THE RULING BJP on Thursday lost the Lok Sabha bypoll at Bhandara-Gondia in Maharashtra with the Congress-NCP alliance winning the seat with a margin of 48,097 votes.
While NCP’s Madhukar Kukde polled 4,42,213 votes, BJP’s Hemant Patle could managed only 3,94,116 votes. The real winner, however, was Nana Patole — the incumbent BJP MP — who had joined the Congress last year. Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of not listening to anyone, Patole had alleged that the PM had asked him to keep quite when he had tried to raise the issue of farmers. While the BJP chose not to expel him, Patole joined the Congress, necessitating the bypoll.
“They tried their best to see to it that the election is not held because they were sensing defeat. They could have held it along with Gorakhpur bypolls (in March). They also campaigned against me personally, focusing on the allegation that I had thrust the election on the people of Bhandara-Gondia. The CM even said in a public meeting that bypolls are held when somebody dies. People took it as an offence. Now, they should tell who has died in Bhandara-Gondia,” Patole told The Indian Express.
Interestingly, Patole had switched his loyalty from Congress to BJP in 2014 on the issue of farm distress. He had won the Lok Sabha poll by defeating NCP’s Praful Patel by over 1.5 lakh votes. Within three years, he was back in Congress.
Despite being in an alliance, the Cong-NCP combine was hardly a match for the Modi wave in 2014. Four years hence, the combine has surged ahead, giving an indication that an united Opposition can give a tough fight to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Patole and Patel, who undertook a joint campaign in the bypoll, have no doubt that Congress and NCP have to come together in 2019 if they were serious about defeating BJP. “Undoubtedly, we need to stand together… The Bhandara-Gondia victory is a direct indictment of the policies of the BJP governments in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular,” said Patel. The victory has also put to rest reports about Patel not putting his weight behind the party’s candidate. In the recent past, Patel had said that Kukde won’t be fielded in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Despite the win, Patel and Patole remained firm on their demand to replace EVMs with ballet papers. “Over 400 machines out of 2,000 malfunctioned in the bypolls across the country. Does it not show the failure of EVM system,” asked Patel. “Victory doesn’t mean our stand on EVM is wrong. Without the EVM problem, our victory margin could have been in the range of 1-1.5 lakh votes,” Patole said. EVM malfunctioning in the constituency during Monday’s polling had necessitated a repoll on Wednesday at 49 centres.
Patole, who was till now stated to be interested in returning to state politics, however, appears to have changed his mind. “If the party wants me to contest Lok Sabha polls against Nitin Gadkari from Nagpur, I am ready.”
Another important message from the bypoll was optimisation of votes from almost all communities, including Dalits, in favour of the NCP. The constituency has the largest chunk of Kunbi voters — a farming community — to which both Patole and Kukde belong. The other sizable castes include Telis, Powars, Kohlis, fishermen and Dalits. The largest chunk of Dalit votes was cornered by Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, whose candidate L K Madavi polled 40,326 votes.
In the bypoll, while the NCP candidate led in four of the six Assembly segments, the BJP lead in two — Bhandara and Gondia. Gondia is only Assembly seat currently held by the Congress, rest being won by the BJP in the 2014 state polls.