With the Assembly elections barely months away, all the prominent political parties in the state tried their best to make an impression on the voters of western Maharashtra by reaching out to help them during the floods in August.
The flood-hit districts — Sangli, Kolhapur, Satara and Pune — are the strongholds of Congress and NCP, and the opposition alliance was quick to criticise the BJP-Shiv Sena government for allegedly responding late. It also tried to use the opportunity to pump in some fresh energy into the two parties and try to appease the sulking rank and file.
The ruling alliance, however, not only managed to make its presence felt during relief efforts, but also lured several opposition leaders to its fold in the days after the floods.
Former NCP MP Dhananjay Mahadik from Kolhapur and former Congress leader Jaykumar Gore have recently joined the BJP, while Satara MP Udayanraje Bhosale is reportedly set to quit NCP and join the saffron party. In Kolhapur, former minister and district Congress chief Prakash Awade has already quit the party.
The state government has also announced several forms of assistance for the flood-hit residents, including monetary compensation for damaged houses, businesses and dead livestock.
In Sangli, the worst-hit district, many lives were lost and thousands were rendered homeless. Of the eight assembly seats in Sangli district, five constituencies — Miraj, Sangli, Islampur, Shirala and Palus-Kedegaon — were devastated by the flood, while the remaining three, which fall in water-scarcity zones, didn’t feel the direct impact of the flood.
State NCP chief Jayant Patil, who is likely to seek re-election from Islampur assembly segment, played an instrumental role in relief operations when the water from the overflowing Krishna gushed into localities in the district. He stationed himself in Sangli, toured the flood-affected area and focussed on Islampur, which he has been representing in the state assembly.
Congress legislator from Palus-Kedegaon assembly segment, Vishwajeet Kadam, also ensured that his presence was felt during the relief efforts. Kadam was elected to the state assembly after the death of his father, senior party leader Patangrao Kadam, and he is trying to retain the Palus-Kedegaon seat, which is considered a family bastion.
“The leaders of all political parties, who are aspiring to contest the assembly elections, not only used the platform of their political parties to help the flood-affected people, but also engaged private organisations to reach out to the needy,” said a Congress leader.
Among the political bigwigs who visited the flood-hit districts were NCP chief Sharad Pawar who, along with senior party leader Dhananjay Munde, roped in various district units in the state to help out in Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara.
From the Congress, newly-appointed state chief Balasaheb Thorat and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan visited the flood-affected districts, while party leader and former state minister Satej Patil played an active role in helping out local residents in Kolhapur.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis suspended his Maha Janadesh Yatra and rushed to Sangli and Kolhapur to monitor the flood situation, but faced criticism from the opposition parties for “waking up late” to the natural disaster. Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray and Sharmila Thackeray, wife of MNS chief Raj Thackeray, also reached out to the flood-affected people with help.
In Kolhapur, six of the 10 assembly seats — Hatkanangale, Ichalkaranji, Karvir, Kolhapur, Radhanagari and Shirol — were badly hit. Leaders of the Shiv Sena, which won the two Lok Sabha seats from Kolhapur earlier this year, were at the forefront of providing help to residents. Newly-elected Shiv Sena MP from Hatkanangale, Dhairyasheel Mane, as well as the political rival he bested, Swabhimani Paksha leader Raju Shetti, played a significant role in relief operations in the constituency.
The BJP’s efforts were led by state chief Chandrakant Patil, who is also the guardian minister of Kolhapur. Rajya Sabha MP and party leader Sambhaji Shahu Chhatrapati also helped out in the district and took up the issue of rehabilitating the flood-hit.
“There was an understanding between the BJP and Shiv Sena… Sena minister Eknath Shinde was based in Kolhapur city and he was monitoring the rescue and relief operation. Sena managed to rope in help all the way from Mumbai, to provide relief to the flood-affected residents of Kolhapur,” said a local Sena leader.
In Satara, only two assembly segments — Karad South and Patan — were affected due to floods. The BJP took the lead in Karad to reach out to the flood-hit residents, while the Shiv Sena played a bigger role in the Patan assembly segment.