Raksha Khadse, 26, her feet heavily bandaged after long walking sessions, canters through the narrow and dusty bylanes of Shendurli, one of the 600-odd villages and hamlets that comprise Raver constituency in Jalgaon district.
Raksha, one of the BJP’s youngest candidates, betrays no emotions. Villagers are used to seeing politicians grovel for votes, but in conservative Jalgaon, it behoves a young widow to conduct herself this way.
Raver’s political fight is fraught with personal overtones. Raksha, daughter-in-law of the leader of the opposition in Maharashtra, Eknath Khadse, is pitted against the NCP’s Manish Jain, scion of the Lakhichand jeweller’s family. The two families had faced each other in November 2010 when Raksha’s husband Nikhil contested against Manish Jain for the legislative council elections.
In a fight believed to have cost both contestants over Rs 200 crore, Khadse lost by a narrow margin of 16 votes. Nikhil, 34, went into depression and shot himself last May. He and Raksha have two children.
Thrust into politics by her father-in-law even when her husband was alive, Raksha was elected member of the Changdev zilla parishad. She blames the Jain family for disturbing her husband.
“Their underhand tactics affected my husband greatly and was a major reason for his depression. This election is now a battle for revenge,” Raksha says.
The Jain family rubbishes the idea that they are responsible for Khadse’s suicide. “How can she blame us? She is saying this only to garner sympathy. Even I can claim that someone who could not take care of her husband certainly cannot take care of the constituency. But I will not do so because this is not what I have been taught,” says Jain, who resides in the tony Khar area of Mumbai.
Raksha however, states that her family problems have only toughened her. “At 26 I have faced problems which many do not face in their entire lifetime. I assumed all family responsibilities when my father-in-law was sick and had to undergo a kidney transplant. I am capable of handling the needs of my constituency,” Raksha says.
Even though Raksha sounds confident, it is no smooth sailing for the BJP candidate. Her name was announced at the last minute after the party decided to cancel the nomination of two-time MP Haribhau Jawle to accommodate Raksha at the insistence of her father-in-law Eknath Khadse.
Raver constituency, which came into existence in 2008 after the delimitation, has been a BJP stronghold and currently holds three of the six assembly segments.
The caste combinations also seem to favour the BJP with a strong presence of Marathas and the Leva Patil community to which Eknath Khadse belongs. The family is banking on these votes to see Raksha through.
The Jain campaign too has hit a stumbling block thanks to intra-party feuding. In the important assembly constituency of Bhusawal which has played a deciding role in the Lok Sabha elections, the differences between sitting NCP MLA Sanjay Savkare and former NCP MLA Santosh Chaudhary — who have set up separate campaign offices —is creating problems.
Jain also has to fight his image of Mr Moneybag with no fixed political ideology. Jain, however, is upbeat. “I am a businessman and a strategist. I know how to handle these issues,” he says.