Constituency Watch: Cong rebel’s entry may change equations for BJP & Sena-UBT in Sangli

The BJP has stepped up its efforts to consolidate its position in the Sangli Lok Sabha constituency in Maharashtra, a vibrant cooperative sector, which until recently was a Congress bastion.
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The BJP has stepped up its efforts to consolidate its position in the Sangli Lok Sabha constituency in Maharashtra, a vibrant cooperative sector, which until recently was a Congress bastion.

While the Congress retained the seat from 1962 to 2009, the BJP made inroads thereafter, winning back-to-back elections in 2014 and 2019.

Confident of a hat-trick, the BJP has renominated two-term sitting MP Sanjay Patil, who is locked in a triangular contest against Shiv Sena (UBT) nominee and award-winning wrestler Chandrahar Patil, and Congress rebel Vishal Patil, the grandson of former Chief Minister Vasantdada Patil, who is contesting as an Independent.

Sangli goes to the polls in the third phase on May 7.

Interestingly, Vishal Patil’s entry is forcing the BJP and Shiv Sena (UBT) to slog due to the changed equations.

The BJP is confident that Patil will win by a huge margin riding on PM Modi’s guarantees, The Hindutva card, especially in Miraj and Sangli Assembly segments, and the possible split in votes between the Sena (UBT) and the Congress rebel.

Sena's (UBT) unilateral move to claim Sangli and announce the nomination of Chandrahar Patil stunned its allies NCP (SP) and the Congress, as till then, the seat-sharing arrangements were not finalised for any of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra.

It also derailed the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s (MVA) initial plan for fielding a consensus candidate against the BJP.

Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray and MP Sanjay Raut had defended the party's move, saying it had left Kolhapur to the Congress for the nomination of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj.

The Sena (UBT) also said that had it not staked its claim on Sangli, it would have been wiped out from the Western Maharashtra region.

Political observers, however, say the party has a little presence in Sangli with not more than 25,000 votes which Sanjay Patil got in the last two elections due to BJP’s alliance with Shiv Sena (undivided).

They also point out that Chandrahar Patil has boarded the wrong train at the wrong time.

Moreover, Chandrahar Patil has no political background while the Congress, in particular, argues that he won’t be able to get a political mileage for merely being a wrestler.

However, Thackeray has made it a prestige issue and hopes to cash in on the reported undercurrent against the Modi government, particularly among the farmers, minorities, Dalits and tribals.

On its part, the Congress not only expressed strong displeasure, but also made repeated appeals to Thackeray to reconsider the decision as the party was keen to field Vishal Patil in a bid to encash the anti-incumbency against BJP MP Sanjay Patil.

But Sena (UBT) stuck to its stand.

Congress MLA Vishwaji Kadam held a series of meetings with the party high command and wrote letters for getting back the Sangli seat for Vishal Patil's nomination. A section of the Congress also made a pitch for a friendly fight in Sangli to remain relevant in the constituency.

However, the demands were rejected by the Congress high command as also by the Maha Vikas Aghadi allies. The Congress was left with no option but to support Chandrahar Patil.

Even though the Congress has reluctantly joined Chandrahar Patil’s campaign to adhere to the alliance dharma, it faces a huge challenge to mobilise the cadres as a large number of them are working for Vishal Patil.

While Vishwajeet Kadam, Congress MLA from Palus-Kadegaon, and Vikram Sawant, party legislator from the Jat Assembly constituency, are actively campaigning for Chandrahar Patil, their vote bank is divided as a large section of it is sided with Vishal Patil.

In case of NCP (SP), party chief Sharad Pawar has said that he was also surprised after the Sena (UBT) announced to contest the Sangli seat.

However, he also said that as the decision has been made, his party is wholeheartedly working for Chandrahar Patil.

Pawar and state NCP (SP) chief Jayant Patil, who also hails from Sangli district and represents the Islampur Assembly seat, have addressed several rallies in support of Chandrahar Patil.

Meanwhile, Vishal Patil is busy mobilising support from the traditional Congress vote bank, and the disgruntled BJP supporters who expressed strong reservations against the renomination of Sanjay Patil.

To his advantage, former BJP legislator from Jat, Vilas Jagtap, resigned from the party and joined him.

In addition, former Sena leader and ex-minister Ajit Ghorpade has also joined hands with Vishal Patil.

The Congress rebel is also confident to lure the voters by playing the victim card.

Vishal Patil is also eyeing to woo the Maratha voters, who are reportedly not happy with the lack of implementation of the 10 per cent reservation for the community.

Also, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) founder Prakash Ambedkar’s move to extend support to Vishal Patil has brightened the latter’s prospects. Prakash Ambedkar is set to address a rally in his support on May 5, the last day of campaigning.

Against this backdrop, Sanjay Patil is trading quite cautiously, banking on the work he did in the last 10 years, and the development initiatives of the Modi government.

He also got Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis to intervene and quell the resentment within the party fold after his renomination.

This worked partially, as former legislator Prithviraj Deshmukh, who was one of the ticket aspirants and a strong critic, came on board and joined Sanjay Patil’s campaign.

This apart, BJP’s increased presence in Sangli district, especially in the cooperative sector, is a big positive for Sanjay Patil.

However, he still has to mobilise the cadres of the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

Although the Shiv Sena legislator from Khanapur, Anil Babar, is no more, his two sons and party supporters are still hesitant to join Sanjay Patil’s campaign despite efforts to bring them on board. The reason being the rift between Anil Babar and Sanjay Patil over the latter’s style of functioning.

Despite playing the development card, Sanjay Patil faces voters’ resentment over lack of concrete solutions for supply of potable water and water for agriculture.

A large section of people have to be supplied water through tankers during summer in the district.

In addition, the lack of airport development and logistic park, delays in the implementation of the drinking water scheme from Krishna river and rising river pollution are some of the key issues which are being raised by the voters during campaigning.

Of the six Assembly segments in the constituency, BJP represents Sangli and Miraj (SC), Congress is in power in Jat and Palus-Kadegaon, the Kharagpur seat is vacant due to the demise of Anil Babar, while Tasgaon Kavathe-Mahankal is held by the NCP (SP).

There are 18,65,960 voters in the seat, including 9,52,005 males and 9,13,843 females.

In 2019, Sanjay Patil won the seat by polling 5,08,995 votes against Swabhimani Paksha nominee Vishal Patil's 3,44,643 votes. In 2014, Sanjay Patil defeated Congress nominee and former Union Minister Pratik Patil by over 2.5 lakh votes.

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