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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

2019 Lok Sabha elections: 14 seats in Maharashtra to go to polls today

In at least five of these seats – Baramati, Kolhapur, Ahmednagar, Satara and Madha – there is a direct contest between the NCP and the BJP-Sena.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 23, 2019 01:00 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Preparation at Pune.
Preparation at Pune.(HT)

Can the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) defend its backyard of Western Maharashtra from the saffron onslaught? On Tuesday, as 14 constituencies in Maharashtra go to polls, this question will be settled by voters. Of the 14 constituencies, as many as eight Lok Sabha seats are from the state’s sugar bowl.

It’s in these seats that the poll contest is likely to be the fiercest (barring Pune). In at least five of these seats – Baramati, Kolhapur, Ahmednagar, Satara and Madha – there is a direct contest between the NCP and the BJP-Sena.

Four of these seats (all but Ahmednagar) were the ones the NCP retained even during the Modi wave of the last polls in 2014.

Beyond western Maharashtra as well in at least other two seats, the poll contest is likely to be close in Jalgaon and Raigad, where again the NCP candidates pose a challenge to the BJP-Sena. In Jalgaon, former minister Gulabrao Devkar and NCP candidate will take on BJP’s Unmesh Patil. And, in Raigad, NCP’s Sunil Tatkare is in close contest with Shiv Sena candidate and Union minister Anant Geete.

The poll battle in all these seats is a proxy one between Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

As the poll campaigns have intensified, this battle has played out in rallies with BJP’s senior leadership increasingly targeting Pawar and the latter also directly taking on Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, besides Fadnavis.

The context behind this turf war is that for decades the state’s sugar bowl has been seen as a traditional bastion of the Congress-NCP politicians, who ruled through their co-operative network of sugar factories, banks and credit societies. After the 2014 polls, the Congress has been mostly edged out of here by the BJP-Sena, but the NCP has managed to hold its own. Ahead of the 2019 polls, Pawar has taken charge of the party to ensure the party’s bastion is protected. NCP leaders say the party chief also sees the election as his sole chance to get back to power in Delhi.

On the other hand, the CM has handpicked and backed candidates for each of the tough seats like Baramati, Satara, Ahmednagar and strategised for the state polls to ensure the saffron combine wins in 35 + out of the 48 seats.

“Many of these so-called strongholds in western Maharashtra are set to collapse now and new power centres will be established post these elections. That’s the reason that senior leaders like Pawar are extremely restless,” said Fadnavis.

In most of the cases here, the saffron candidates have been borrowed from the pool of the Congress-NCP’s established, but disgruntled leadership. “Many of our younger leaders have been in touch with the BJP since the 2014 polls. They have systematically made inroads here. But ahead of the elections, the ruling party has poached on many leaders by offering to bail them out of their cash-strapped and sick sugar factories. Pawarsaheb is battling from the frontline, as he feels if we don’t win now, survival will be difficult,” said a senior NCP leader from the region, on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

For instance, in Ahmednagar, Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil’s son Sujay is the BJP’s candidate. While in Madha, former Congress leader Ranjitsinh Naik Nimbalkar was given the BJP ticket, even as the party poached on sitting NCP MP Vijaysinh Mohite Patil’s son Ranjitsinh ahead of the elections.

In Satara, former NCP leader Narendra Patil, who joined the BJP last year, is contesting now on a Sena ticket. And, in Baramati, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha’s legislator Rahul Kul’s wife Kanchan is contesting on a BJP ticket against Pawar’s daughter and sitting MP Supriya Sule.

In a majority of these constituencies, while Modi factor continues to have resonance, the poll battle is being fought on local issues and candidates, who largely come from politically influential families.

“In western Maharashtra, the poll battle is dominated by these local satraps, who call the shots in their district. There is no overriding wave like in 2014. The BJP is contesting against the NCP by borrowing from the former’s leaders, but this contest is neither based on ideology nor development,” said a Pune-based political observer, who did not want to be named. In the remaining seats, too, the interesting contests will be in Hatkanangale and Sangli.

In Hatkanangale, the contest is between farmers’ leader Raju Shetti and Sena’s Dhairyasheel Mane, son of former NCP MP Nivedita Mane. And, in Sangli, Congress leader Vishal Patil is contesting on Swabhimani Shetkari Pakash ticket against BJP’s sitting MP Sanjay Kaka Patil, a former NCP leader, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

First Published: Apr 23, 2019 01:00 IST

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