Politics makes strange bedfellows. In the sugar belt of Maharashtra, it has made arch enemies come together to gain power. The upcoming election for the Shri Dudhgana Vedganaga Cooperative Sugar Mill in Kolhapur has seen the BJP siding with the NCP to take on Congress-Shiv Sena combine. This election has generated much interest for many see as the BJP’s effort to enter the cooperative sector.
Located in the Kagal taluka of Kolhapur district, this cooperative mill, like others in the area, has been under the control of leaders who are from the NCP or Congress. Though the mill is located in Kagal taluka, its more than 54,000 members are spread mostly in the talukas of Radhanagari, Kagal, Bhudargad and Karveer. They will be participating in the election to elect a new 21-member board of director for the mill, which will run the show for the next five years.
The outgoing board of director was headed by KP Patil, an ex-NCP MLA and majority of the directors were either from Congress or NCP. This time around, Patil’s panel is pitted against another panel formed by veteran Congress leader Dinkarrao Jadhav. Jadhav had held the chairmanship of the mill for more than a decade and his relations with Patil was cordial once. But, now, both have become arch rivals. The election of the cooperative sugar mill might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the strange alliances it has created. In the run-up to the election, Patil decided to enter into a formal alliance with the BJP and of the 21 candidates it has put up, five are from the BJP. On the other hand, the panel put up by Jadhav decided to enter into an alliance with the Shiv Sena, with Prakash Abitkar, the Sena MLA from Radhanagari, joining hands with Jadhav to bring down Patil’s panel.
In this election, what has made the BJP leaders hopeful of favourable results is the induction of leaders like Rahul Desai, son of former NCP MLA Bajrang Desai. Millers like Samarjitsinh Ghatge, chairman of Kagal-based Shri Chattrapati Shau Maharaj Cooperative Sugar mill and Vinay Kore, director of Tatyasaheb Kore Warna Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana, had earlier joined the BJP, which has boosted its prospects in the region. Abitkar’s decision to join hands with the Congress is mostly because of the fact that Patil was his opponent in the 2014 Assembly elections. Incidentally, Abitkar had switched over to Shiv Sena from Congress just prior to the polls.
Kolhapur happens to be the home district of state Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil. Patil has been trying to increase the party’s footprint and presence in the sugar belt as well as the cooperative sugar mills. Patil has been in the forefront of this alliance, but leaders close to him say this is a purely local arrangement and nothing much should be read into it. Given the fact that the BJP is looking to make strong inroads in the cooperative sector, this election is being viewed with interest by many. During the 2014 elections, Shiv Sena had bagged six of the 10 Assembly seats in the district while NCP and BJP had won two seats each. But since then, the BJP is on the rise in Kolhapur, with the zilla parishad elections witnessing the party sharing power with a local party called Tararani Aghadi.
With both sides putting their best foot forward to win the elections, no one is leaving any stone unturned. Shareholder voters who are outside Kolhapur are being called back to be present to exercise their franchise.