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NCP, Shiv Sena keen to make inroads into Vidarbha

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

The recent four-day tour of the Vidarbha region by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, after nearly two years, signals the party’s intent to make inroads into a region where the dominant players have always been the Congress and the BJP.

Mr. Pawar held a number of meetings with members from a cross-section of society – traders, lawyers, doctors, among others.

The Shiv Sena, NCP’s ally in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) Government, too, has been trying hard to make inroads in the region. After severing ties with the BJP post the 2019 Assembly poll, the Sena has been attempting to extend its influence outside its traditional areas of dominance – Mumbai city, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and the Konkan.

However, the Sena and the NCP face a daunting task of supplanting the two national parties.

While the BJP owes its influence in this belt to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur, the Congress has always had tall leaders from Vidarbha. This region has 10 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats from the State and 62 of the 288 Assembly seats.

The NCP, which has its base in the ‘sugar heartland’ of western Maharashtra, has little influence in Vidarbha, barring some isolated outposts. However, Mr. Pawar, regarded as the ‘architect’ of the tripartite MVA Government, is now expanding his footprint in Vidarbha – a region seared forever in memory following suicides by farmers.

While Praful Patel was the NCP’s ‘point man’ in the Gondia-Bhandara area, the party faces a setback after ex-Home Minister Anil Deshmukh’s recent arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case.

“Anil Deshmukh’s fall has dented the NCP. He is a resourceful person, a five-time MLA from Katol in Nagpur, and was the dominant figure for nearly two decades,” says an analyst.

Despite the efforts of the NCP and the Sena to increase their respective bases, political history proves the Congress’s enduring staying power here.

“It may be recalled that in 1977, despite the Janata wave sweeping the country, the region resolutely voted Congress with loyalists like Nashikrao Tirpude, Vasant Sathe, who held the Akola and Wardha Lok Sabha seats, carrying the day for the Congress,” says Pune City Congress spokesperson Ramesh Iyer.

The region has given the Congress three Chief Ministers – Maratrao Kannamwar, Vasantrao Naik (who remains the State’s longest-serving CM), and Suddhakar Rao Naik. The fourth CM from this region is Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP.

The Congress has also maintained a strong second line of leaders with big players such as Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) chief Nana Patole, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar, Energy Minister Nitin Raut and Yashomati Thakur – all influential politicians from this belt.

Like the NCP, the Sena’s presence here is limited. While Bhavana Gawali, a five-term MP from Washim-Yavatmal Lok Sabha constituency, is an important Sena leader, the party, through Eknath Shinde’s appointment as Gadchiroli’s Guardian Minister, has been trying to exert its influence in the Maoist-hit region.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s focus on completing the ambitious Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway, named after the late Bal Thackeray, is evidence of the saffron party’s earnestness to build a base in Vidarbha.

Yet, the Chief Minister’s recent ill-health could put the brakes on his party’s expansion in this belt. As the clock ticks towards the crucial civic polls in February 2022, only time will tell which party holds the cards in the battle for Vidarbha.


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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 7:12:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ncp-shiv-sena-keen-to-make-inroads-into-vidarbha/article37837186.ece

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