In all his election speeches in Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has singled out Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar for trenchant criticism.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis have led a ferocious campaign in Baramati, Pawar’s stronghold where his daughter Supriya Sule is in a tight fight.
Pawar’s nephew Ajit hasn’t been able to step out of the Maval constituency where his son Parth is up against Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne to campaign for other NCP nominees.
As 14 Maharashtra seats go to polls on Tuesday, the NCP, founded two decades ago by Pawar, is fighting a battle for survival against a rampaging BJP-Shiv Sena-Republican Party of India alliance.
In 2014, the NCP won only four Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. One of its four members of Parliament (MPs) Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil shared the stage with Modi at a BJP rally last week in Akluj while Patil’s son Ranjeetsinh has already joined the BJP. In Dindori near Nashik, the BJP has poached Bharati Pawar from the NCP and fielded her.
“The Congress-NCP alliance invested lot of efforts in industrialization of Maharashtra which helped them build ties with the top echelons of the corporate world. But this connection has been disrupted by the new corporate class and a neo-intellectual class of voters which finds traction with the BJP. NCP has been put into a deep dilemma due to these socio-economic changes," said Prakash Pawar, professor of political science at the Shivaji University, Kolhapur.
Software engineer Ashish Bhosle from Baramati said: “There is a very close fight in Baramati. Supriya Sule may eventually win but the election in Baramati has never been so close."
Bhosle credits Pawar with the turnaround of Baramati but says parts of the constituency beyond the town itself are crippled by farm concerns, bad roads, and water supply issues. “Also, there is overall traction for the BJP in the country and some of that is having a resonance in Baramati too," he added.
At Madha in Solapur district, NCP workers and sympathizers offer different reasons for Pawar’s withdrawal from the fray—in March, Pawar hinted he may contest from here but later took a step back in favour of his grand-nephews Parth and Rohit Pawar, who is likely to contest assembly election later this year. Nana Bhange, NCP worker in Madha, says there is no question of Pawar sensing defeat in Madha and hence withdrawing. “(Pawar) Saheb cannot lose from anywhere in Maharashtra. But if he had contested, he would have been stuck campaigning in Madha and wouldn’t have been able to campaign for others in the state," Bhange says. His colleague from the NCP, who requested anonymity, however, added that Pawar had developed apprehensions about the contest after sensing intense factionalism within NCP.
The party has fielded Sanjay Shinde here to take on the BJP nominee Ranjeetsinh-Naik Nimbalkar whom the BJP imported from the Congress just before the election.
As in Baramati, Maval and Madha, the NCP is also facing a stiff challenge to its Kolhapur citadel, the headquarters of Maharashtra’s sugar industry. Pravin Girigosavi, a Kolhapur local who works in Pune, said the sitting NCP MP and sugar baron Dhananjay Mahadik could this time lose out to Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Mandlik. “Since there is a strong BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and local Congress legislator Satej Patil has also rebelled against the Congress-NCP combine, Mahadik may lose this time," Girigosavi said.
The BJP-Shiv Sena, in particular Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, have sniffed victory and held their first joint rally of the campaign in Kolhapur in March.
The only seat which the NCP looks comfortably poised to retain is Satara where Udayan Raje Bhosle, a descendent of Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj, is contesting.
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