The Lok Sabha poll for north Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar seat is set for a fierce battle between two young Turks. Having secured the defection of Congress veteran and Leader of Opposition (Legislative Assembly) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil’s son Sujay, the BJP fancies the prospect of retaining the seat. But the NCP has just served a curve ball.
In the backdrop of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ announcement that Sujay (36) would be BJP’s candidate from the seat, the NCP has named another young gun, Sangram Jagtap (34) — party MLA from Ahmednagar City — as its candidate.
The seat had become a bone of contention between the Congress, which had staked claim on it for Sujay to contest, and the NCP, which has been contesting the seat as part of the alliance of the two parties since 2004. During seat-sharing talks, as NCP rejected Congress’ proposal regarding the seat’s exchange, Sujay joined the BJP last week.
Bidding to outmanoeuvre the BJP, the NCP has offered the ticket to Jagtap, who is the son-in-law of BJP’s Rahuri MLA Shivaji Kardile. The latter is being credited for Sujay’s switch over to the BJP.
“Names of Jagtap’s father Arun (party legislator), and another veteran, Prashant Gadakh, were previously in contention. But with the BJP naming Sujay, the party opted for Jagtap,” said a former state NCP minister.
While announcing Jagtap’s candidature on Wednesday, NCP state president Jayant Patil declared that his party was confident of winning the seat. This might seem a bit too ambitious considering that the BJP has won the seat thrice since 1999. But there are enough indications that it won’t be a cakewalk for Sujay either.
According to a senior NCP leader, the party would look to exploit the fault lines within the BJP following Sujay’s nomination, and the political rivalry that the Vikhe-Patils have with other established political families in the region to cause an upset.
Jagtap currently represents the Ahmednagar City Assembly segment, while Kardile is the MLA from Rahuri, which also falls in the same Lok Sabha constituency.
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Incidentally, in 2009, Kardile was NCP’s candidate for the Lok Sabha seat against BJP’s Dilip Gandhi, but had lost.
The family ties between Jagtap and Kardile had come into play during the recent municipality polls in Ahmednagar, where the local NCP unit had defied the state party and extended support to BJP, to deny Shiv Sena, which was the single largest party, a claim to power. While the state NCP unit had initiated action against Jagtap on paper, it had stopped short of suspending him.
BJP’s three-term sitting MP Dilip Gandhi, who enjoys sizeable clout among the local Jain community, and his supporters are also upset over denial of candidature to Gandhi. In fact, his supporters had even carried out an open protest against Sujay’s candidature on the day he was inducted into the party.
BJP’s other sitting MLA from the region, Monika Rajale, representing the Shevgaon-Pathardi seat, is a close relative of Congress leader Vijay (Balasaheb) Thorat, who is an arch rival of Vikhe-Patil, and had even targetted the Leader of Opposition following Sujay’s exit.
The Vikhe-Patils have also been battling former minister Yeshwantrao Gadakh’s family, which is associated with the NCP, for political supremacy over the region for over two decades.
In April 2018, the Ahmednagar police had arrested both Jagtap and Kardile in connection with murders of two local Shiv Sena leaders. Hearing is ongoing in the case. Both are out on bail.
Meanwhile, Congress’ move to offer the Shirdi Lok Sabha seat to Bhausaheb Kamble and name Shirdi Sai Sanshtan’s ex-chairman Jayant Sasane as the president of the Ahmednagar district unit are being seen as an exercise in damage control. Both Kamble and Sasane are known for their close proximity to the Vikhe-Patil family.