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Lok Sabha elections 2024: ‘NCP(SP)’s Ahmednagar candidate up against formidable rival’

Updated on: 02 May,2024 07:23 AM IST  |  Ahmednagar
Sameer Surve |

Observers say sitting BJP MP, Sujay Vikhe Patil, comes from line of seasoned politicos with ties to cooperative movement

Lok Sabha elections 2024: ‘NCP(SP)’s Ahmednagar candidate up against formidable rival’

Sujay Vikhe Patil, the BJP candidate for Ahmednagar Lok Sabha constituency, on April 28; (right) Nilesh Lanke, former MLA and the NCP (SP) candidate, on April 28. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Nilesh Lanke, a former MLA contesting this Lok Sabha constituency on an NCP (SP) ticket, has been able to create a dent in the campaign of his opponent, the sitting BJP MP Sujay Vikhe Patil, but defeating his rival will not be an easy task.

Ahmednagar is part of Western Maharashtra, the agriculture and industrial belt of the state. The Vikhe Patils, one of the most influential families in the district, are renowned for having established Asia’s first cooperative sugar mill. Four generations of the family have been a part of the cooperative movement and have also been involved in the fields of medicine and education.

Sujay Vikhe Patil was elected as an MP for the first time in 2019 after gaining 7.04 lakh votes, defeating the runner-up, NCP’s Sangram Jagtap, by 2.81 lakh votes. In the 2014 election, the BJP candidate, Dilipkumar Gandhi, after securing 6.05 lakh votes. NCP’s Rajeev Rajale, who came second, polled 3.95 
lakh votes.

From rebel to candidate

Local political experts said Lanke was originally with the undivided Shiv Sena. A first-generation politician, he began his political career as a gram panchayat member in 2010. He joined the undivided NCP before the 2019 Assembly election and was elected as the MLA of the Parner segment. During the split, he took Ajit Pawar’s side. But as he wanted to contest the Lok Sabha election, he switched sides and succeeded in getting a ticket. 

In the Mahayuti seat-sharing, Ahmednagar went to the BJP. Ajit Pawar had no stake whatsoever there, but Lanke had aspirations. Sharad Pawar wanted a good candidate and knew Lanke was the one. He convinced Lanke, a prominent face, to return. Lanke’s Sena background helped in Pawar’s new equations with Uddhav.

Vikhe Patil’s family were originally with the Congress. But the MP joined the BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Later, his father Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil also joined the saffron party. He is now a minister in the state cabinet. Sujay Vikhe Patil’s grandfather, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, was a Shiv Sena MP in 1998.

Pandemic saviour

Political observers said Lanke is known for offering relief to villagers during the pandemic. He started a COVID-19 centre in Parner, which was a blessing for locals, an observer said. “He is receiving a good amount of support from the youth. However, four generations of his rival’s family politicians have been involved in politics and the cooperative movement in the district. Though Lanke has succeeded in creating a wave against Vikhe Patil and the BJP, it won’t be easy to defeat the family as they have good connections and goodwill in the whole district. Lanke has connections in one or two of the six Assembly segments that comprise the Lok Sabha seat. His work for the common man and grounded nature will help him,” said the observer.

Switching sides

Candidates who contested the election on an NCP ticket against the BJP in the past two Lok Sabha elections are now with the Mahayuti. Rajeev Rajale’s wife Monika is the BJP MLA of the Shevgaon Assembly constituency while Sangram Jagtap, the MLA of Ahmednagar City, is now with the NCP faction led by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.

Constituency facts

There are 19.81 lakh voters in the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat, of which 10.32 lakh are male, 9.48 are women and 119 transgender individuals.  While 32-33 per cent of the electorate belongs to the Maratha community, 23-27 per cent are in the OBC category. Muslim and Dalit voters account for 18 to 20 per cent and 18-19 per cent of the electors.

Voting calculation

While the Vikhe Patil family and BJP have been getting six to seven lakh votes, the NCP has been getting three to four lakh votes. While the NCP votes will be divided due to the split in the party, the BJP has been facing the challenge of Maratha reservation and the anger of farmers. Shiv Sena (UBT) is with Lanke. Two MLAs of the six representing the Assembly segments of Ahmednagar belong to the NCP (SP) while two are with the BJP and one with the NCP. One seat, Parner, is vacant.

In the Karjat Jamkhed constituency, MLA Rohit Pawar, the grandson of Sharad Pawar, is with Lanke. Ram Shinde, a BJP leader who was willing to contest the Lok Sabha election, had been denied the ticket that was given to Vikhe Patil. NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Lanke have successfully managed to put up strong local opponents of the BJP and Jagtap, the NCP (Ajit) MLA. This factor will help them at the polls.

In the constituency, the Maratha reservation issue, which presents a challenge to the BJP, isn’t a burning issue. Villagers in Parner tehsil said that Maratha of Ahmednagar are availing themselves of OBC reservation by applying as Kunbis. 

“BJP and Vikhe Patil will face the anger of farmers. But this displeasure is not so overwhelming that it can cause Sujay Vikhe Patil’s defeat. The price of yield and milk is an issue. But there are alternatives to agriculture due to industrialisation and the cooperative movement,” another villager said.

Long-standing feud

Historically, after the demise of Congress leader Yashwantrao Chavan, two groups were formed in the state under the leadership of Sharad Pawar and Shankarrao Chavan.

The Shankarrao Chavan group was considered to be opposed to that of Yashwantrao Chavan.  At that time, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil supported the former group. The dispute between Balasaheb Vikhe Patil and Sharad Pawar came to a head in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections.

Yashwantrao Gadakh Patil was the Congress candidate from Ahmednagar.  As Balasaheb Vikhe Patil did not get the nomination, he contested as an independent against Gadakh. But Yashwantrao Gadakh Patil was elected in a close contest. After that, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil filed a case in the court alleging that Sharad Pawar and Yashwantrao Gadakh Patil had insulted his character during the election. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court. Sharad Pawar was pulled up by the court, while Gadakh Patil couldn’t contest elections for six years. During the 2019 elections, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil appealed to Sharad Pawar to give this seat to the Congress. But Sharad Pawar refused and later Sujay Vikhe Patil joined the BJP.

No. of votes polled by Sujay Vikhe Patil in 2019

Candidates’ strengths and weaknesses

Sujay Vikhe Patil, the BJP candidate
. Forth-generation connect with district and links to cooperative movement
. BJP booth-level management
. Elder voters are emotionally attached to family
. Reach in every village
. Does not have personal connections at ground level
. Facing anger of Marathas and farmers
. Internal discontent exists within the BJP

Nilesh Lanke, NCP (SP) candidate
. Face of common villager
. Did great work during the pandemic
. Attractive to the youth
. Has command over industrial labourers
. Doesn’t have machinery at the ground level
. Not as financially endowed as opponent
. Doesn’t have reach compared to rival

Voters in the  Ahmednagar seat

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