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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

For BJP, turncoats key to breaching Pawar’s citadel

india Updated: Oct 18, 2019 00:04 IST

Satara: The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Member of Parliament Udayanraje Bhosale stunned his party in September by crossing over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within a few months of getting elected to the Lok Sabha in May this year.

His cousin Shivendraraje Bhosale, a legislator of the Sharad Pawar led outfit, too, followed suit. The Bhosale brothers are testing electoral waters from Satara in the by-election to the parliamentary seat and the assembly election on BJP tickets, giving Narendra Modi’s party a head start it desperately needed on Sharad Pawar’s home turf.

“They have ruled Satara for decades. People want a change,” NCP’s candidate Dipak Pawar said. Dipak Pawar was BJP’s candidate in the 2014 assembly election against Shivendraraje Bhosale. He lost to him, but joined ranks with the NCP supremo after Bhosale walked away with BJP’s poll ticket.

“Marathas have their faith in Pawar and the BJP will be disappointed again,” Dipak Pawar said.

A few hundred metres away from his office, which doubled as BJP’s campaign office until recently, half a dozen people work quietly in Udayanraje’s office in the premises of a private hotel, scanning voter lists and working the phone. The maharaj, as Udayanraje is called, is campaigning in Wai, trying to help the BJP’s western Maharashtra push.

The Bhosale brothers have much more value to the BJP than being former NCP leaders. They are also direct descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of Maratha empire and a revered figure in this region, and thus, crucial to the saffron party’s expansion plan in the region dominated by the Marathas.

Western Maharashtra, which accounts for 70 out of the 288 assembly seats, is crucial because it is here that the Opposition -- the NCP and Congress -- stands a chance to resist the rise of alliance partners, BJP and Shiv Sena.

The BJP could win just 25 of the 70 seats last time.Sharad Pawar draws his strength from his hold over Maratha votes and several cooperatives in sugar and banking among other sectors.

Most of his MLAs and MPs are linked to these sugar cooperatives, and owe allegiance to Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar, a former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra.

The BJP infiltrated these cooperatives, slowly and steadily, with a plan. It won eight crucial seats in the directors’ board of the most prominent sugar cooperative of Kolhapur in 2016.

Many others cooperative leaders too joined the BJP. Ranjitsinh Mohite Patil, a former NCP MLA, joined the BJP in March this year. He is the son of NCP veteran Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, a confidant of Pawar. Maharashtra’s former leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and son, Sujay, also joined the BJP.

At least three NCP MLAs besides Shivendra Bhosale, including including Sandeep Naik, Rana Jagatsinh Patil and Vaibhav Pichad joined the BJP recently. “At least 18 MLA belonging to Congress and the NCP have crossed over to the BJP and Shiv Sena in last five years,” former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress said.

A Congress candidate from Karad South assembly seat, Chavan said there is a design behind the BJP push in western Maharashtra and “money is flowing like water” in this election. “They are using every tactic to make win over Marathas. They will be disappointed.”

A BJP leader who is part of the strategy team in Maharashtra admitted that there was well-oiled machinery working on ground to help the BJP breach the fortress of Pawar, who is embroiled in Rs 25000 crore money laundering case.

Last month, the Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday filed a money laundering case against Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar in connection with the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank sanction of allegedly illegal loans.

“Many NCP leaders do not get along with Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar who is calling the shots in that party. Any political party is well within it rights to exploit such a situation,” this BJP leader said, requesting he not be identified. “Cooperatives have worked as building block for the NCP. We are trying to dismantle it.”

“The Maratha strongman is locked in an unusual battle to save his turf from onetime confidants. The battle of ballots in western Maharashtra could well be Sharad Pawar’s third battle of Panipat which spelt doom for the Maratha confederacy,” said Sidharth Mishra, president, Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice.