamentary constituency in western Maharashtra was held from 1962 to 2009 by various Congress leaders, including Vasantdada Patil and Shalini Patil. In 62 years, the Congress lost the seat only thrice—in 1957, 2014, and 2019.

The politics in this sugarcane-rich belt has mostly revolved around the cooperative movement largely controlled by Vasantdada Patil and his family. Out of 16 general elections fought in Sangli, 11 elections were won by candidates from Vasantdada’s family. It is this legacy that his grandson is banking on when Sangli goes to the polls on May 7.

However, the question being asked is: will Vasantdada’s blessings be enough to secure a win?

Sanglikars like Mukund Bansode feel that there is some public sympathy for Vishal Patil on account of “how the Sena betrayed him”. “Chandrahar Patil is into the sand business and is not a strong candidate,” he elaborated. However, many people are also concerned that Vishal Patil is not a seasoned politician—he had lost against Sanjaykaka in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as an independent.

Dadasaheb Deshmukh from Tasgaon believes that Sanjaykaka will achieve a hat trick. “Kaka has a personal bond with people,” he said. “You will find him at all the functions of commoners. He even offers financial help to those in trouble. These qualities have kept him a winner.”

Many senior Congress leaders from the district may have joined Chandrahar’s campaign but not wholeheartedly. Vishwajeet Kadam, senior Congress leader, who was insisting that the seat be given to the Congress, joined the campaign only this week. Uday Pawar, a former Congress leader in the municipal corporation, spoke about the unrest among Congress workers. “The Sena (UBT) doesn’t have a single MLA in the district,” he said. “Why has it made a claim on the Sangli seat? We have decided to fight our own battle by backing Vishal Patil.”

Sena (UBT) Sangli district head Sanjay Vibhute blamed the alliance partners for not following ‘Aghadi dharma’. “There is no support from the Congress and NCP at the ground level,” he said. “Congress workers are openly campaigning for Vishal Patil even after repeated instructions from senior leaders.”

Vibhute agreed that the Shiv Sena (UBT) did not have a good enough party organisation in Sangli district. “Yes, it is true that our organisation is weak, but we can create challenges for opponents with the help of our alliance partners,” he said.

The Sangli Lok Sabha constituency comprises assembly segments like Miraj (BJP), Sangli (BJP), Palus-Kadegaon (Congress), Khanapur (vacant after the death of the Shiv Sena MLA), Tasgaon-Kavathe Mahankal (NCP SP) and Jat (Congress). The constituency has 18,61,276 voters, including 9,11,548 females, 9,49,618 male voters and 110 transgender voters. Marathas, Other Backward Classes, scheduled castes and Muslims are prominent communities in the constituency.

There is severe drought in the three assembly constituencies of Jat, Khanapur and Kavathe Mahankal, but the Congress candidate not getting a ticket seems to have trumped even the drought issue among voters.

Sanjaykaka Patil said he had carried out many development projects in the constituency in the past 10 years and hoped to retain the seat for the ruling party. “Our efforts have resulted in the successful expansion of the railway track from two lines to four,” he said. “With the electrification of the railway, one can now travel from Sangli to Pune and Mumbai in just a few hours.”

Even though Sangli is known for its large-scale cultivation of sugarcane, grapes and pomegranates, certain talukas like Jat, Khanapur and Atpadi face water scarcity due to their placement in rain-shadow areas. Sanjaykaka claimed that to address this issue, he had successfully secured substantial funding from the Centre for various irrigation schemes in these talukas.

Despite being recognised as an educational hub with excellent health infrastructure, Sanglikars migrate to metro cities like Mumbai and Pune. Patil claimed he was committed to making jobs available in the constituency. “We have initiated talks with industries,” he said, adding that a Kolhapur-Sangli Development Corridor had been proposed. Patil added that he was working on a war footing for an airport as well and had urged the state government to allocate land for this under the Udaan scheme.

Vishal Patil claimed that he was fighting to keep the Congress alive in the district. “There is no three-cornered contest,” he said. “The election will be a direct battle between the BJP candidate and me.”

UBT candidate Chandrahar Patil said, “I am a poor farmer’s son, I don’t know why my candidature was opposed by the Congress. They might not want to send a farmer’s son to the Lok Sabha.” According to him, his priorities are to solve water issues in drought-prone areas, to set up MIDCs in all talukas and to make jobs available.

Many BJP leaders like Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath and Nitin Gadkari have addressed rallies in Sangli. Political observers feel that there is an anti-incumbency sentiment against Sanjaykaka Patil but the Maha Vikas Aghadi failed to grab it by putting up a unanimously accepted candidate.

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