WHILE THE Shiv Sena has fielded 38-year-old first-timer Vishal Kadam from Gangakhed seat in Parbhani, sugar baron Ratnakar Gutte, who is contesting the Assembly election while in judicial custody in an Enforcement Directorate case, has installed a hoarding in the town declaring himself as the “official” candidate of the “Rashtriya Samaj Paksha-Bharatiya Janata Party-RPI(A)” alliance.
Gutte is in custody in connection with a bank fraud case involving his Gangakhed Sugar & Energy Pvt Ltd. Associated with the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP), an ally of the ruling BJP, Gutte has filed his nomination as an Independent candidate.
The hoarding, on Gangakhed-Parli Road, not only names Gutte as the “official” alliance candidate, but also includes photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde, RSP leader Mahadev Jankar and others. It bears the symbol allotted to him as an Independent, a farmer driving a tractor.
In a second hoarding along the same road, Gutte, who is in jail since earlier this year, asks in bold typeset whether he is being faulted for providing employment to thousands through the Gangakhed industries.
“Majha kaay chukla? (What’s my fault?)” it says. “Generated thousands of jobs for youngsters through Gangakhed Sugar and Energy (Pvt Ltd); got approvals for the Gangakhed-Dharkhed bridge and barrage; started multi-state bank and CBSE-approved school,” it says. The case against Gutte pertains to his company availing loans worth several hundred crores from various banks in the guise of loans to farmers.
Considered close to the BJP regime, Gutte unsuccessfully contested as the official BJP-led alliance candidate from Gangakhed in the 2014 Assembly polls.
In his election affidavit this year, the 61-year-old has listed assets amounting to Rs 91.68 crore and assets belonging to his wife with a total value of Rs 57.31 crore. Under pending criminal cases, Gutte has listed a cruelty case filed by his wife under Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code and the ED case pertaining to fraud and forgery under Section 120 (B) of the IPC and sections of the Money Laundering Act. He has also listed one other cheating case and two pertaining to violations of the election code of conduct. He has stated his education as Class VIII.
In October 2017, the Maharashtra government revoked action it had launched against Gutte’s distillery over alleged connections with an illicit liquor net.
The NCP’s candidate from this segment is sitting MLA Dr Madhusudan Kendre, who has run a low-profile campaign focussing on the party’s network in the area. Referring to Gutte’s posters, Kendre says, “What does he mean by asking what is his mistake? He knows what his crime is, and that’s why he is in jail.” Though local residents say there is tremendous anti-incumbency, Kendre says he is confident of a win.
Jankar, leader of the RSP, was earlier quoted confirming that Gutte would contest as an RSP candidate. Later, he requested that the Sena withdraw its candidate from Gangakhed, though he said he would not quit the alliance over the seat.
Two other RSP members, sitting MLA Rahul Kul and Meghana Bordikar, are contesting on the BJP’s symbol.
Fifteen candidates are in the fray this time in Gangakhed, including Independent Ghandat Mama, who polled 47,714 votes in the 2014 Assembly polls, in comparison to Gutte’s 56,126 and Kendre’s 58415 votes.