In a blow to the opposition alliance in Maharashtra, former NCP Rajya Sabha MP Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil on Tuesday announced his decision to join the BJP. Ranjitsinh’s father and Madha MP Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, who is one of the most senior leaders of the NCP in the state, is also expected to join the BJP.
Speaking to supporters in his hometown of Akluj in Solapur district, Vijaysinh endorsed the decision of his son and said he will meet supporters to take a final decision. “I will do what my supporters ask,” he said.
The entry of the father-son duo will come as a shot in arm for the BJP, which has been struggling find a suitable candidate to take on the NCP in its stronghold of Madha. Click here for election stories
The move comes amid the Mohite-Patils’ increasingly uneasy relationship with the NCP. Vijaysinh, a former deputy chief minister, was sidelined after losing the 2009 elections from Pandharpur Assembly seat. He had contested from Pandharpur after Malshiras, from where he had won since the 1980s, became a reserved constituency.
However, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Vijaysinh was one of the four NCP leaders in Maharashtra who managed to win despite the ‘Modi wave’. He had defeated Sadashiv Khot, leader of then NDA constituent Swabhimani Paksha, by a narrow margin of 25,344 votes.
NCP faces uphill task of retaining Madha seat
With Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil likely to be fielded as the BJP candidate from Madha, the NCP faces the difficult task of retaining this seat. The party is severely divided in the region and fielding a consensus candidate will be difficult for it. Thanks to the extensive network the Mohite-Patils have built in the area, they already have a major political advantage in the constituency.
The soft-spoken Vijaysinh had reportedly fallen out of favour with senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar years ago due to the former’s popularity across party lines. In 2003, majority of MLAs in the state had backed him as the candidate for deputy chief minister instead of Pawar. Later, NCP chief Sharad Pawar appointed him as chairman of Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federations. However, the rise of leaders like Baban Shinde, Sanjay Shinde and others in the NCP weakened the hold of the Mohite-Patils in the area.
At the beginning of this year’s election season, Sharad Pawar had indicated that he would like to contest from Madha, taking the Mohite-Patils by surprise. Sharad Pawar had contested from Madha in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and won by a margin of over 3 lakh votes. While Sharad Pawar later said he would not contest the Lok Sabha election, there was no certainty about whether Vijaysinh would be fielded again.
There were rumours about former bureaucrat Prabhakar Deshmukh being promised the NCP ticket from Madha. Faced with political isolation, Ranjitsinh had reportedly opened a dialogue with the BJP and managed to convince his father to follow suit.