JUNNAR’S ELECTORAL battle is all about history repeating itself: a former Shiv Sena leader who left the party only to return to its fold after getting elected is being challenged by another leader who was ousted from the Shiv Sena. This high-voltage fight has ignited the hopes of the NCP, which believes it can take advantage of it.
In 2014, Sharad Sonawane, the present MLA, had rebelled against the Shiv Sena’s decision to nominate senior leader Asha Buchake and had contested the seat on an MNS ticket. Sonawane was the only MNS candidate elected in the state, cornering over 60,000 votes. Sena’s Buchake and NCP’s Atul Benke had each polled around 40,000 votes and had come second and third, respectively.
Over the past five years, Sonawane mended ties with his parent party and returned to the Shiv Sena before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Sonawane, however, could not help the party much after NCP’s Dr Amol Kolhe defeated Sena’s Shivajirao Adhalrao-Patil, with Junnar giving Kolhe a sizable lead in the elections.
Sonawane’s decision to join the Sena has caused discomfort to Buchake, who had her sights on the Assembly seat. Soon after the results, Buchake was unceremoniously removed from the party for alleged anti-party work which consolidated Sonawane’s hold over the area.
Located at the end of Pune district, Junnar has a sizable population of tribal voters. The area is mostly rural and has a well-developed economy based on agriculture. Water is not a major issue and it has good road connectivity, farmers carry out trade outside the state as well. Politics in Junnar revolves mostly around agrarian issues.
For the voters, this election is a close repeat of the one they witnessed in 2014, with just a few changes in symbols. A slighted Buchake, an Independent candidate now, has vowed revenge while Sonawane hopes to sail through, banking on the development works he has undertaken. As an MLA, local residents said Sonawane was proactive, and took a keen interest in the development of the area.
With Atul Benke back in the fray as well, the Benke family, which had enjoyed power in the area for a long time, is hopeful that the fight between Buchake and Sonawane will give them a breakthrough. Kolhe, the present MP, also hails from Junnar.