NCP MP Vijaysinh Mohite Patil’s unease with his party has a long history, and the recent move by party supremo Sharad Pawar to promote former bureaucrat Prabhakar Deshmukh as the next candidate from his Lok Sabha seat, Madha, is probably the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. Vijaysinh, a former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, has been out of favour with senior NCP leaders including Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit, which led to his lengthy political isolation.
Vijaysinh belongs to the well known Mohite Patil family, which is credited with starting the cooperative movement in the drought-prone Solapur district. Vijaysinh’s father, Shankarrao Mohite Patil, had reportedly spurned ministership in the state government, but asked for irrigation facilities for Malshiras taluka. Originally from the communist Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), the family had joined the Congress, and Shankarrao was elected MLA four times from the Akluj constituency in the district.
Vijaysinh began his political career as sarpanch of Akluj. After Sharad Pawar split the Congress and formed the NCP in 2009, Mohite Patil joined him — albeit after taking a month to make up his mind. Even though this hesitation is said to have planted the seeds of mistrust between Pawar and him, the NCP boss chose him to be the deputy chief minister from 2003 to 2005 in the Congress-NCP governments of Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh. He also served in important ministerial posts.
However, even though a majority of MLAs supported him for deputy chief ministership, the elevation marked him out as a potential contender for the leadership of the NCP against Ajit Pawar. In 2009, after the Akluj seat was reserved for Scheduled Castes, Mohite Patil contested the Assembly elections from the neighbouring Pandharpur constituency, and lost. Although Sharad Pawar had made him chairman of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation, Mohite Patil was loosing his grip over Solapur district, thanks to the machinations of senior NCP leaders who supported his rivals such as Baban Shinde. The NCP in Madha is a divided house with powerful leaders baying for each other’s blood.
In 2014, Mohite Patil became one of four NCP MPs to withstand the Narendra Modi wave. He defeated Sadabhau Khot of the Swabhimani Paksha by a narrow margin of 25,344 votes, a major climbdown from the 3 lakh-plus margin of victory that Sharad Pawar had at the seat in 2009.
Behind Mohite Patil’s victory was the work of his son Ranjitsinh, a member of Rajya Sabha between 2009 and 2012. At present, the family controls two cooperative sugar mills in Solapur district, one of which, however, is on the verge of liquidation. The MP was one of the directors of Solapur District Central Cooperative Bank (DCCB) when it was dissolved by the RBI last year.
Mohite Patil is upset that both he and his son have been overlooked as candidates from Madha. Pawar, it must be remembered, had talked about standing from Madha himself, which had taken everyone including the Mohite Patils by surprise. But even after Pawar declared his intention of not contesting, the Mohite Patils were sidelined. “Faced with political deadblock and the intentional sidelining, the family had opened talks with the BJP,” said an insider.
Although NCP leaders had tried to reach out to them, efforts to pacify them have not been successful. Ranjitsinh could be the BJP candidate from Madha, and the NCP will have a tough time matching his organisational skills. The BJP will also gain from the family’s presence in the cooperative sector, something it has not been able to break into so far.