Anger simmers in Nanded Lok Sabha constituency over pending Maratha quota, Ashok Chavan’s defection

Villagers have put up posters ‘barring’ campaigning by politicians, especially from the ruling Mahayuti coalition, ahead of polling in the seat in the second phase on April 26

April 23, 2024 02:13 am | Updated 02:14 am IST - Nanded

Firm stand: Voters in Nanded have taken a pledge not to support any politician until their issues are addressed.

Firm stand: Voters in Nanded have taken a pledge not to support any politician until their issues are addressed. | Photo Credit: Abhinay Deshpande

Residents of 55 villages in Ardhapur taluka, which comes under the Nanded Lok Sabha constituency in Maharashtra, have put up posters ‘barring’ campaigning by politicians, especially from the ruling Mahayuti coalition, ahead of polling in the seat in the second phase on April 26.

Situated within a 30-km radius of the city, the villages are predominantly inhabited by members of the Maratha community, who have been taking out protests over the past year under the leadership of quota activist Manoj Jarange-Patil to push for their demand for reservation in government jobs and education.

“Despite pressure from the ruling coalition to attend rallies and campaign trails, we have collectively decided against it due to the government’s failure to fulfil its promise of providing reservation to Marathas,” said Vittal Kalyankar from Pimpalgaon. He adds that the community is not opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi but is aggrieved with the Mahayuti and the incumbent MP, Prataprao Chikhalikar Patil of the BJP.

“In the villages, we live in harmony. Even people from other communities are supporting reservation for Marathas. Our fight is not against any community but for the welfare of our future generations. We’re not opposed to PM Modi at the Centre, but the local leadership of the Mahayuti and the incumbent MP,” Mr. Kalyankar said.

A distance away at Shelgaon, over 3,000 voters took a pledge at Atmaram Maharaj temple not to support any politician until their issues are addressed. “We’ll participate in the polls, but we won’t support the candidate or party that deceived us,” said Devrao Uttamrao Rajegore.

Villagers have collectively decided against attending poll rallies and campaign trails due to the government’s failure to fulfil its promise of providing reservation to the Marathas.

Villagers have collectively decided against attending poll rallies and campaign trails due to the government’s failure to fulfil its promise of providing reservation to the Marathas. | Photo Credit: Abhinay Deshpande

‘Zero development’

Gathered near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue in the village, Mr. Rajegore and a group of men point out a muddy road. “Do you see that road? It gets flooded during the monsoon. Despite being just 10 km from Nanded, there’s zero development here,” he said.

“Our protest is not only over Maratha reservation, but other equally pressing issues,” said village elder Naresh Puyod. Water scarcity, MSP for crops, impact of GST, inflation, unemployment, and the defection of two-time CM and Congress leader Ashok Chavan to the BJP are the major talking points in the seat.

Conversely, topics like the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Hindi as a national language, infrastructural development work in north India, and Mr. Modi’s image have received less attention here.

‘Tough fight’

Nanded, a major town in drought-hit Marathwada region, had been a Congress bastion. It was breached by the BJP when Mr. Chikhalikar defeated Mr. Chavan in the 2019 poll by a margin of over 40,000 votes. Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi candidate Yashpal Bhinge securing 1.66 lakh votes had dented Mr. Chavan’s hopes. “Now, he [Chavan] campaigns for Mr. Chikhalikar as if he were the candidate himself,” said senior journalist and political observer Sajeev Kulkarni.

He said “anti-incumbency is clearly evident” and Mr. Chavan’s induction into the BJP has made winning the seat tougher for the party. “Voters, especially in rural areas, are not drawing benefits from welfare schemes or other development measures. Muslims and Dalits — 4.50 lakh voters — have traditionally backed the Congress. There are over six lakh Maratha voters too and they will be a deciding factor,” he said.

This time, the Congress has fielded Vasant Chavan, and the VBA has fielded Avinash Bhosikar from the Lingayat community, which has around 1.75 lakh voters. “The Lingayats in Nanded have historically aligned with the BJP in Lok Sabha polls. The VBA’s choice of candidate has heightened the BJP’s concerns,” Mr. Kulkarni said.

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