In a major setback to the Congress in Maharashtra, Dr. Sujay Vikhe-Patil, son of senior Congressman and Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil on Tuesday joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who announced that his name was being recommended to the central Parliamentary Board as candidate from Ahmednagar South Lok Sabha seat.
“Joining BJP is my personal choice. I have taken this decision against the wishes of my father. I do not know what my mother and father think about this decision. But I consider this as a huge responsibility and promise to work tirelessly to ensure both the seats in my districts come to BJP,” Dr. Vikhe-Patil said.
Mr. Fadnavis said he knows that Sujay had to rebel in the family to take this decision. “But in due course of time, the decision will prove to be right,” he said.
“Youngsters of this country know that development and country’s security can be taken care of Narendra Modiji. Sujay is a representative of that youth. His entry in our party will make us stronger in Ahmednagar,” said Mr. Fadnavis.
‘Can’t fulfil demands’
Commenting on statements that Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is responsible for Dr. Sujay Vikhe-Patil joining the BJP, party president Sharad Pawar said he is not entitled to fulfil demands of children from other families.
“I can look after my house. How can I fulfil demands of children from other families? If anyone is changing the route and think that the journey will be smooth, then I have nothing but well-wishes,” Mr. Pawar told reporters on Tuesday evening.
The Ahmednagar seat is currently held by BJP’s Dilip Gandhi. However party surveys had recommended change in candidate as he was facing anti-incumbency.
Seat-sharing talks between Congress and NCP were disrupted several times in the past over the Ahmednagar south seat as Dr Vikhe-Patil was keen to contest. As per the seat sharing formula, the seat is with the NCP and it was unwilling to part it. A senior NCP leader told The Hindu that Dr. Vikhe-Patil was offered to contest the polls from the NCP. “He was to take the decision. We were open to take him in,” the leader said.
Last week, Dr. Vikhe-Patil held a meeting with Mr. Fadnavis’ blue-eyed-boy and Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan which led to speculations of him joining the BJP.
However, on Monday afternoon, NCP chief Sharad Pawar in a press conference clarified that there was no question of NCP giving the seat to Congress. Mr. Pawar even recounted the old days of his rivalry with Dr. Vikhe-Patil’s grandfather Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil. “That was an indication for us that Sujay is not going to get ticket even from the NCP,” said a person close to Dr. Vikhe-Patil.
In a last ditch effort to pursue Congress leadership to pressurise the NCP and in a bid to stop his son joining the BJP, LoP Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil on Monday night held meetings with Congress president Rahul Gandhi and then with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The last-minute effort did not materialise as he wanted and Sujay joined the BJP on Tuesday morning.
The Vikhe-Patil family is known to change sides gauging the turning tide. The late Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil, an arch-rival of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, had won the Lok Sabha in 1998 on Shiv Sena’s ticket and even became Minister of state for Finance and later Union Minister for Heavy Industries in the NDA government, before returning to Congress in 2004. Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil too was a minister in the Sena government and in the BJP from 1995 to 1999.