JUST FIVE months after he suffered an embarrassing defeat in his Nanded Lok Sabha constituency, former chief minister Ashok Chavan faces a stiff challenge in his home district in the October 21 elections, with the massive victory he engineered for the Congress in Nanded Waghala Municipal Corporation in 2017 now a distant memory.
Chavan, then state Congress president as well, lost the Lok Sabha polls by nearly 40,000 votes, managing to post a lead in only three of the six Assembly segments. Of these, he established a substantial lead of 30,117 votes in Nanded North, while the other two leads were slim. In Nanded South, he led by 4,864 votes, while in his home constituency of Bhokar, his lead was only 4,786 votes.
Sharpening the challenge for the Congress-NCP combine in Nanded, the NCP’s Nanded district chief, former MLA Bapusaheb Gorthekar, joined the BJP earlier this month. Gorthekar joined the ranks of other former elected representatives who have left the Congress-NCP fold in recent years, including close Chavan confidantes and senior leaders like former MLA Omprakash Pokarna and former MP Bhaskarrao Khatgaonkar.
“The BJP and Shiv Sena may have some internal conflicts about contesting the Nanded Assembly segments, but the big challenge will be for Ashok Chavan to protect his turf,” said a Congress leader.
Of the six Assembly segments in Nanded, the Congress currently has three sitting MLAs, including Chavan’s wife Ameeta in Bhokar. Two are with the Sena, including Nanded South that was vacated by Hemant Patil this summer upon being elected as the Sena MP from neighbouring Hingoli. The BJP has only one MLA in Nanded, Tushar Rathod from Mukhed.
But a series of senior leaders departing from Congress and NCP will ensure at the very least that Chavan is kept busy campaigning in Bhokar alone.
BJP leaders said the wresting of the Nanded Lok Sabha seat was the culmination of a strategy that ran over two years, one that has not lost steam yet, and one that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis paid personal attention to.
When Fadnavis’ Mahajanadesh Yatra arrived in Nanded earlier this month, he was all praise for the electorate that he said had started a new chapter in the region’s political history by defeating Chavan.
Newly-elected MP Pratap Patil Chikhalikar, once a Congressman who later joined the NCP before winning the Assembly election from Loha on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2014, said he may have been in all four major parties but had found a home for life in the BJP. “Plans for the Vidhan Sabha election are underway, and BJP and Sena candidates in Nanded Assembly segments will win handsomely,” Chikhalikar said.
Some Congressmen believe that Chavan’s defeat was entirely on account of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) candidate Yashpal Bhinge who polled 1,65,341 votes, effectively splitting the Congress’ Dalit-Muslim votebank. Others, however, acknowledge that the October 2017 show of strength by the Congress at the Nanded Waghala Municipal Corporation, when the party grew from 41 corporators to 72 in the 81-member body, was on account of various factors that are now reversed.
For one, the Congress had wooed a number of sitting AIMIM corporators at the time but the latter party is now regaining lost ground. The BJP-Sena that had fought separately in 2017 say they have not only formed an alliance now but have also got their act together in Nanded. In addition, the VBA, which had reportedly garnered a large percentage of Dhangar and Muslim votes in the Lok Sabha elections, could again pose a challenge for Congress candidates.