A feud that fuelled Vikhe Patil’s move to BJP
A political feud that has lasted three generations has shaken the foundations of the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in this district that’s the “sugar bowl” of Maharashtra. There are other reasons as well for the combine’s comeuppance. The tipping point nevertheless has been Pawar’s refusal to make peace with Radhakrishna Vikhe (RV) Patil.
Looking back, the local Maratha leader is happy that the NCP headman spurned his outreach for burying the hatchet. He’s a minister now in Devendra Fadnavis’s cabinet; his neurosurgeon son, Sujay Vikhe Patil, is the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Ahmednagar.
Things couldn’t have turned out better for RV Patil, who quit the Congress to join the BJP. He was then the Leader of Opposition in the state assembly. Pawar’s refusal to relent, to let bygones be bygones got the BJP the opening it direly needed to reap electoral benefits from the job and educational quotas it has extended to the Maratha community.
The flurry of defections, the floor-crossings that happened after the Vikhe Patils bolted the Congress stable, have led to the perception, the ambience that the only horse in the race was the one wearing saffron. Some painstaking, on-the-ground social engineering by the sangh parivar (after the BJP-Shiv Sena first won power in 1995) had crafted the formidable Mali-Dhangar-Vanjari (Madhav) caste lineup. It is Madhav-Ma now on the arrival of prominent Maratha faces from the NCP and the Congress.
A Pune-based political analyst, Abhya Supekar said, the Maratha community’s support in the countryside was critical to the right wing’s social coalition. In a chat on the same issue with this writer, former CM Prithviraj Chavan, who is contesting from Karad in Satara, made a distinction between party workers and defector-leaders.
It seems what might be relevant to areas such as Sangli and Satara, where the Pawar name retains resonance, may not apply to Ahmednagar. The political importance of the district that houses the temple town of Shirdi cannot be understated. It accounts for 12 seats in the 288-strong legislature. Pawar’s industrialist-grandson Rohit is a contestant from Karjat-Jamkhed; so are RV Patil (Shirdi) and state Congress president Balasaheb Thorat (Sangamner). The result of the Vikhe Patils exit from the Congress is that out of a share of six seats it had in the combine, the party couldn’t find candidates for three.
Shirdi is a sitter for RV Patil. He’s focusing on other seats as the BJP lynchpin in the district. His campaign managers claim the fight, if any, is restricted to the seats contested by Rohit and Thorat. Interestingly, on Pawar’s grandson’s seat, the BJP has cabinet minister Ram Shinde, a favourite of Fadnavis.
That isn’t all. Like in Satara--- where Pawar’s rival is a descendant of Chattrapati Shivaji--- Shinde claims lineage to warrior queen Ahilyabai Holkar. More importantly, his Dhangar caste-identity is an important constituent of the BJP’s social coalition, to which it’s giving a thick Maratha sheen.
Amid desertions by Pawar’s younger colleagues, the BJP has encouraged not-so-subtle references to his advancing years. That rankles somewhat the Maratha strongman who responds to the saffron psy-war with the classic Mallika Pukhraj number: “abhi to main jawan hun….”
In some ways, he cuts a lonely figure. But from the way he’s campaigning for the combine, Pawar shows an undying spirit not easily found in politicos half his age. Where he appears to have lost out is the spirit of accommodation, of entente in public life.
It is as tragic as it is ironical that the Pawar-Vikhe Patil rivalry has been carried across three generations: from RV Patil’s father Balasaheb Vikhe (BK) Patil to Radhakrishna himself and Sujay on one side and Sharad Pawar, his nephew Ajit and grandson Rohit on the other.
The bone of contention between them was the Ahmednagar parliamentary seat the Vikhe Patils wanted for Sujay. But the NCP chief, in whose party’s share the constituency fell in the alliance with the Congress, would have none of it. The matter was discussed at the highest level in the Congress. So much so that the Vikhe Patils were given the go-ahead to contest on the NCP ticket if that placated Pawar. But he refused to budge when the father-son duo met him with the offer of Sujay contesting on the NCP ticket.
That set the stage for their crossing over to the BJP with Fadnavis--- who knew the value of the political catch in the obtaining caste lineup--- promptly inducting RV Patil as a minister in his government.
In retrospect, RV Patil is candid that Pawar’s obduracy was a blessing in disguise for his family. The tussle had its origin in the 1991 Lok Sabha polls. It came to a head again on the eve of the 2019 elections.
The feud began when RV Patil’s father and former union minister BK Patil moved the high court on losing the Ahmednagar seat (as a Janata Dal candidate) to a Pawar nominee, Yashwantrao Gadakh. The chasm that has persisted for nearly three decades was caused by the court judgment. It set aside Gadakh’s election and disqualified Pawar from contesting polls for six years.
The latter’s crime? He told the electorate that it’ll be socialism in action if they took the goodies distributed by BK Patil but voted for the Congress. Then the chief minister of Maharashtra, Pawar went in appeal to the Supreme Court that lifted the six-year bar on him-- but did not validate Gadakh’s election.
The wheel has since turned the full circle. But Pawar stands where he was some 28 years ago!