2019 Lok Sabha polls: Ashok Chavan’s challenge is in Marathwada
The Lok Sabha election results in 2014 were the Congress’s worst in Maharashtra. The party managed to win just two seats — Nanded and Hingoli — both from Central Maharashtra or Marathwada.
The one common factor for both seats: Ashok Chavan.
The former chief minister who was still recovering from a setback after his unceremonious exit as CM owing to the Adarsh housing society controversy, not only won in his Nanded constituency, but also helped colleague Rajiv Satav win from neighbouring Hingoli (some part of Hingoli is under Chavan’s influence). His contribution gave Congress a little respite in the state it was born. Chavan was soon rewarded with the post of state Congress chief and with the expectation that he would revive the fortunes of the party in a state, once considered a Congress bastion.
This elections are now an acid test of Chavan’s skills. With rebellions, infighting and ego tussles among senior leaders in the party, the Congress is not exactly doing well in the state. There are, however, expectations that the party would improve its tally in the region that gave it two seats even at the height of the Modi wave. The ground reality, however, is not very encouraging for the party.
Nanded battle: Chavan has a clear edge
Chavan was not keen on contesting Lok Sabha elections from Nanded as he wanted to contest the state Assembly elections to be held later this year. He had requested that the party should give the ticket to his legislator wife Ameeta. However, the party leadership asked him to contest the election. Reluctantly, Chavan has joined the fray and has already started campaigning.
The Chavan family has a stronghold in Nanded, thanks to the infrastructure and development projects implemented by late Shankarrao Chavan and Ashok, his son during their tenure as chief ministers of Maharashtra (This is the only case of a father and son becoming chief minister of Maharashtra).
“During senior Chavan’s tenure, Vishnupuri dam was constructed ensuring there is no dearth of water even after scarce rainfall. Lots of infrastructure development was undertaken during Ashok Chavan’s tenures as well. We also have a state-of-the-art medical college, a special economic zone and airport with night-landing facility. A total of 84 trains pass through the city daily. Chavans have played a key role in this development,” said a Nanded-based Congress leader who is close to Chavan.
Congress has three sitting MLAs in the district, including Ameeta Chavan. The party expects the vote margin to increase this time as the BJP has fielded Pratap Chikhlikar, a Sena MLA from the adjoining Latur district, who is now being described as an ‘imported candidate’ by Chavan supporters.
While BJP managed to win civic bodies in the region, the Congress retained its hold over Nanded Municipal Corporation even though CM Devendra Fadnavis was involved. Significantly, the person who was handling the civic election for BJP then was Chikhlikar, who is now Chavan’s opponent.
Party not sure about performance in Marathawada
Chavan’s challenge is to retain two seats and also winning more from Marathwada region. Bickering within the party, division of votes by the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), a front floated by Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi, and polarisation owing to communal riots has made the task difficult.
Of the eight constituencies in Marathwada, five (Nanded, Hingoli, Aurangabad, Latur and Jalna) are with Congress and the rest are being fought by the NCP. Districts like Aurangabad, Parbhani still witness communal tensions on various occasions leading to the polarisation of votes. Two communal riots in Aurangabad last year, protest rallies by Maratha, Dhangar, Lingayat communities for reservation-related issues in the region of late, will have an impact in the Lok Sabha election.
“As of now, his Nanded seat is believed to be in Congress’s favour as Chavan family has maintained its citadel even when the ‘saffron aggression’ was taking over in local bodies and other electoral politics. But the same is the not case with the adjoining Hingoli constituency, perceived to be won because of Chavan’s election management last time. However the differences between Chavan and Satav, developed later the elections, has jeopardised prospects of Hingoli,” said senior Congress leader from Marathwada. Satav opted out of the fray.
According to Congress insiders, the party’s Hingoli candidate, Subhash Wankhede, was Satav’s choice against the will of Chavan. The local Congress unit is unhappy for imposing a candidate who had contested the 2014 election against Satav on a Shiv Sena ticket. The division within the Congress ranks make the fate of its candidate uncertain.
In Aurgangabad, Chavan could not stop party MLA Abdul Sattar’s rebellion against party’s official candidate Subhash Zambad. On Wednesday, Sattar filed his nomination as an independent candidate. This will damage the prospect of the party candidate. The VBA has fielded sitting MLA Imtiyaaz Jalil as its candidate. Both Sattar and Jalil are expected to eat into Congress’s votes. It makes the position of Sena candidate, sitting MP Chandrakant Khairem strong. “Our development works in infrastructure, sanitation and water supply will win us votes. It is true that Jalil and Sattar will get Muslim votes, making my victory easier,” said Sena candidate and sitting MP Chandrakant Khaire, who is banking majorly on Hindu votes.
According to the Congress leaders in Jalna and Latur constituencies are more favourable to the BJP. “BJP’s state president Raosaheb Danve is contesting from Jalna and he is a strong contender. In Latur, though both the candidates are new, BJP has power in local body and have more sitting MLAs making it favourable to the ruling party,”said a Congress leader.
Chavan says that it was too early to predict anything about the Marathwada seats. “The picture will be clear in next few days but our endeavour will be to win maximum seats from Marathwada. It is true that there was rebellion in Aurangabad, but we are trying to convince Sattar to support party candidate. I do not have any differences with Rajiv Satav and we will win the Hingoli seat too,”he said. He is also confident that the VBA would not be able to damage the prospects of the Congress-NCP candidates.
“Though Prakash Ambedkar did not join us, we have other smaller parties helping us to avoid division of votes,” he insisted.