Over the last fortnight or so the political landscape of Maharashtra has seen a tectonic shift. Scions of three important Maratha families have decided to leave the party of their grandfathers and chart a new course. While Sujay Vikhe Patil, the son of senior Congress leader Radhakrishna of Ahmednagar, and Ranjitsinh Mohite Patil, the son of NCP MP Vijaysinh of Solapur, have joined the BJP, Prateek Patil, the grandson of Maharashtra’s legendary chief minister Vasantdada Patil, is yet to open his cards.
Ostensibly both Sujay and Ranjitsinh are seeking to further their political ambitions, but behind the scenes are age-old feuds the families have had with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. Congress leaders admit in private to being outsmarted by a strategy that saw these families feeling threatened on their own turf.
Vikhe Patils of Ahmednagar
Based out of Rahata taluka in Ahmednagar, the Vikhe Patils are one of the most influential families of the district. Padma shri Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil, the doyen of the family, is credited with having started Asia’s first cooperative sugar mill, in Loni village. His son Balasaheb Vikhe Patil continued the family’s association, with both the cooperative sector and Congress. Follow more election news here.
One of the employees at the family’s Parvara Cooperative Sugar Mill in Loni used to be Appasaheb Pawar, one of Pawar’s brothers.
The first conflict between the Vikhe Patils and Pawar goes back to 1991. In the Lok Sabha polls that year, Balasaheb fought against Congress candidate Yashwant Gadakh, who was backed by Pawar, from Ahmednagar. When Gadakh won, Balasaheb went to the Supreme Court alleging electoral malpractice, but eventually Pawar got relief in the matter.
In 1998, Balasaheb contested on a Shiv Sena ticket from Ahmednagar and won. The same year, his son Radhakrishna, also in the Sena, won and was made a minister in the Sena-BJP government. In 1999 Radhakrishna quit and joined the Congress, and is now the Leader of Opposition in the state.
For the last one year, Radhakrishna’s son Sujay had been in the race from Ahmednagar on a Congress ticket. But when seat talks began between the Congress and NCP, Pawar stood in the way, demanding the seat for the NCP. Sources say most NCP leaders were ready to give up Ahmednagar, but Pawar stood firm.
When Sujay left and joined the BJP, Pawar scoffed that he would lose like his grandfather. The NCP has fielded a strongman from Ahmednagar, Sangram Japtap, to take him on. A sitting MLA of the NCP, Japtap is the son-in-law of BJP MLA Shivajirao Kardile and a known Vikhe Patil baiter. Another BJP MLA from a constituency falling under Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat, Monica Rajale of Sangamener, also has bad blood with the Vikhe Patils.
Congress Maharashtra chief Ashok Chavan has called Sujay’s decision unfortunate. NCP state chief Jayant Patil said he was offered the option to fight on its symbol. “Yet he quit.”
Mohite Patils of Akluj (Solapur)
The family can take credit for the development of Solapur district. Behind the arid district’s emergence as the region with the largest number of sugar mills in the country lies the work of Shankarrao Mohite Patil. Credited with starting the cooperative movement here, he famously refused ministership to push for irrigation for his Malshiras taluka, even as he won Assembly polls four times from Akluj. Later, son Vijaysinh joined the Congress.
In 1999, when Pawar split from the Congress, Vijaysinh was one of the tallest leaders to join him. However, the fact that he took a month to decide reportedly left a seed of suspicion in Pawar’s mind, which sustains.
If the soft-spoken leader still rose within the NCP, it was mostly on his own merit and relations across parties. Vijaysinh was the first choice of MLAs for deputy CM in 2003 under the Congress-NCP government. This reportedly made him a marked man for Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, who wanted that post.
Meanwhile, Vijaysinh’s son Ranjitsinh carved out his own space in the grassroots as youth NCP president — a fact not lost on both the Pawars. In 2009, Ranjitsinh became a Rajya Sabha MP.
The rift came into the open after leaders like Baban Shinde and Sanjay Shinde starting exerting their influence in Solapur, reportedly helped by Pawar. The Shinde family had been brought into politics by the Mohite Patils.
The scales tilted towards Pawar with the defeat of Vijaysinh from the Pandharpur Assembly seat in 2009, where he was forced to move after Akluj became a reserved seat. While in 2014, Vijaysinh was one of only four NCP leaders to withstand the Modi wave and win, it didn’t go unnoticed that his victory margin was a narrow 25,000 votes from a seat (Madha) that Pawar had won in 2009 by over 3 lakh votes.
In more trouble for the Mohite Patils, last year, Vijaysinh and the board of directors of Solapur District Central Cooperative Bank were dismissed for financial irregularities. Of the two sugar mills managed by the family, one is now on the verge of liquidation.
This time, Pawar struck first with the surprise announcement that he would be contesting from Madha (he had earlier said he was retiring from active politics).
A week ago, Ranjitsinh crossed over to the BJP, while Vijaysinh is expected to follow suit. Welcoming them, CM Devendra Fadnavis said the BJP now has a family without which the political narrative in the state is incomplete.
Vijaysinh, who has backed Ranjitsinh’s decision, says the NCP left him in the cold. The NCP has now fielded Sanjay Shinde against Vijaysinh. The BJP Madha candidate is ex-Congressman Ranjitsinh Niak Nimbalkar.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar claims the father-son duo didn’t respond to their calls.
Patils of Sangli
Vasantdada Patil is one of the legendary CMs of Maharashtra, for his stress on both cooperative sugar mills and technical educational institutes for progress of the state.
In 1978, Pawar engineered the defection of 12 MLAs leading to the fall of the first government led by him, within a year of it being sworn in. While Patil went on to become CM twice after that and Pawar made his way back to the Congress within a few years, the bad blood between the two stalwarts has lingered.
Pawar also reportedly helped in the rise of Rajarambapu Patil, whose cooperative mill emerged as a competitor to Vasantdada’s.
NCP state chief Jayant Patil is Rajarambapu’s son.
The trigger this time was the allocation of the Sangli Lok Sabha seat to the Swabhimani Paksha of Raju Shetti in the Congress-NCP Mahagathbandhan. Since the Sangli seat was created in 1967, it has always had a Congress MP except in 2014. Vasantdada’s grandson Prateek won it twice, and was a minister in the UPA-II government.
Defending the move, Pawar said, “For the tie-up, we had to give up one seat — Wardha has a strong candidate, so Sangli was left.”
However, both Prateek and Vasantdada’s other grandson, Vishal, are protesting, and on Sunday, Prateek resigned from the Congress. “Rahul Gandhi did not meet me. There is no line of communication in the Congress,” he said.
With the opposition within the Congress over Sangli continuing, Shetti on Monday said he was giving the Congress 24 hours to hand over the seat or it would leave the alliance.
Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan admitted giving up Sangli was “extremely difficult”.