WITH CONGRESS agreeing to part with the Sangli seat and offer it to the Swabhimani Paksha, its presence in western Maharashtra now seems to be only restricted to the Pune and Solapur city seats. Once a stronghold of the party, the Congress’s footprint in the region has shrunk due to the ascent of the NCP and desertion in its ranks.
Comprising the districts of Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Solapur, western Maharashtra has produced stalwart Congress leaders like Vasantdada Patil and Yashwantrao Chavan. Maharashtra, till now, has had 18 chief ministers and eight of them have been from western Maharashtra. Even after the formation of the NCP in 1999, three chief ministers of the state — Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Prithviraj Chavan — have been from this region. NCP chief Sharad Pawar is also from western Maharashtra.
Congress’s fortunes in this region took a hit when Pawar, then one of the party’s most important leaders, decided to chart his own political course in 1999. Most Congress leaders from the region decided to join Pawar’s outfit, NCP. Even in Satara, the home district of Yashwantrao Chavan, the Congress saw largescale desertion from its ranks. Only Sangli leaders refused to be part of the exodus.
Till the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Congress candidates have always won from Sangli, Pune and Solapur city seats. In fact, till 2014, Sangli has always chosen a Congress MP from the family of Vasantdada Patil. But Pratik Patil, grandson of Vasantdada, was defeated by Congress turncoat Sanjaykaka Patil in 2014.
This year, Congress has decided to offer the seat to farmers’ outfit Swabhimani Paksha. This decision has not gone down well with Congress leaders from the district. But a senior leader admitted that the party was a divided one in the district. “None of the leaders have the necessary capacity or the network to defeat the BJP. Intraparty feuds have almost killed the party…,” he said.
Local leaders say that the party has been outsmarted by NCP in many parts. It is also facing another wave of desertion and this time, leaders are leaving for BJP. Madan Bhosale, son of former state unit chief Prataprao Bhosale, has recently joined the BJP.