The Maharashtra Congress is struggling to make a choice between image and clout in Marathwada, where many of its top leaders are under a corruption cloud. The backward region has eight Lok Sabha seats, of which the Congress is contesting five but has decided candidates for only two.
MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre feels former chief minister Ashok Chavan should be given a key leadership role in a region where the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh has created a vacuum. What is coming in the way of such plans is the fact that Chavan’s name figures in the Adarsh housing scam. His supporters are hoping for some kind of a court reprieve ahead of the polls.
“The organisation certainly has a significant role for Ashok Chavan in the polls,” Thakre said. A senior Congress leader agreed, “If the party has to perform in Marathwada we cannot afford to sideline Chavan. Without his active support, it would be difficult to retain the Nanded seat. Some have been suggesting Chavan himself should contest instead of his brother-in-law Bhaskar Khatgaonkar, the sitting MP , if we want to be absolutely certain.”
“We find ourselves in a difficult situation,” an AICC functionary said. “Ashok Chavan minus Adarsh would have been a suitable replacement for Deshmukh.”
In Auranagabad, the Congress is still struggling for a consensus on the candidate against sitting Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire. In 2009, it had fielded Uttamsingh Pawar. Said a local Congress official, “One section within the party has suggested we consider fielding minister Rajendra Darda rather than repeating Uttamsingh Pawar. Darda is more popular in the region and would give Khaire a tough fight.”
Going against this is the fact that names in the Darda family have been linked to the coal scam. Besides, a close aide of Darda said, “Frankly speaking, he is not interested in contesting parliamentary elections.”
In Jalna, the Congress faces a powerful opponent in sitting BJP MP Raosaheb Danve. “I am a grassroots worker well connected to the people. Even if they field Rahul Gandhi, I will win,” he says. The Congress fielded Kalyan Kale last time but after his defeat the party is undecided whether to renominate him or look elsewhere.
This is one seat for which the Congress and its ally the NCP fought bitterly. The NCP’s ground was that the Congress should not claim the seat because it hasn’t any strong candidate, but eventually let the Congress contest. The NCP wanted to field minister Rajesh Tope.
One of the two seats for which the Congress has decided its candidates is Latur, once considered one of Maharashtra’s safest seats because of Deshmukh’s influence. The sitting Congress MP is Jayawant Awale but the candidate is Dattatraya Bansode, who won the primary here and who is considered close to Amit Deshmukh, Vilasrao’s son.
In Hingoli, a seat the Congress has wrested from the NCP, it will field Rajeev Satav, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi. The Shiv Sena has fielded its sitting MP, Subash Wankhede.