Tight contest on the cards for Kolhapur Lok Sabha seat

KOLHAPUR | Updated on April 15, 2019

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis (left) and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray during a rally in Kolhapur last month. -- PTI   -  PTI

Incumbent Dhananjay Mahadik of the NCP to take on Sanjay Mandlik of the Shiv Sena

The 2019 general elections presents the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine its best chance to wrest the Kolhapur Lok Sabha seat, which was an impenetrable fortress of the Indian National Congress (INC) for many years after Independence, until the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) began its sway over the constituency, known for its iconic hand-crafted Kolhapuri leather chappals made from buffalo hide, sugar cane farming and, of course, party hoppers.

But, internal local political dynamics and personal rivalry could make it a close contest between the incumbent Dhananjay Mahadik of the NCP and Sanjay Mandlik of the Shiv Sena. In 2014, Mahadik defeated Mandlik by 33,259 votes to enter Parliament for the first time. But forces within the INC-NCP alliance are trying to scuttle his prospects this time, with the main challenge coming from local Maharashtra Legislative Council (MLC) and former state minister, Satej Patil of INC. Satej (called by his nick name Bunty) is the son of veteran local Congress strongman, D Y Patil, who quit the INC to join the NCP in December 2018.

Once considered close buddies, Dhananjay and Bunty have since fallen out, according to locals tracking the political scene. Pawar re-nominated Mahadik, a sugar baron like many politicians from the area, to contest the polls under the NCP banner after the alliance partners agreed to put up an NCP candidate for the seat, going by its track record.

According to his party loyalists, Mahadik has contributed much to development in Kolhapur since 2014, recounting his efforts to get the city railway station connected to the nearest Konkan railway network – a long standing demand of the public - and the re-opening of the local airport.

His opponent, Sanjay, is the son of Sadashivrao Mandlik, a Congressman who was first elected on an INC ticket in 1998 and as an NCP candidate in 1999 and 2004. In the 2009 polls, Sadashivrao contested and won the seat as an Independent, after leaving the NCP.

Mahadik, interestingly, was a Shiv Sainik, in the early days of his political career. In 2004, he contested the Lok Sabha polls on a Shiv Sena ticket, but lost to the NCP’s Sadashivrao Mandlik after which he parted ways with the Shiv Sena.

In May 2014, when Narendra Modi romped home to power in Delhi, Kolhapur witnessed the rise of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the assembly polls a few months later, with the duo bagging eight of the ten seats from the area.

INC’s Satej lost to BJP’s Amal Mahadik (Dhananjay’s cousin) in the 2014 state assembly elections, but became an MLC a few months later by defeating Amal’s father.

The brinkmanship and personal ambitions of local leaders from both sides are giving jitters to the two mainstream political alliances in an area that saw hundreds reportedly losing jobs in some 300 small foundries operating in Kolhapur, supplying parts to auto manufacturers, in the aftermath of demonetisation.

At the corporation level, the political undercurrents are already at play with the “tacit understanding” between the INC and the Shiv Sena, and the “bonhomie” between the BJP and NCP.

This is starting to spill over into the Lok Sabha polls, with disgruntled local leaders from the alliance parties “openly and discreetly” working for the success of their opponents.

Dhananjay’s election strategists admit to an “unease” within the alliance, but said this would not come in the way of a second term for the NCP candidate on the strength of his performance.

Local Congress workers allege that Dhananjay has worked against the interests of both the NCP and the INC. “But, the decision to field him again was NCPs’,” an INC worker said.

Local INC leaders, including Prakash Awade, President of the Kolhapur District Congress Committee, says with conviction that Kolhapur would continue to repose faith in the INC-NCP partnership.

“The NDA government has ruined farmers, industry has suffered and unemployment has zoomed. This government has no policies. Micro and small industries that abound in Kolhapur, have been the worst hit,” Awade told BusinessLine from his office located in the city.

Caste politics doesn’t play much of a role in deciding the winner of the seat.

“When unemployment increases, caste politics takes back stage because people want jobs. When industry comes up, people from all castes get jobs. Voters feel that this government is not supporting the industry,” he said.

“Kolhapur was a stronghold of the INC and subsequently the NCP. But, they became lethargic and complacent. They thought they will never lose. Quietly, Shiv Sena has built the party base from scratch. Now, they have eight MLA’s from Kolhapur,” says Dr J. F. Patil, an economist from Kolhapur.

“There is no other alternative apart from these two candidates,” says a ticketing agent at one of the many travel agencies in the city, summing up the mood of the electorate.

Published on April 15, 2019

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