End of road for western Maharashtra's last red bastion?
Critics accuse PWP's 11-time MLA Ganpatrao Deshmukh of dynasty politics after he announces candidature of his grandson from Sangola; party hopeful about win
Controversy over dynasty politics has marred the fight to retain the only remaining 'red bastion' in western Maharashtra. The left-wing Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) has won a record number of 11 terms from Sangola in Solapur district, thanks to nonagenarian MLA Ganpatrao Deshmukh.
However, recently, when the ageing Deshmukh, fondly known as Aabasaheb, announced that he wouldn't fight another election, and nominated a local industrialist, Bhausaheb Rupnar, as the official candidate of PWP, the party witnessed a minor revolution. Workers staged a sit-in agitation at the 93-year-old MLA's home for three days, demanding that he file the nomination, instead of the businessman, who they claimed was unpopular among the masses. But the veteran refused, reiterating that he was too old for yet another term. While Deshmukh's son Chandrakant, who also harboured political ambitions, was in the fray, PWP workers weren't too convinced about him. Eventually, Deshmukh's 27-year-old grandson Dr Aniket Deshmukh, a post-graduate student of orthopaedics in Pune, was named the worthy successor to fight the election on the party ticket.
(From left) Rohit More, Navnath Shinde and Amol Babar, all detractors of Deshmukh, feel that the veteran politician hasn't done enough, and that the writing is on the wall
Founded in 1947, PWP was once a force to reckon with in politics and trade unionism. It also had a strong influence in parts of Raigad district. But in the last decade or so, the party has been struggling for survival, especially with several left outfits slowly being written off. Deshmukh has been a living example of textbook left ideology. A former minister in the Vilasrao Deshmukh cabinet, he has always slammed family politics. However, his recent decision to choose a family member—though under party pressure—has not gone down well with his critics. "Deshmukh is no different from Sharad Pawar who is a friend and also promotes his grandsons. We strongly suspect that the MLA himself engineered the PWP workers' ire, following which he had to change his decision and bring in his grandson," said Rohit More, a resident of Alegaon, where the Deshmukhs addressed a public meeting late evening. "We have been supporting Deshmukh all along, but we will not vote for his grandson. He should have given the ticket to mass leader Deepak Salunkhe, who ensured his successive wins."
Salukhe, who has allegiance with Pawar's NCP, was previously rehabilitated in the upper house, but denied Assembly candidature this year. Since the party itself is in shambles and his chances of making it to the legislature are remote, Salunkhe has now extended support to Shiv Sena's Shahaji Patil, a former Congress leader, who had beaten Deshmukh in 1995. Sources said that the Maratha community which dominates the segment has also joined hands to beat the Deshmukhs, who belong to the equally dominant Dhangar community. "Deshmukh won in the past because the Dhangars came together and the Maratha votes got split. NCP and Congress may be with Deshmukh this time, but the writing is on the wall," said Amol Babar, a young textile mill employee. He also questioned the veteran MLA's long stint. "What has he done? Water scarcity is still unresolved. We get water tankers even when it is raining elsewhere," he said.
Salim Abbas Mulani
Deshmukh also confirmed water supply by tankers, when he spoke about his intervention in providing water to the villages. Another youth, Navnath Shinde, said that though the Deshmukhs talked about "creating a casteless society, delivering justice to peasants and workers and supporting the underprivileged", none of the promises were met. "If you ask Aniket about problems in the villages, he will definitely draw a blank." But, not everyone is unhappy with Deshmukh's decision. PWP insiders said that if the PWP leadership allowed the Raigad families' (Patils) dynastic succession, then an exception should be made for the people-friendly and workaholic Deshmukh, who doesn't have a private empire. Sangola resident Tejas Kokare, 24, whose family has been supporting PWP for four generations, said, "I am happy that we have a candidate who understands our aspirations," he said.
When mid-day reached out to Aniket, he said his candidature was what people wanted. "My grandfather has done a lot [for his constituency] and I want to continue his legacy," he said. When he stood up to address a rally, the 'political' genes in him spoke loud and clear. "You trusted me at this young age. I will never ever forget it. I don't want to discuss our detractors because that is not important. What is important is development and mitigation of drought. I will respect all communities equally and prove that I'm also your grandson, son and brother," he said, in a meticulously prepared short speech. The grandfather, frail but indomitable in his fighting spirit, told villagers: "I see a grand victory because of your enthusiasm. There is an NCP leader who is creating troubles for us, but remember that you have elected me 11 times and that isn't my individual feat, but your collective might. There have been waves like in Indira Gandhi's time and also in 2014, but PWP won here. I request you not to change the trend this time."
Deshmukh's driver-cum-aide Salim Abbas Mulani threw light on the grandfather-grandson ties. "I have known Aniket since he was five. I don't remember his grandfather ever indulging him. In fact, the two rarely discussed politics and PWP's ideology. But Aniket's public speaking and conduct have been influenced by him. He is as soft-spoken and kind-hearted as Aabasaheb," said Mulani, adding that Aniket had been away for schooling and higher education in Latur and Pune, for at least 18 years. Asked about the MLA's departure from austerity, when he bought a R30-lakh SUV, Mulani said it was because of pressure from his supporters. "He refused to receive a car as a gift. People forced him to use it," he said, asking this writer to visit the MLA's home in Sangola to see how the MLA lives. We did visit Deshmukh's residence. Barring a fresh layer of paint, the 45-year-old home still has broken old tiles and poorly painted cranky doors. The furniture bore the signs of age and frequent repairing.
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