Lok Sabha polls 2019: Dynasts grab poll position in tricky races
Sujay Vikhe Patil and Parth Pawar belong to two of state’s most influential political families; but the duo won’t have it easy in Ahmednagar and MavalUpdated: Apr 21, 2019 00:37 IST
There is little in common between 36-year-old neurosurgeon Sujay Vikhe Patil and 29-year-old commerce graduate Parth Pawar, the two generation next candidates of prominent political families, who are looking to launch their career in the general polls from Maharashtra.
That is other than their family backgrounds and political heft that comes from being the fourth generation of the Pawar and the Vikhe Patil families to enter the poll arena.
Parth Pawar is the son of former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and grand-nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Sujay Vikhe Patil is the son of Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and grandson of Congress MP and cooperative doyen late Balasaheb Vikhe Patil.
Sujay’s insistence to contest the Lok Sabha polls led to NCP chief Pawar saying he can fulfill tantrums of his grandchildren, but why should he do it for others.
The NCP ultimately refused to concede the Ahmednagar seat that Sujay was demanding. This led to Sujay shifting allegiances and contesting on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket. In the case of Parth Pawar, it has led to his grandfather withdrawing his own candidature from the polls.
That makes the election battle in Maval and Ahmednagar constituencies of Western Maharashtra the most watched for in the state.
No walkover for the dynasts
But, despite their political muscle, both Pawar and Vikhe Patil do not have a one-sided contest on their hands this summer.
In Maval’s largely urban constituency spread between Raigad and Pune districts, Pawar started his campaign rounds much before his grandfather conceded giving him the candidature.
Over the last month, the 29-year-old has travelled in local trains, a bullock cart and even ridden a horse as a part of his campaign. He has met and engaged with rickshaw drivers, industrial workers, vegetable vendors, students and citizens across his constituency in small groups and then large public meetings. While Pawar has youth and his family name and machinery on his side, he faces a big drawback over credibility. Prior to his name doing the rounds as a possible candidate, he has not really proven himself in any field. He also faced an early setback during the campaign thanks to a very awkward first public address.
Oratory however, may be the least of his worries. Maval Lok Sabha constituency is a saffron stronghold now, with BJP-Sena having five out of the six legislators here. Sujay Vikhe Patil is better placed than Pawar, given his educational qualification and the social work done through his family-run organisation in the constituency.
Confident and popular among his workers, Vikhe Patil, dressed in casual white shirt and trousers, doesn’t cut the image of a spoilt political dynast. He is fluent in both English and Marathi and a good orator, who can draw in crowds. His biggest advantage is the election machinery and power that comes with the Vikhe Patil family, which runs a host of colleges, hospital, factories in its home town of Loni-Pravaranagar that falls in Ahmednagar district.
Sujay, however, faces challenges from the NCP, with party chief Sharad Pawar set to make this poll battle a difficult one. Out of the six assembly constituencies in Ahmednagar, two are with NCP, while four are with BJP and the Sena. As a new entrant in the party, who has displaced a sitting MP Dilip Gandhi, he also faces internal challenges within the BJP. Besides Gandhi’s supporters, at least one BJP MLA from Rahuri, Shivaji Kardile, is unlikely to go all out in Vikhe Patil’s support. He is the father-in-law of Vikhe Patil’s contender and NCP candidate from here, Sangram Jagtap.
Another BJP MLA, Monika Rajale from Shevgaon, is also not seen as a supporter of the Vikhe Patil family. “I think in politics you have to have trust the people you work with. It doesn’t matter who is related to whom. When I joined BJP, I placed my trust in Prime Minister Modi and the chief minister’s dynamic leadership and development agenda,’’ said Vikhe Patil.
The BJP has indeed cracked the whip to ensure all MLAs work together. The MLAs have made a show of a united front by participating in rallies together. It remains to be seen whether this unity is ensured at the polling booths on the voting day.
Both the Gen Next dynasts face stiff competition in the poll arena. While Pawar is pitted against sitting Sena MP, Shrirang Barne, 55, a local councillor-turned-parliamentarian, Vikhe Patil faces 33-year-old NCP MLA Sangram Jagtap. Barne is among the better performing MPs in the state, who is also seen to be accessible among citizens. Jagtap, who also comes from an influential political family (his father Arun Jagtap is an NCP MLC and father-in-law is a BJP legislator) and has stronghold in his area. The Pawar family has the support of ally, Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) that has a base in Raigad area of the constituency. But they are also counting on BJP legislators not putting their weight behind Sena’s candidate. Both BJP MLA Laxman Jagtap (Pimpri Chinchwad) and Prashant Thakur (Panvel) were in NCP and Congress respectively and share good relations with the Pawars.
Barne refuted a breach in BJP-Sena, pointing out that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had intervened to speak to his party legislators to ensure full support to his campaign. It is learnt that Fadnavis had cracked the whip and asked BJP legislators to ensure Barne did not lose margin from their constituencies. “I am facing this contest on the strength of my work in the last five years. I have raised issues, got pending infrastructure projects off the ground and engaged with my people five years. What has he done? Let them decide,’” said Barne.
Pawar agreed it will be tough. “No election is easy. It is a tough seat... NCP hasn’t won here yet. But with the anti-incumbency against the current MP [Barne]; the Modi government’s failure to bring employment, business or tackle agrarian crisis; and efforts put in by NCP activists and workers, I believe I shall sail through easily,” he said.
What could work in Barne’s favour and against Pawar is the Modi factor that will have resonance in this urban constituency, which includes Karjat, parts of Panvel, Uran and Pimpri-Chinchwad city. The largely rural Ahmednagar is a political constituency, where the Jagtap-Kardile clan is among the influential families. This is also where the Maratha protests took root after the murder and rape of a young Maratha girl in Kopardi.
Besides the political challenge, Vikhe Patil also faces an uphill task in the drought-hit areas of the constituency, where the farmers may not support the BJP.
While Vikhe Patil has made the criminal cases against Sangram one of the main planks of his campaign, the latter seems undeterred by this. Sangram along with his father and father-in-law is implicated in the murder of two Shiv Sena workers from Ahmednagar, last year. “Vikhe Patil is from outside. Because he wanted to become a MP, he is claiming he has worked here for three years. But, that’s not true. He is trying to leverage his family’s institutions like their colleges and hospitals but everyone here knows that they charge money for even parking, nothing is free there,’’ said Jagtap. He insisted that the criminal complaints against him were out of “political conspiracy” and he had not been charge-sheeted in the case. Jagtap’s campaign is focussed on rural areas and the agrarian crisis, which he claimed had been aggravated by the ruling BJP government’s apathy.
“Modi is a good PM but the state government and administration has failed farmers. The loan waiver also has not reached everyone, there have been too many conditions to avail it. This year’s drought has broken our back. In rural areas, BJP will not get our vote; in city areas it may be different,’’ said Arun Kothewal, a farmer with 50 acres of land in Parner taluka of Ahmednagar that he has split among three of his sons.
For now, there are no clear victors in either Ahmednagar or Maval.