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Maharashtra bypolls: Cong-NCP aim to replicate SP-BSP’s feat in UP

Traditional rivals SP and BSP had come together to defeat BJP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls in UP

mumbai Updated: Apr 28, 2018 00:46 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times
State energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule said BJP enjoys strong support from voters as they have done a lot of development work in Bhandara-Gondia in the past three-and-a-half years. (HT FILE)

Bypolls scheduled in May for the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra are going to be a battle for prestige for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the Opposition Congress-NCP are planning to replicate what happened in last month’s Uttar Pradesh bypolls — traditional rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coming together to defeat BJP.

In March, the SP won the Lok Sabha seats vacated by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya in Gorakhpur and Phulpur respectively with the support of Mayawati’s BSP. The BJP’s state and the central leadership will be keen to avoid a repeat of what happened in UP. The bypolls for Bhandara-Gondia and Palghar Lok Sabha seats will be held on May 28 and counting will be on May 31.

The Bhandara-Gondia seat has become more of a challenge for the state leadership after rebel BJP MP Nana Patole criticised party policies and quit the party. He later joined the Congress. Patole had openly criticised the BJP and termed the government as ‘anti-farmer’. Losing Bhandara-Gondia will not only reduce BJP’s tally of its MPs from the state but also give credence to Patole’s criticism against the party.

Not willing to take any chances, BJP is planning to field two heavyweight leaders in both the constituencies. It is considering fielding state energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule from Bhandara-Gondia while tribal development minister Vishnu Savra could be its candidate in Palghar. The party is also tapping other names including sitting MLA Charan Waghmare, ex-parliamentarian Shishupal Patale and former MLA Kushal Bopche for Bhandara-Gondia.

The seat was vacated in December after Patole resigned as BJP MP, while the bypolls in Palghar were necessitated due to the death of sitting MP Chintaman Wanga in March.

The bypolls assume significance because in addition to the Congress and NCP deciding to contest the elections together, BJP’s ally Shiv Sena has not committed any support to the party yet. The Sena, though, won’t field candidates in both the constituencies.

Though Patole joined Congress, the party will concede the seat to NCP as the latter contested from Bhandara-Gondia during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. NCP may field Varsha Patel, wife of party MP Praful Patel, from Bhandara-Gondia.

A section of Congress leaders is of the opinion that Congress must contest from Bhandara-Gondia and let NCP contest from Palghar. They believe Patole should be allowed to contest from Bhandara-Gondia to give BJP a run for its money there. However, NCP is not in favour of swapping the constituencies. Both parties, however, feel that if they fight burying differences and by garnering the support of the Dalit vote bank including that of BSP, victory against BJP is not difficult.

However, no party has announced its candidates yet. Meetings to deliberate on the candidates for the bypolls and six legislative council polls will be held in May.

“I have my vote bank of three lakh in tact in the constituency. If the party decides to concede the seat to the NCP, it would be a cake walk for the alliance as Praful Patel has his own base here. It is going to be a humiliating defeat for the BJP in Vidarbha and that too a few kilometres away from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters,” Patole said.

Bawankule declined to comment on his candidature, but said his party enjoys a strong support from voters as they have done a lot of development work in Bhandara-Gondia in the past three-and-a-half years.

First Published: Apr 28, 2018 00:46 IST