Being a stronghold of the Congress till it lost in the 2014 elections, Sangli is witnessing a triangular fight between BJP, Swabhimnai Paksha and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). For the first time in history, Congress is officially out of the contest in the constituency.
Popular for its grapes, turmeric and jaggery production, along with the fields dominated by sugarcane, Sangli has been a major market place for the agriculture produce in western Maharashtra and north Karnataka. The politics here is driven by the cooperative sector, which has always been the region’s economy chord.
Sangli had made its presence felt in the state and national politics during the era of late chief minister Vasantdada Patil of Congress. But the party has been losing its grip on the region and in 2019, it decided to give the seat to its ally Swabhimani Paksha of Raju Shetti.
This, however, hit the Patil family hard with senior party leader Pratik Patil — Vasantdada’s grandson — deciding to resign from the Congress in protest. To ensure its survival, the family joined hands with Paksha, which went on to field Vishal Patil — another grandson of Vasantdada — from the seat.
“The Congress had lost the Lok Sabha elections for the first time in 2014 in Sangli. So, it was wrong to give the seat to the ally… with this the existence of Congress in Sangli has come under threat,” said a party worker. The Paksha, meanwhile, is relying more on the goodwill of the Patil family to sail through in Sangli and Hatkanangale — being contested by Shetti.
BJP’s Sanjaykaka Patil had won Sangli in 2014 by defeating Pratik, then Union minister. Though Sanjaykaka was roped in by the BJP from the NCP to make inroads in the Congress bastion, all is not well in the party with factional politics marring the campaign.
The third contender from the seat is VBA’s Gopichand Padalkar, known for his close links with right-wing orgranisations like Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan of Sambhaji Bhide. He had contested on a BJP ticket from Khanapur Assembly segment in Sangli in 2014 and lost.
VBA is banking on the strong presence of minority communities in Sangli. “We had no option till 2014, as the politics here was dominated by Congress. The voters wanted a change and Sanjaykaka was elected. However, many are disappointed with Sanjaykaka as well as the policies of the BJP. The entire agriculture and trading in Sangli has taken a beating, leaving many jobless. Padalkar is an alternative,” said a trader from the minority community.
The Sangli Lok Sabha constituency has six Assembly segments — Miraj, Sangli, Palus-Kadegaon, Khanapur, Tasgaon-Kavathe Mahankal and Jat. Sanjaykaka is a native of Tasgaon, which is now represented by Sumantai Patil, wife of late NCP leader R R Patil. BJP chief Amit Shah and NCP president Sharad Pawar both have addressed rallies in Tasgaon. “The contest in Sangli is wide open. It would neither be a cakewalk for Sanjaykaka nor easy for Vishal to regain his family’s hold in local politics,” said voter.