After the recent split in the decades-old Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena-BJP alliances, no place in the state can beat the political opportunism on display in the tribal-dominated district of Nandurbar, where three Gavit brothers will contest from three of the four constituencies in the district under the banner of two different political parties.
Leading the pack is Dr Vijay Kumar Gavit, an MLA from Nandurbar who has served as a minister for 19 years under both the Shiv Sena-BJP and Congress-NCP government. Known to swim with the tide, Gavit, who won the 2009 Assembly polls on an NCP ticket, decided to jump ship earlier this year by making his daughter Dr Hina Gavit successfully contest the Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket from the Nandurbar. He himself subsequently joined the BJP, which has now fielded him from Nandurbar for the October 15 Assembly polls.
Vijay’s brother Sharad Gavit is the MLA from adjoining Navapur, having won in 2009 on a Samajwadi Party ticket. Sharad is now a candidate of the NCP, the party which his brother quit.
The third brother is Rajendra Gavit, who had joined the Shiv Sena and was given a ticket by the party from Shahada for the upcoming Assembly polls. Rajendra even filed his nomination as a Sena candidate, but switched at the last moment to contest as an NCP candidate when the Sena-BJP alliance broke.
The insistence of the BJP and NCP that they will not have any alliance has stopped the brothers from openly campaigning for each other. However, behind the scenes, they strategise together and even share resources as well as political managers. In fact, the synergy of their campaign is being cited by many as a sign of a probable BJP-NCP alliance after the elections.
Their opponents claim the brothers are political opportunists keen to keep political power within the family. The family presently represents two of the four Assembly seats in the district as well as the Lok Sabha seat of Nandurbar. “The family wants to completely dominate Nandurbar district and turn it into their fiefdom. I am surprised how Dr Gavit did not field his wife from the fourth constituency of the district,” Chandrakant Raghuvanshi, a Congress MLC and political opponent of the Gavit family, said.
Nandurbar is one of the poorest districts in the state. With a tribal population of close to 70 per cent, the district has continued to languish for decades at the bottom of the state’s Human Development Index. The abject poverty in the district in which the per capita income is 1/10th of Maharashtra’s average, has made the residents largely reliant on government largesse, which have indebted them to the Congress.
Dr Vijaykumar Gavit, who was a professor of medicine and had a family history of political activity, quit his job and returned to his native place of Nandurbar two months before the 1995 state Assembly elections to challenge the political hegemony of the Raghuvanshi and Naik family in the district. Supported by his two younger brothers Sharad and Rajendra, the first a class IV employee in the state regional transport corporation and the second a clerk in Mantralaya, Dr Gavit won.
His subsequent stint as a minister for tribal development saw him undertake various schemes in which freebies ranging from batteries, gas pumps to livestock were distributed. Though his detractors accuse him of making money out of such deals for which cases are still pending against him, the Gavit family was able to establish its political clout in the district.
“You blame me for hegemony, but what about the hegemony of political parties in denying tickets to worthy individuals just because they are my relatives. They are capable individuals and have their own ambitions. They would not have joined other parties had my party offered them a ticket,” Dr Gavit says. He is, however, categorical that he is not going to campaign for his brothers. “I will do whatever my party demands of me.”
Some of the residents of the district, however, resent concentration of political power in one family. “There was a time when some dominant political personalities of the district could have asked people to vote for their dog and people would have done that. Those days are over now as people are more aware now. No one likes to see power being concentrated into the hands of a single family,” Kailash Valvi, a resident of Nandurbar, says.
The Gavit brothers, however, claim the family is only trying to break the Congress hegemony in the district. “Only when there are two shops in a village will people be assured of getting quality goods. We are only trying to create alternatives to the Congress hegemony,” Rajendra Gavit says.