What was widely believed to be a close contest in Karad South constituency ended in a comfortable victory for former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who was fighting his first assembly election as he trounced seven-time sitting MLA Vilas Patil-Undalkar by over 14,000 votes. Chavan in fact stood tall in Western Maharashtra as Congress bigwigs such as Harshvardhan Patil and Satej Patil, who were considered sure-short winners, were decimated on poll turf.
Minutes after his victory was announced, Chavan wasted no time in debunking the Modi wave, which he said came a cropper in Maharashtra. “Modi had asked for a simple majority in Maharashtra. BJP could not even get near the simple majority… Modi has been clearly rejected by the people of Maharashtra,” Chavan said outside the counting centre as thousands of his supporters burst crackers and broke into wild celebrations.
The victory rally that followed saw Chavan alighting from the car and waving to the crowd lined up on both sides of the streets, bringing a major chunk of Karad city to a grinding halt for a few hours. In the melee, Chavan found time to speak to the media as he sounded surprised by his victory margin. “I was in the fray after a long time and it took lot of efforts to reconnect with the masses. In the end, it was a comfortable victory,” he said.
Right from the first round of counting Chavan established lead of 2,000 votes over his near rival Undalkar, a Congress rebel. Till the seventh round Undalkar twice overtime him by small margins. However, from seventh round, Chavan went on increasing his lead and never looked back. Chavan notched up around 74,000 votes while Undalkar finished second with 59,000 votes. Atul Bhosale of the BJP, who was trailing far behind in the initial rounds, caught up in the end, bagging third spot with around 58,000 votes. Ajinkya Patil of Shiv Sena, son of Bihar Governor D Y Patil, was nowhere in the race.
Undalkar accepted the defeat gracefully, saying he was undone by urban voting. “In Karad city area, I could get only 6,000 votes whereas Chavan got close to 50,000 votes,” he said. Undalkar is credited with pushing the development of rural areas where he had ensured water tanks, better roads and toilet facilities. The Chavan camp was wary of Undalkar as till the last minute it had predicted a win, but by a close margin.
Chavan is fondly addressed as ‘Baba’ both by supporters and rivals in whole of Karad. Many said they voted for him as he was the “Nishkalank and Swachh Manoos” (Mr Clean). Sixty-five-year-old Babasaheb Sukane summed up the general mood among voters in Karad, saying, “He (Chavan) provided a clean and transparent government. Nobody ever accused him of corruption.”
Chavan had the support of a wide spectrum of voters, including the Muslim community. “The Muslim community in Karad has been Congress supporters for long. We have nearly 65,000 votes and more than 70 per cent had voted,” said Congress leader Shakil Kotwal.
Satvasheela Chavan, who is credited with holding the fort in Karad as her husband also campaigned for other state Congress candidates, said, “I knew he would win… Everyone knows he is Mr Clean and there was no reason why they wouldn’t vote for him,” she said.
Nephew Rahul Chavan said the Chavan family had held sway over the Karad seat since 1952. “Baba’s parents had represented the seat. Baba had won three times as MP. He had lost only once,” he said. Chavan’s cousin Punjabrao Deshmukh said, ”No amount of money pumped in by political rivals worked.”