In Chandrapur, Congress struggles to unite amidst leadership tensions

Leader of the Opposition Vijay Wadettiwar sought the ticket for his daughter Shivani; the leadership fears he may not support Pratibha Dhanorkar in her campaign

March 25, 2024 11:38 pm | Updated April 27, 2024 12:14 pm IST - Mumbai

The delay in announcing Pratibha Dhanorkar as the Congress’ candidate for the Chandrapur Lok Sabha seat is due to competition within the party sources say. File

The delay in announcing Pratibha Dhanorkar as the Congress’ candidate for the Chandrapur Lok Sabha seat is due to competition within the party sources say. File | Photo Credit: AP

The Congress laid speculation to rest by announcing Pratibha Dhanorkar as its candidate for the Chandrapur Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra on Saturday night. However, the announcement was marked by a fierce intra-party battle in the local party unit.

Ms. Dhanorkar, widow of the late Suresh ‘Balu’ Dhanrokar who secured the sole victory for Congress in the western State in the 2019 general election, had got the nod due to her husband’s untimely death. She is also a Congress MLA from Warora in the district and is said to have had the support of State unit chief Nana Patole.

The delay in announcing her candidature, which came three days before the last date for filing nomination papers (March 27), has been attributed to intense competition within the party, as local stalwart and Leader of the Opposition (LoP) Vijay Wadettiwar sought the ticket for his daughter Shivani.

Sources within the party told The Hindu that Mr. Wadettiwar conveyed to the high command that only his family could effectively challenge the BJP’s Sudhir Mungantiwar, the incumbent Forest Minister in the Eknath Shinde-led government. “During the Central Election Committee meeting, he [Mr. Wadettiwar] told the top leadership that only his family can present a formidable challenge to Mr. Mungantiwar, who is reluctant to contest the Lok Sabha election. He strongly lobbied for his daughter,” they said.

To resolve the impasse, the leadership proposed that Mr. Wadettiwar himself enter the fray. However, the Congress leader, a prominent figure in State politics, declined the offer, viewing the move to the national capital as “political retirement”. Mr. Mungantiwar too was reportedly reluctant to enter the fray but was fielded by the BJP as it didn’t want to take chances following defeat in the 2019 election. “I’m not reluctant, but I feel there is so much more work to be done in the State,” he said.

“Looking at the low-key reception for Ms. Dhanorkar at Nagpur airport, the party leadership is now concerned that the LoP and his supporters may not actively campaign for her. This potential lack of support could make the path easier for the BJP candidate. Mr. Wadettiwar is a local heavyweight and holds sway over nearly all Assembly constituencies in the district and across the region,” said the Congress leader quoted earlier.

Amid “lack of support” from the local leaders, Ms. Dhanorkar is expected to leverage sympathy votes alongside the combined vote bank of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition. On the other hand, Mr. Mungantiwar will rely on his personal network, the Ram Mandir and the “Modi” factor to secure victory.

Once a Congress stronghold, Vidarbha was breached by the BJP a decade ago but remains an important region for the grand old party. Top Congress leaders Mr. Wadettiwar, Mr. Patole, Nitin Raut, and Mukul Wasnik hail from the region, as do BJP’s Nitin Gadkari, Devendra Fadnavis, Mr. Mungantiwar and state chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule.

Meanwhile, the Congress also fielded Nagpur West MLA Vikas Thakre against Union Minister Gadkari from Nagpur, who is confident to complete a hat-trick of wins with a record majority. Other candidates are Rashmi Barve from Ramtek (SC), Prashant Padole from Bhandara-Gondiya, and Namdeo Kirsan from Gadchiroli-Chimur. All five constituencies will go to polls in the first phase on April 19.

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