After aiding Eknath Shinde in his coup which split Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now eyeing Mr. Thackeray’s ally, NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s bastion of Baramati Lok Sabha constituency in Pune district.
Leaving no stone unturned to breach the impregnable constituency from the Pawar clan, senior BJP leader and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to visit the constituency in Pune district between August 16 and 18 in a bid to enthuse BJP cadre.
Ms. Sitharaman, who is expected to visit the Assembly segments in Baramati, will be interacting with the BJP workers and take stock of the party’s strength in a constituency which has been a stronghold of the Pawar family since the NCP’s formation in 1999.
The visit is part of the BJP’s ‘Pravas’ campaign to shore up its base in 144 Lok Sabha constituencies ahead of the 2024 general election. 16 of these constituencies are in Maharashtra.
Along with Ms. Sitharaman, Union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Renuka Singh will be visiting Shirur Lok Sabha constituency during the same period. The constituency is currently represented by NCP MP Amol Kolhe.
Of the four LS seats in Pune district, the BJP holds just one – Pune (comprised of mainly the urban segments), the NCP holds Baramati and Shirur while Maval is held by the Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne.
However, an advantage for the BJP this time is that Mr. Barne has now joined the rebel Eknath Shinde camp, which is allied to the saffron party.
In 2019, the BJP had launched a blitz to topple Ms. Sule and break the stranglehold of the Pawars’ on Baramati. Ms. Sule’s cousin – Leader of Opposition Ajit Pawar- has been MLA of the Baramati Assembly segment for more than 30 years, winning the seat a record seven times since 1991.
Given Baramati’s strong identification with ‘Brand Pawar’, the BJP has had a tough time making inroads in this constituency.
Yet, in the 2014 LS election, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) leader Mahadev Jankar, who hails from the Dhangar community had given Ms. Sule a scare after the latter managed to win the family borough by fewer than 70,000 votes.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP had fielded Kanchan Kul, wife of Rahul Kul, Daund BJP MLA who was once a member of Mr. Jankar’s RSP. However, Ms. Kul lost to Ms. Sule by a margin of more than 1.5 lakh votes.
With the recent toppling of the tripartite MVA government whose ‘architect’ was widely considered to be Sharad Pawar, the BJP is again scenting an opportunity to storm the NCP’s chief’s citadel.