Turncoat heavyweights fail to help BJP in western Maharashtra
The NCP increased its tally in western Maharashtra — a region that votes for 70 legislators — from 19 in the 2014 state elections to 26 in 2019.Updated: Oct 27, 2019, 03:30 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) strategy to poach political heavyweights and co-operative doyens in western Maharashtra to expand its base in the traditional turf of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress failed to deliver dividends in the state Assembly polls.
The NCP increased its tally in western Maharashtra — a region that votes for 70 legislators — from 19 in the 2014 state elections to 26 in 2019. The Congress also managed to retain its base and increase its tally marginally to 12 seats, from 10 in 2014. Between them, the allies picked more than half the region’s legislators. While four BJP legislators lost from here, eight Sena legislators were defeated, as compared to 2014.
Several big leaders whom the BJP poached from the Opposition in this region were expected to give the party an edge as they were established leaders with resources at their disposal. Two of the state’s biggest co-operative doyens — former Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and former NCP leader Vijaysinh Mohite Patil — defected to the BJP earlier this year. While Vikhe Patil joined the party shortly after the Lok Sabha polls, Mohite Patil defected before it. Both these leaders oversee co-operative empires spread across sugar factories, banks, milk dairies, schools, professional colleges in their home turfs.
Besides picking just their constituencies, the BJP had hoped to make inroads into districts like Solapur and Ahmednagar, seen as the Opposition’s bastions. While Mohite Patil’s nominee legislator from the BJP managed to wrest Malshiras constituency from the NCP, Vikhe Patil won from his home constituency of Shirdi. However, neither of these big leaders could dent the Opposition’s prospects beyond one seat each.
Another senior Congress leader and former minister Harshvardhan Patil joined the BJP ahead of the polls, but failed to win from his home turf Indapur against the NCP candidate and legislator Dattatray Bharne. “Many of these established leaders come with their own baggage and anti-incumbency. People did not view the last-minute defections favourably, especially after seeing 79-year-old Pawar campaign aggressively. Pawar had hit the ground right after the loss in LS polls. The party’s campaign strategy to pitch Pawar as a Maratha leader locked in a tussle against the Delhi leadership of Modi-Shah helped consolidate the Maratha youth in their favour,’’ said Pune-based political analyst, Nitin Birmal.
A senior NCP leader, however, pointed out that the party’s candidate selection was sharp and helped it combat more resourceful and established leaders. “Pawarsaheb picked out young faces with clean slates or chose rivals of these established leaders in the ruling camp as candidates. The candidate selection helped us tide over the vacuum created by the loss of established leaders. In Ahmednagar, the NCP managed to win traditional saffron seats like Karjat-Jamkhed, Rahuri and Parner by targeting anti-incumbency against the ruling legislator and focussing on regional issues,’’ the leader added.
For instance, in Akole, Pawar’s former aide and tribal development minister Madhukar Pichad joined the BJP along with his MLA son Vaibhav on the eve of the Assembly polls. But Vaibhav lost the constituency that had been won by him and his father for over two decades against NCP’s Kiran Lahamate in this election. Lahamate, a BJP worker for many years, worked against the Pichad camp and shifted to the NCP, upset over the party’s decision to field Vaibhav.
Pawar had tried a similar strategy in the 1999 polls after he set up his own party, NCP, just six months ahead of the elections.
In Maval constituency in Pune district too, the NCP snatched a seat from the BJP using their own strategy, by poaching a disgruntled party worker Sunil Shelke, and fielding him against the sitting legislator Bala Bhegade. Maval was with the BJP from 1995.
“Our candidate selection went awry as we couldn’t stop the rebels after we took on defectors. That’s one of the reasons for our reduced margins. We also relied on these political heavyweights to do the job for us, not realizing there was discontent against them too. But, in Western Maharashtra, we lost the narrative also after the Enforcement Directorate’s case [against Pawar and various other NCP leaders in the MSC Bank scam],’’ said a senior BJP minister, who did not want to be named.