In Kolhapur, one of the wealthiest and as a result politically unpredictable districts of Maharashtra, the 2019 State Assembly polls have blurred party differences. With each candidate focusing more on individual achievements than those of the party, these polls may spring surprises in the district.
Just two months ago, Kolhapur city and parts of the district suffered one of the worst floods in more than a decade causing damage approximately worth thousands of crores. Surprisingly, barring the worst-hit rural areas, the floods don’t feature as a campaign issue either for the opposition or the ruling coalition.
“While it did rain massively, one cannot ignore man-made blunders that led to floods in the city,” observed environmentalist Uday Gaikwad, who has been working in the field for more than a decade now. “But there is no scientific analysis of the reasons for flooding, no lessons have been learnt and no data regarding floods is being brought into the public domain,” he added.
Mr. Gaikwad asserted that the district administration was busy making presentations seeking World Bank funding to divert excess water to drought-prone Marathwada in case of floods. “This is blindfolding people here by making them believe that the government is doing something and also giving an assurance to people in Marathwada that they will get water. But the plan is not only impractical but raises questions about the amount of money involved,” he said.
Balkrishna Shelar, whose letter to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) last year had resulted in the NGT taking suo-moto cognisance of Kolhapur’s growing real estate encroachment into the flood line along the Panchganga river, contended that political parties prefer not to speak on issues concerned with real estate. “The NGT has given a month’s time to the irrigation department to demarcate flood line. I hope the process is completed duly,” said Dr. Shelar.
Just as the issue of floods is missing from the poll campaign in Kolhapur, so are party loyalties.
“More than parties, the individual groups, pressure groups, relations, politics in cooperative institutions matter the most in Kolhapur.” remarked Asif Kurane, a local journalist.
The district has about 23 sugar mills, and according to Maharashtra’s Agriculture Department, Kolhapur alone has about 1,49,280 hectares under sugar cane, second only to Solapur district.
Also as per the State government’s Dairy Development department the district has 3,937 primary dairy cooperatives, highest in the State, with one of the biggest being the Gokul dairy, which in 2018-19 had average milk procurement of 11.9 lakh litres per day. The politics of the district, irrespective of parties, revolves around Gokul.
Congress district president Satej Patil and former Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP-turned-BJP leader Dhananjay Mahadik head rival groups. The two groups, however, enjoy clandestine support from members of the rival alliance.
In 2014, the Shiv Sena emerged as a major player as a result of infighting in other parties, winning six seats. Both the Lok Sabha seats in the district are with the Sena too. Of the 10 Assembly seats in the district, the Congress could not win a single seat in 2014, while the NCP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bagged two each.
Mr. Patil’s nephew Ruturaj will make his electoral debut in Kolhapur South by taking on the BJP’s sitting MLA Amal Mahadik, a cousin brother of Dhananjay. “The Mahadiks are in every party for the sake of power. What is their contribution to Kolhapur’s development?” asked Mr. Patil, who had openly supported Sena MP Sanjay Mandlik in the Lok Sabha polls against Mr. Mahadik who was then with the NCP. As a return gift, Mr. Mandlik has extended support to the Congress in the Assembly elections against his party’s ally, the BJP.
In Kolhapur North, Sena MLA Rajesh Kshirsagar is facing tough competition from the Congress in a seat where the BJP organisation has decided to not help him. Congress candidate Chandrakant Jadhav’s wife and brother are BJP corporators and Mr. Kshirsagar is said to have displeased the BJP State president Chandrakant Patil.
In Kagal, NCP MLA Hasan Mushreef may breathe a sigh of relief due to the rebellion of Samarji Ghatge who was assured a BJP ticket, before the constituency was allotted to the Sena.
In the 2019 general elections, voters in the Kolhapur Lok Sabha constituency in western Maharashtra coined a slogan, amcha tharlay (we have decided), as a warning to the then MP, who went on to lose. Four months later, in the run-up to Assembly polls, candidates across the State are chanting the slogan and hoping to spring a surprise.