A united Congress-NCP combine has sent many important messages from Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha constituency by winning the bypoll there on Thursday. It has underscored the distinct possibility of victory against mighty BJP in 2019 and has also made a significant political statement by proving BJP’s first rebel MP Nana Patole right.
Though it was NCP’s Madhukar Kukde, who won against BJP’s Hemant Patle by a convincing margin of 48,097 votes, the real political victor was Nana Patole, who has since joined the Congress.
Patole had quit the BJP last year at a time when MPs and MLAs from other parties were flocking to the BJP. And Patole was also the first BJP MP to directly challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose reign has remained unchallenged ever since he took over in 2014.
Patole had openly criticised Modi at a small programme in Nagpur saying that the PM doesn’t listen to anyone and had even asked him (Patole) to shut up when he had tried to raise the issue of farmers. While the BJP chose not to expel him for his rebellious posturing, Patole had finally made an exit to join the Congress, necessitating the bypoll.
Patole had since been attacking the BJP for not holding the bypolls early enough due to fear of losing. Patole eventually has been proven right.
“They had tried their best to see to it that the election will not be held because they were sensing a defeat. They could have held it along with Gorakhpur. They also campaigned against me personally focusing on the allegation that I had thrust the election on the people of Bhandara-Gondia. The CM even said in a public meeting that by-elections are held when somebody dies. People took it as an offence. Now they should tell who has died in Bhandara-Gondia,” Patole told The Indian Express.
On the contrary, the Congress-NCP leaders had focused their campaign on people’s issues. The BJP had also tried to surreptitiously advance crop damages for pest attack on cotton and paddy to the farmers two days ahead of the polling on Monday. The Election Commission had prevented the Fadnavis government from going ahead with the plan, as reported by The Indian Express.
Interestingly, Patole had switched his loyalty from Congress to BJP in 2014 on the issue of farm distress. He had won the LS poll in 2014 by defeating Praful Patel of NCP by over 1.5 lakh votes. Within three years, Patole was back in Congress again citing the same issue of farm distress, openly criticising Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Quite clearly, much water has flown under the bridge since 2014.
Despite being in an alliance then, the Congress-NCP combine was hardly a match for the Modi wave that had swept the polls then with a stalwart like Praful Patel biting the dust. Four years hence, the combine has surged ahead, giving yet another indication that united Opposition can give a tough fight to the BJP in 2019.
Both Patole and Patel, who undertook a joint campaign in the bypoll, have no doubt about the necessity for Congress and NCP coming together in 2019 if the two parties were serious about defeating the BJP. “Undoubtedly, we need to stand together,” said Patel.
He also said that the Bhandara-Gondia victory is a direct indictment of policies of the BJP governments in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular.
The victory has also put to rest the reports about Patel not putting enough weight behind his party’s candidate Kukde. Patel had even said that Kukde won’t be repeated in 2019 and that he or wife Varsha could be interested in contesting the next election.
Patole, who was till now stated to be interested in returning to state politics through assembly elections, however, appears to have changed his mind. “If the party wants me to contest Lok Sabha against Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur, I am prepared for it,” he said.
Another important message from the bypoll was optimisation of votes from almost all communities, including the Dalits in favour of the NCP candidate Kukde. The constituency has the largest chunk of Kunbi voters, generally a farming community to which both Patole and Kukde belong. The other sizeable castes include Telis, Powars, fishermen and Dalits. The largest chunk of Dalit votes was cornered by Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh whose candidate L K Madavi polled 40,326 votes.
Despite having won, Patel and Patole are both firm on their demand to replace EVMs with ballot papers. “Over 400 machines out of 2000 malfunctioned in the entire bypolls across the country. Does it not show the failure of EVM system of polling,” asked Patel.
EVM malfunctioning in the constituency during Monday’s polling had necessitated a repoll on Thursday at 49 centres. Overall, the constituency had registered a little over 50 per cent of voting.