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In Maharashtra’s Bhandara-Gondia bypoll, BJP’s prestige battle vs Opposition’s call for change

In Bhandara-Gondia constituency of Maharashtra, the BJP is trying to retain its Lok Sabha seat while the NCP is trying to wrest control over its old bastion.

india Updated: May 28, 2018 15:08 IST
Faisal Malik
Faisal Malik
Mumbai, Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Devendra Fadnavis,Maharashtra bypoll
BJP workers attend a rally. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the BJP is confident of winning in the Maharashtra bypolls. (Bhushan Koyande/HT File Photo)

Voters of the Bhandara-Gondiya Lok Sabha constituency are all set to seal their mandate today in a by-election necessitated by the resignation of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament (MP) Nana Patole.

The seat has become a prestige issue for the BJP, the governing party in the state as well as at the Centre, as Patole left the party blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “doing nothing for the farmers’ community in the last four years”. Simultaneously, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by former Union minister Praful Patel, is trying to wrest control of its old bastion by collaborating with the Congress.

Patole is currently the state vice-president of the Congress.

Bhandara and Gondiya are respectively 85 km and 145 km east of Nagpur. The bypoll is essentially a two-way fight between BJP’s former MLA Hemant Patle and NCP’s Madhukar Kukde, a two-term BJP MLA from Bhandara district. Patle belongs to the influential Powar community, which accounts for close to two lakh voters. Kukde’s roots are in the Kunbi community, which, at 3.5 lakh voters, may dominate the constituency’s voting pattern. Patole, the outgoing MP, is also a Kunbi.

Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) has fielded LK Madavi as its candidate, and will heavily rely on the two lakh Dalit voters in the area.

The Bhandara-Gondiya constituency has around 18 lakh voters.

“We (Congress-NCP) have worked really hard and are confident we will defeat BJP this time,” Patole said. “The people are upset with the state and Central governments as they have failed on almost all fronts, be it the economy or maintaining peace among communities. They have also ignored farmers’ issues.”

BJP workers, meanwhile, say they are also backed by the Teli community that has more than one lakh voters.

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who hails from Nagpur, said, “We have an edge in the elections and are confident we will win. The people will support the BJP because of the work done by state and Central governments since 2014.”

However, BJP insiders feel that the election would be tougher than what the chief minister predicts. A senior BJP minister, on the condition of anonymity, said, “NCP has fielded Kukde, a former BJP leader, and he belongs to the Kunbi community. Second, there is no candidate from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is formidable force and helps in dividing Congress-NCP votes. In almost every election, the BSP candidate gets around one lakh votes.”

The BJP, therefore, deployed a team of 25 MLAs for election management. Apart from them, senior BJP personalities such as Union minister Nitin Gadkari, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, state energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule, and social justice minister Rajkumar Badole worked behind the scenes for the crucial bypoll.

Senior Congress leaders, though, were not around this time, as they had left the election management to their alliance partner, the NCP. “No senior Congress leader was invited to make the campaign more aggressive,” a senior party functionary said. “This was our best chance to overthrow BJP.”

Meanwhile, the NCP has alleged that the BJP is “using all means” to win the bypoll. State NCP president Jayant Patil said, “The state government has directed the district administration to disburse relief compensation to farmers affected with crop loss last year in the next 15 days. For this, they have also asked all the banks to work even on holidays. These directives are a clear violation of the election code of conduct. We have filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India (ECI) demanding action.”

First Published: May 28, 2018 10:58 IST