In a major embarrassment for the Congress, Sujay Vikhe-Patil, the son of Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, joined the BJP in the presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai on Tuesday. Welcoming him into the BJP-fold, Fadnavis said his party’s parliamentary committee will recommend Sujay’s name for the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat.
While the NCP has been contesting the seat since 1999, Sujay has announced that he wants to contest the seat. The NCP, however, has refused to leave aside the seat for its ally Congress.
Sujay (37), a neurosurgeon, said: “I have taken a conscious decision to join the BJP after the Congress-NCP combine completely sidelined me. I have been working painstakingly for Ahmednagar for the last three years. The NCP’s adamant decision not to concede one seat to Congress has hurt me.”
“I didn’t want to see my father going around begging for my candidature. I am an independent professional. I think I have the freedom to decide my life and career… Moreover, my supporters put pressure on me to take such a decision,” he added.
“Ideally, I would have liked to contest as a Congress candidate. Since NCP was not willing to concede the seat, BJP was my obvious choice. I subscribe to BJP’s developmental and nationalism agenda… I admire Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of the reforms he has introduced and his policies for social welfare, which are identical to the politics of the three generations of Vikhe-Patils,” said Sujay.
“What appealed to me the most was the manner in which the PM tackled the India-Pakistan issue post the Pulwama terror attack. He displayed courage and political will to give a befitting reply to Pakistan.”
Speaking on the occasion, Fadnavis said, “We welcome Sujay. It is a pointer to the growing popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in Maharashtra and India. With Sujay joining our party, we have also gained strength.”
“When Sujay Vikhe-Patil decided to join the BJP, he did not lay down any condition. We in the BJP believe in his capacity, and would recommend his name to BJP’s central parliamentary committee,” he added. Dilip Gandhi is BJP’s sitting MP from Ahmednagar.
Sujay’s decision to join BJP has exposed the cracks within the Congress-NCP alliance. It has also brought to the fore the differences between NCP president Sharad Pawar and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil.
Leaders from both parties conceded that Tuesday’s development was the failure of the party leaderships to put a mechanism in place to diffuse such differences. “The NCP’s decision to make Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat a prestige issue has hurt the sentiments of Congress workers, especially, the supporters of the Vikhe-Patil family,” said a leader.
On Sujoy joining BJP, Sharad Pawar told mediapersons in Mumbai, “How can I expected be to address the tantrums of someone’s else child? How would his parents feel?”
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said his party isn’t surprised at Sujay joining the BJP. “Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia was in the BJP while (her son) Madhavrao Scindia was in the Congress. Vasundhara Raje (her daughter) was (BJP) chief minister of Rajasthan while Jyotiraditya Scindia (Madhavrao’s son) is a Congress leader. If Vikhe Patil’s son joins the BJP, it should not be looked at differently,” he said. Malik added as far as Ahmednagar was concerned, NCP would fight with full strength against Sujay.
Sources said a section of the Congress has called for the resignation of Radhakrishna from the post of the Leader of Opposition. Radhakrishna’s supporters, meanwhile, blamed Sharad Pawar for his failure to show largeheartedness and leave the seat for Sujay.
On his part, Radhakrishna had met Rahul and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday to discuss the issue. Earlier, he had also approached Sharad Pawar, requesting him to consider Sujay like his grandson and leave Ammednagar for Congress. State Congress president Ashok Chavan’s efforts in this regard has also proved futile.
Sources in the NCP said the party’s reluctance to give up Ahmednagar is a result of its ambition to make stronger inroads into the district, which is identified as a stronghold of the Vikhe-Patil family. While Sujay’s grandfather Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil was a Union minister in NDA government, his father was a Cabinet minister in Congress-NCP government. The presence of the family could be felt in the region through their sugar factories as well as chain of educational institutions.