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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Lok Sabha elections 2024 Caste politics and a three way battle awaits Akola

Lok Sabha elections 2024: Caste politics and a three-way battle awaits Akola

Updated on: 20 April,2024 07:25 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dipti Singh |

Caste and religion take centre stage in Akola’s parliamentary seat battle

Lok Sabha elections 2024: Caste politics and a three-way battle awaits Akola

VBA candidate from Akola district Prakash Ambedkar addresses his supporters ahead of the Lok Sabha election in Vidarbha. Pic/Satej Shinde

In the Akola Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress has invoked the Maratha card, intensifying the stakes in the election. With the BJP’s Anup Dhotre, VBA’s  Adv Dr Prakash Ambedkar, and Dr Abhay Patil from Congress in the fray, a three-way contest is imminent in the constituency.

Given that the two major candidates hail from the Maratha community, there is a likelihood of Hindu votes being polarised. The outcome of this three-way contest hinges on whose favor the division of votes will fall this time. Historically, it has been observed that in such scenarios, the BJP tends to benefit. Speculation is rife regarding whether this trend will repeat itself this year.

Nevertheless, despite the triangular fight in Akola, the sitting MP and grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar, appears to be in a comfortable position.

Three-way contest

In the Akola constituency, caste politics and the dynamics of vote division have wielded significant influence in every Lok Sabha election. Over the past three and a half decades, barring two exceptions, Akola has witnessed a three-way contest. Remarkably, this scenario has consistently favored the BJP.

Historically, until 1989, the Akola constituency was a stronghold of the Congress party. However, since then, the BJP has held sway, with Pandurang Fundkar representing three times, and Prakash Ambedkar twice with Congress support. However, with the former Union Minister of State Sanjay Dhotre of the BJP securing four consecutive terms, Akola earned a reputation as a BJP stronghold, with Congress unable to break the streak of defeats over the years.

In recent elections, the Congress’s decision to field minority candidates resulted in a three-way contest among Dalits, Muslims, and Hindus, ultimately benefiting the BJP. Despite the ongoing three-way contest, there are expectations of significant strategic shifts.

Maratha card

Prakash Ambedkar’s backing of two Congress candidates and one from the NCP in the state raises speculation about Maha Vikas Aghadi’s potential candidate against him in Akola. Congress strategically plays the Maratha card by fielding Dr Abhay Patil, considering the dominance of Maratha voters in Akola. The constituency’s diverse electorate, including Dalits, Muslims, OBCs, Malis, Dhangars, and tribal communities, holds significant sway over the election outcome. While religious sentiments took precedence in the 2019 elections, indications point to a return to caste politics this time. With Congress’s innovative approach, the contest in Akola gains vibrant hues, setting the stage for a closely fought battle among all three contenders, with the outcome hinging on who can navigate the altered political dynamics effectively.

Saffron again?

The BJP has not lost a Lok Sabha election in the Akola constituency since 2004. Threatening its chances of making it five in a row are, ironically, allegations of parivarwad (dynasticism), with the ruling party fielding Anup Dhotre, son of four-time MP Sanjay Dhotre. The BJP has established Akola as its stronghold by promoting leaders from the majority Kunbi-Maratha community.

The last two general elections heavily favored the BJP due to two factors: the influence of Narendra Modi and the Congress’s decision to field a Muslim candidate - Hidayatulla Patel, leading to increased polarisation. In 2019, Patel received 254,370 votes, mainly from the Muslim community, while Ambedkar garnered 278,848 votes, primarily from Dalit voters. Meanwhile, the BJP’s Sanjay Dhotre secured a significant victory with a margin of 554,444 votes.

Despite its underdeveloped status, in Akola, caste, and religion take precedence over developmental issues such as water scarcity and inadequate job opportunities in elections.

Now, with this enticing battle, between BJP, Congress, and VBA, with VBA going solo this time, will the vote polarisation benefit the saffron party, is the curiosity within the political circles?

A ray of hope for Ambedkar

Prakash Ambedkar, leader of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), sees a glimmer of hope amid a streak of defeats since 2004. The VBA decided to contest alone in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections due to unresolved infighting among Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) constituents over seat sharing. Ambedkar accused the MVA of sidelining minority candidates from the LS elections.

“Clear signs of match-fixing between Congress, Shiv Sena, and BJP are emerging, with weaker candidates being fielded and covert ties being exposed, such as  
Nana Patole’s withdrawal from the Bhandara-Gondiya seat,” explained Ambedkar, elaborating on his decision to go solo.

He added, “They (Congress) have sidelined Muslim candidates not only in Akola but throughout the state. Muslims, Christians, and Jains. Now, is there any distinction between MVA and Mahayuti?”

Ambedkar remains hopeful that Muslims will support him despite Congress nominating Patil. VBA emphasises Patil’s ties to VHP and RSS in talks with Muslim leaders. 

Ambedkar also aims for Maratha votes through his connection with Manoj Jarange-Patil. In 2019, he contested from Akola and Solapur but lost, despite previous wins in 1998 and 1999. In the 2019 General Election, VBA, allied with AIMIM, impacted Congress and NCP candidates in nine Lok Sabha seats.

Poll analysts suggest that Prakash Ambedkar’s VBA has the potential to make a substantial impact on the vote share of opposition alliance partners, citing figures from the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Vidarbha.

“In many constituencies of Maharashtra, the combined vote share of the VBA and Congress surpasses that of the BJP. In the past, Congress leaders have pointed fingers at the VBA for defeats on several seats by narrow margins, which could have otherwise swung in their favour, they have alleged. Some of the congress leaders even today accuse the VBA of covertly aiding the BJP in both parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2019. However, all attention is focused on one question: While the VBA may significantly influence the vote share of both the BJP and Congress, will it secure victory and secure a seat in Parliament as it has done before,?” said Mayur Ayare, a poll analyst and a teacher of political science from Nagpur.

VBA’s past performance in Vidarbha

In 2014, Ambedkar secured 2,38,776 (14.28 per cent) votes in the Akola Lok Sabha constituency, a figure that increased by about 40,000 votes in 2019, reaching 2,78,848 votes. Similarly, in Bhandara-Gondia, a BRP-BMS candidate garnered a voter share of 0.16 per cent in 2014, whereas a VBA candidate in 2019 secured a vote share of 3.68 per cent. In Ramtek, BRP-BMS candidate Sandeep Nandeshwar received 2,640 votes in 2014, but in 2019, VBA’s Kiran Rodge received 36,340 votes, marking a significant jump of almost 34,000 votes. Mohan Rathod of BRP-BMS secured 22,143 votes in 2014 in Yavatmal-Washim, whereas Vanchit’s Pravin Pawar garnered 94,228 votes in 2019. Describing Vanchit’s performance in 2019 as exceptional, Ambedkar said: “I am very sure that this time around VBA will come out not only ‘changing the dynamics of the voting pattern’ in this Lok Sabha election but also emerge as a stronger party than before.”

Sanjay Patil, a Mumbai-based researcher and an expert in urban politics and elections, said, The VBA’s vote share surged from 2014 to 2019, yet converting this into seats is key. Some VBA supporters feel uncertain, sparking talk of a potential VBA-Congress alliance. However, there’s concern about vote polarization and division, especially with the Congress fielding a candidate linked to the RSS. Winning seats, not just boosting vote shares, is the ultimate measure of success.

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