A candidate too elderly to campaign, and a proven winner ignored, who went on to defect and win, are among the reasons Congress leaders in western Maharashtra have listed as they introspect on a humiliating poll defeat.
Over 100 Congress candidates across Maharashtra lost their deposits, finishing at third, fourth and even fifth spots. A few, including Harshavardhan Patil in Indapur and Satej Patil in Kolhapur, lost close contests. In western Maharashtra, the Congress won 10 seats out of 70. Of the remaining candidates, 20 finished second and 40 either third or fourth.
The way the candidates have been picked, say Congress leaders, reveals a casual approach. The choice of a candidate too advanced in age to campaign, they said, came at a time when Rahul Gandhi was harping on blooding youngsters.
S R Patil, 94, had been contesting elections since 1952 and won three times. He was fielded from Shirol constituency of Kolhapur. Patil says he made only one call to Prithviraj Chavan expressing his desire to contest elections one last time. “And my ticket was confirmed.”
Patil, who finds it difficult to walk, could not be aggressive in electioneering. He campaigned mostly sitting in his vehicle and addressing rallies where he was barely audible, say Congress leaders. Patil was pushed to third spot and has now decided not to contest polls anymore.
If Patil had won elections earlier, the choice of Manoj Kamble in Pimpri reserved seat stunned Congressmen in the industrial of Pimpri-Chinchwad. Kamble, who had never won a civic election, was picked ahead of Gautam Chabukswar who was once the deputy mayor of Pimpri-Chinchwad and who had won civic elections five times. His only defeat was by five votes.
When the Congress rejected him, the Shiv Sena fielded him from Pimpri reserved constituency. Chabukswar defeated sitting NCP MLA Anna Bansode. Manoj Kamble was pushed to fourth spot. “The choice of Chabukswar was our masterstroke,” said Shiv Sena MP Shrirang Barne, who three years ago was a Congressman himself.
In Karad, two Congressmen went all out to topple each other. There appeared no serious effort from the party leadership to ask one of them to drop out. One was Prithiviraj Chavan who, rather than campaign extensively for other candidates, occupied himself largely with his own constituency.
Vilas Patil-Undalkar, against whom Chavan was contesting, had been a sitting Congress MLA for seven terms. The Congress leadership in Delhi did not urge Undalkar to withdraw from the fray. Chavan did not request Undalkar either; the two of them haven’t been on talking terms for more than two decades. “I got no call from Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi,” Undalkar had told this newspaper during campaigning.
In Chinchwad, the Congress ignored long-time Pimpri-Chinchwad president Bhausaheb Bhoir and fielded Kailas Kadam who does not even live in that constituency. Kadam finished fourth. In Bhosari, the Congress fielded an ailing candidate who finished fifth.
In Solapur district, another Congress bastion and which has 11 seats, five candidates lost their deposits and only three won while only two finished second. In Kolhapur, the Congress did not win a single seat. In three seats, Congress candidates lost their deposits. In Ahmednagar, five Congress candidates finished at fourth spot. The Congress won three seats here. In Sangli, it won only one seat. Three of its candidates finished third and lost their deposits.
In Pune, Congress candidates in four seats finished fifth, while its Pune unit president Abhay Chhajed finished fourth. The Congress won only one seat in Pune, this being Bhor.
Many top leaders did not see eye to eye with one another. The cold war between Chavan and Narayan Rane saw each refusing to address rallies in the other’s constituency. “Yes, we have not invited Chavan to address rallies,” Nilesh Rane had told this correspondent during campaigning. Chavan’s office too confirmed that he did not address a rally in Narayan Rane or his son’s constituency.
Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil said the party will take stock of the performance of its candidates at a meeting on October 27. “The party will discuss all these issue at the meeting,” he said, adding that the parliamentary board and the screening committee decides the candidates.