Targetting the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) turncoats seems to be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s main strategy in the high-stakes battle for Madha Lok Sabha seat, one of the two in Solapur district. The other seat is Solapur, polling for which was held in the second phase on Thursday. Madha will vote on April 23.
Madha made news after NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, widely expected to contest, declared he was not doing so. The party has fielded Sanjay Shinde, an influential local leader, while the BJP-Sena alliance has gone with ex-Congressman Ranjitsinh Naik-Nimbalkar.
The NCP has held this seat ever since it was carved out in 2008 following delimitation. Mr. Pawar won in 2009 with a margin of over three lakh votes while senior leader Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil held the seat in the face of the Modi juggernaut in 2014.
However, since then things have not gone well for all the parties. “Sharad Pawar is reported to have commissioned more than one survey before he decided to pull out. Several local leaders are not happy with Mr. Pawar’s style of politics and harbour grudges towards him and the NCP. The BJP is banking on such leaders,” says a local observer.
The outcome of the Madha contest hinges on an intricate matrix of clan and individual loyalties that goes beyond party affiliations.
At the heart of this tussle is the seething rivalry between the Pawar and the Mohite-Patil clans, and the alliances forged by local leaders with, or against, the Pawars and the NCP.
The BJP is banking on the support of eight influential leaders formerly with the Congress and NCP to break Mr. Pawar’s stranglehold.
Besides being assured of covert support of the sitting NCP MP from Madha, Mr. Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, other leaders backing the BJP include Shahajibapu Patil, former Congress legislator from Sangola, former Congressman Kalyan Kale and Jaykumar Gore, the Congress MLA from Man.
Mr. Kale has a formidable base in the Pandharpur area of Solapur. Mr. Gore, who has close ties with Mr. Naik-Nimbalkar and his family, publicly declared that he would not support the NCP candidate (Mr. Shinde).
“Mr. Naik-Nimbalkar was the only person who stood by me in my hour of need. I am indebted to his father, former MLA Hindurao Naik-Nimbalkar, who initiated schemes to bring water to this parched land… Neither me, nor my supporters will vote for the clock [NCP symbol],” says Mr. Gore, exhorting his followers to back Mr. Naik-Nimbalkar at a recent event in Man in which the BJP leader was present.
Last month, Ranjitsinh, son of Mr. Mohite-Patil, joined the BJP after being allegedly refused a ticket by the NCP top brass.
The Mohite-Patils, long considered a bulwark of the NCP in Solapur, hold a grudge against Mr. Pawar and his nephew Ajit, also a senior party leader, for being sidelined over the years.
Mr. Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, a prominent sugar baron, has represented Malshiras in the Assembly and has also served as deputy chief minister.
Political observers say the root cause of the resentment is Mr. Pawar’s refusal to bail out the former’s sugar factory which is in dire straits.
The BJP is hoping to exploit the schisms within the NCP and has secured Mr. Mohite-Patil’s support for Mr. Naik-Nimbalkar despite the former still being with the NCP.
“Of the six Assembly segments that constitute Madha, the BJP, by exploiting disaffections of former or current Congress-NCP leaders, has built a formidable support base in five of them. For several years, Mr. Pawar has systematically weakened the Mohite-Patils, who are now rallying forces against NCP,” says a local ppolitical observer.
Senior BJP leader Chandrakant Patil is confident that the party will get more than four lakh votes from the support bases of these disaffected leaders alone.
“We [the BJP-Sena] also have the support of the Dhangar sections in Madha with local leader Uttam Jankar agreeing to support us. We are sure we will triumph this time,” Mr. Patil says.