Few in Ahmednagar are surprised that Dilip Gandhi, the three-time sitting MP, does not figure in the BJP’s first list of candidates and has not been given the ticket to contest Lok Sabha elections from the constituency. The writing was on the wall, especially when Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil’s son Sujay joined BJP and was given the ticket.
“I have nothing to say. Please, no comments,” said Gandhi, 67, who was first elected in 1999 as an MP from Ahmednagar and served two consecutive terms as MP in 2009 and 2014. “No, I am not unhappy and have no plans to quit the party,” he added, while refusing to answer queries on whether he will actively campaign for the BJP candidate. “I don’t want to talk on this issue,” he said.
In the last two Lok Sabha polls, Gandhi was successful as there was a split in NCP votes. During those elections, it was believed that the NCP would win the seat by taking advantage of the split in BJP votes. Instead, the BJP took advantage of conflicts within the NCP.
In 2014, infighting in the state BJP had come to the fore when some party activists in Ahmednagar stridently opposed Gandhi’s Lok Sabha candidature. Prataprao Dhakne, then chief of BJP’s Ahmednagar district unit, had quit the party and while the state leadership had dropped Gandhi’s name from the list of probables, many claimed that Gandhi had gone to New Delhi and used his connections in the party’s higher echelons to get a nomination.
However, this time, sources said, Gandhi was stuck between BJP factionalism and failure to strengthen local party workers. BJP also lost in the recent Ahmednagar municipal corporation elections and sources said that a strong group of BJP workers had protested against his “likely” renomination as Lok Sabha candidate for the 2019 elections. According to Milind Gandhe, former president of BJP city unit in Ahmednagar, Gandhi had neglected the strong old hands and party workers in the BJP. There were also allegations about irregularities in his tenure as chairman of the Ahmednagar Urban Cooperative Bank, sources said.
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Ahmednagar constituency in western Maharashtra has been making headlines as Sujay was firm on contesting elections from this seat. But the seat came under NCP quota as per the agreement between Congress and NCP, which are allies.
Even as Sujay was welcomed by the BJP, the move was not welcomed by the party rank and file. “Well, we have no other option. Be it A, B, C or D, whoever contests the polls, our main plan is to vote Narendra Modi back to power,” said a BJP party source.
Sujay takes on Sangram Jagtap from NCP. Jagtap represents Ahmednagar assembly constituency and his father, Arun Jagtap, is an NCP MLC. Jagtap’s father-in-law, Shivaji Kardile, is a BJP MLA from Rahuri Assembly constituency, which is part of the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat. Kardile was in the NCP before joining BJP in 2009.