When the BJP announced Pratap Patil Chikhalikar as its candidate for Nanded, state Congress president and Nanded MP Ashok Chavan had been dismissive. At election rallies, the former chief minister had mocked, “Which party has he not been in?”
That was an allusion to Chikhalikar’s background. The MLA from Loha, who won on a Shiv Sena ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, had just quit the NCP before the election. Before that, he had been elected as an MLA in 2004, having contested as an Independent upon not getting a Congress ticket, but going on to become a supporter of then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
In fact, Chikhalikar’s political journey began in the Congress in Nanded, as an aide to Shankarrao Chavan, former Maharashtra chief minister and Ashok Chavan’s father.
The Congress camp in Nanded retains its scorn for the man who has just defeated Chavan, saying the Chavan family bastion of two generations could not have been breached but for the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, whose candidate Yashpal Bhinge polled 1,65,341 votes, effectively splitting the Congress’ Dalit-Muslim votebank. Chavan lost by 40,010 votes.
The BJP-Sena camp, on the other hand, claimed Chavan is paying for some arrogant comments. “He called me ‘chillar’ (small change) during the campaign, but the people of Nanded have decided who is negligible and who is not,” Chikhalikar told The Indian Express on Friday evening as he prepared to leave for New Delhi.
The two-term MLA said he didn’t let the insults weigh him down. “The person who insults an opponent is never the bigger person.”
In 2017, ahead of elections to the Nanded-Waghala Municipal Corporation, the Sena MLA had set off rumours when he received a visit at home from BJP state president Raosaheb Danve. The October 2017 election saw the Congress gaining in strength in the corporation, going from 41 to 72 corporators in the 81-member body.
“The Sena and BJP contested separately then. We will now plan ahead for the Vidhan Sabha polls, and the BJP as well as Sena candidates in Nanded will win handsomely,” Chikhalikar said, adding that he has a well-defined plan ready for Nanded, including for water supply, better railway connectivity and industries. “Unemployment is very high in Nanded, I intend to solve that,” he said.
BJP leaders in Nanded said the plan to wrest the seat was in the making for two years at least, with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis himself taking charge of the strategy.
“Over the last few years, several senior Congressmen in the district have moved to the BJP, including myself and former MLA Om Prakash Pokarna. Ashokrao’s connection with the people of Nanded has also been on the wane,” said Bhaskarrao Khatgaonkar, BJP state vice-president, former Congress MP and Chavan’s brother-in-law, who had a bitter falling out with the former CM in recent years.
“The strategy was to use this, the fact that there are some people in the Congress who are angry, and anti-incumbency.”