In a bid to make the poll battle tougher for former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, former Congress ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Wednesday withdrew its official candidate from the election fray in the Karad South Assembly seat. Instead, it decided to support Congress rebel and Independent candidate Vilaskaka Undalkar, calling him more “capable” to take on Chavan.
However, in the process, the party suffered a split in its ranks, as the candidate it withdrew, Rajendra Yadav, walked over to the Chavan camp.
The NCP was dealt another blow when Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana’s (SSS) Punjabrao Patil also withdrew his nomination from the seat, a move that bolsters Chavan’s prospects.
Yadav told The Indian Express that he received a call from Satara NCP leader and former minister Shashikant Shinde on Tuesday evening, asking him to withdraw his nomination.
Chavan had attacked the NCP leadership, accusing it of entering into a hidden pact with the BJP, at a rally the same day.
After the 15-year-old alliance ended in a bitter divorce last week, leaders from both parties have been publicly targeting the other side.
Senior NCP leaders from the district held a meeting at the Satara district headquarters Wednesday afternoon, where the decision to withdraw the party’s candidate and instead extend support to Undalkar was finalised.
Pre-empting this, Yadav is learnt to have had a secret meeting with Chavan on Tuesday itself. Later, Yadav held a meeting with his supporters and declared that he would offer his “unconditional” support to Chavan. “If they wanted to withdraw my candidature, why did they declare my name in the first place. This is not a deal-making process,” Yadav said. “The NCP was trying to make me a victim of politics.”
Four corporators backing Yadav also joined the Chavan camp. Bolstered by the development, the former CM campaigned in Undalkar’s native village of Undale.
Shinde said that the party had directed Yadav to withdraw from the contest as they wanted a strong candidate to take on Chavan. “Undalkar is a seven-time MLA from Karad and resigned from the Congress to contest as an Independent. He was the most capable person to take on Chavan on his home turf,” said Shinde.
The other prominent candidates pitted against Chavan are BJP’s Atul Bhosale and Shiv Sena’s Ajinkya Patil.
Indicating that it plans to upset Congress heavyweights in western Maharashtra, the NCP also withdrew its candidate from Kolhapur (South), from where Chavan’s confidant and former MoS Satej Patil is seeking re-election.
However, the NCP got a taste of its own medicine when the Shiv Sena declared its backing to Independent candidate Abhijeet Patil in Sangli’s Islampur to make the election path difficult for senior NCP leader Jayant Patil. Even the BJP and the SSS have extended support to Abhijeet.