Lok Sabha election 2019: Bitter battle brewing in Maharashtra sugar belt

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on April 17, 2019

(From left) Parth Pawar, Mohan Joshi and Supriya Sule at a campaign rally in Pune   -  Mandar Tannu

Congress-NCP combine determined to put up a spirited fight in Pawar’s pocket borough

The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) satraps have dominated local bodies, the sugar and milk cooperatives, and the educational and financial institutions in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra. However, since 2014, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine has made inroads in the region, not by creating its own base, but by importing Congress-NCP leaders into their fold.

Also read: Marathwada voters miffed as politicians steer clear of drought, unemployment

The BJP-Sena managed to win five out of ten seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, while NCP won four seats. Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) which was with the BJP-Sena alliance in last polls won one seat. For the first time since general elections started in India, the Congress failed to win any seat in the region in 2014.

Pawar’s pocket borough

Betting on the farmers’ unrest this time, the Congress-NCP leaders, along with Shetkari Sanghatana, are making all efforts to retain their base, which has been the lifeline of their politics, while the BJP- Sena alliance is banking on the leaders who have shifted their loyalties to the alliance.

NCP President Sharad Pawar derives his political strength largely from this region. Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule is contesting from the Pawar family’s bastion Baramati and Parth, who is the son of Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, is contesting for the first time from Mawal constituency.

While Supriya is eyeing victory for the third consecutive time, the BJP has pitted against her Kanchan Kul, wife of MLA Rahul Kul, who is a member of the BJP’s ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP). Parth will lock horns with sitting Sena MP Shrirang Barne.

High-profile contests

Stakes are high for the Congress party in Solapur Lok Sabha constituency where veteran leader and former Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is fighting BJP’s Jai Siddheshwar Swami and Prakash Ambedkar of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen (AMIM). The BJP denied nomination to sitting MP Sharad Bansode who defeated Shinde in the Modi wave in 2014 and has pitted a religious leader against Shinde. Ambedkar’s candidature has put Shinde in a tight spot. Ambedkar is also contesting from Akola seat.

The sitting NCP MP and scion of the Shivaji dynasty, Udayanraje Bhosale, is contesting from Satara. Interestingly, NCP candidates are facing opposition within the party in Satara, Kolhapur and Madha where the NCP won in 2014.

Also read: Tight contest on the cards for Kolhapur Lok Sabha seat

Farmer leader and SSS MP Raju Shetti is contesting from Hatkanangale seat against former NCP MP Nivedita Mane’s son Dhairyasheel. Shetti has a strong base among sugarcane farmers in south Maharashtra and the BJP-Sena had benefited from its alliance with him. Shetti is now in the NCP-Congress camp. He has nominated Vishal Patil, grandson of former Chief Minister Vasantdada Patil as his party candidate in Sangli.

“Wherever you go, you are going to find same names and faces in the sugar belt. The only difference is that you will see them in different parties everytime. People who were with the Congress-NCP are now with the BJP–Sena and vice versa” said Sunil Patil, a youth from Sangli.

NCP is contesting six out of ten seats in the region and Pawar’s stand in the State and national politics depends on how his party performs in his stronghold. The Congress is struggling for survival in the land where it once ruled the roost. The party is contesting Pune and Solapur constituencies. For the BJP-Sena, retaining all five seats and adding to the tally is not going to be easy, considering the discontent among farmers and youth in the region.

For the latest on elections, click: Elections 2019

Published on April 16, 2019

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