Other States

Why BJP lost in Bhandara-Gondia

Joint effort: Congress and NCP workers celebrate outside the counting centre in Bhandara on Thursday.

Joint effort: Congress and NCP workers celebrate outside the counting centre in Bhandara on Thursday.  

Two days before campaigning was to end for the Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha bypoll, the Congress and the NCP workers were a dejected lot.

The NCP workers were complaining about the lack of resources and the Congress workers were unhappy with the “half-hearted efforts” of the local NCP leaders. Meanwhile, the BJP was upbeat as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari were leading their campaign.

Such was the BJP’s enthusiasm that it organised a meeting in Amgoan town of Gondia district, which falls under the neighbouring Gadchiroli Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP had 70 vehicles at its disposal while the Congress-NCP combine had just one.

The BJP campaign targeted NCP candidate Madhukar Kukade and labelled him an “old, low-profile, dummy, scapegoat, temporary candidate”. There were also rumours of senior NCP leader Praful Patel reaching an “understanding” with the BJP, which Mr. Patel later denied.

While Mr. Kukade was from the Kunbi community, the BJP fielded former MLA Hemant Patle, who belonged to the Powar community. A senior Congress leader from Kunbi community at a meeting in Gondia said, “They are calling Madhubhau [Madhukar Kukade] a weak candidate. Are we weak? Do we not have the power to get our own man elected? Let’s come together and show the BJP what we are capable of.” This speech charged the Kunbi community, the largest in the constituency with over four lakh votes.

Congress’s Maharashtra unit vice-president Nana Patole, a member of the Kunbi community whose resignation had necessitated the bypoll, roped in fellow community members — Congress MLA from Nagpur district Sunil Kedar and senior Congress councillor from Nagpur Praful Gudadhe — for the campaign. While Mr. Patole looked after Lakhandur-Sakoli area, Mr. Kedar camped in Gondia. Mr. Gudadhe headed the campaign in Bhandara.

Meanwhile, senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar came to the constituency in the last leg of the campaign and arranged “resources” for the NCP and the Congress workers. By 1 p.m. on voting day, large-scale complaints of EVM malfunctioning were reported and created a negative atmosphere against the BJP.

Mr. Kukade, 67, a former MLA from Tumsar assembly segment in Bhandara district, was with the BJP until 2014. He is known as “108 Ambulance” in his area for reaching anywhere within minutes after being called and being simple, down to earth and accessible.

A local NCP leader said, “Due to murmurs of an understanding between Bhayaji [Praful Patel] and the BJP, Madhubhau secured the public’s sympathy. His clean and soft image also contributed to his success.”

The BJP was also banking on caste equations in the constituency. The saffron party’s election managers remained assured of support from the Powar community, which has the support of around 2.50 lakh voters in the constituency.

The BJP also hoped that the Teli community, with a strength of around two lakh votes, would support it. Maharashtra Energy Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule, a Teli, also campaigned in the constituency to consolidate the Teli votes.

The saffron party also hoped that the presence of Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharipa Bahujan Mahasang candidate would divide the Congress-NCP’s secular votes. The large crowd at Mr. Ambedkar’s rallies and the absence of the Shiv Sena from the poll battle increased the BJP’s confidence.

With vast resources and administrative machinery at their disposal, the BJP leaders were confident of their victory in the constituency. In the last election, the BJP had won by around 1.50 lakh votes. However, the low turnout at around 53% on polling day only added to the BJP’s woes.

‘Negative sentiment’

Reports of EVM snags, the clean image of Mr. Kukade and the consolidation of Kunbi votes spoiled the BJP’s chances. A BJP leader from Gondia said, “The anger among farmers and rising prices of petrol and diesel created a negative sentiment against the BJP. That’s why the Teli community, which usually don’t go along with Kunbis, voted against us.”

Mr. Patle, the losing candidate, said, “The Bahujan Samaj Party was not contesting this time which is why there was no division of votes. Heatwave resulted in low turnout and it was the BJP versus all fight. That is why we lost.”

The results showed that Mr. Kukade secured a lead in rural parts and trailed slightly in two urban assembly segments. A visibly surprised Congress leader Praful Gudadhe termed the BJP’s defeat as the mandate of the common man.

Mr. Gudadhe said, “Although we were working for the NCP candidate, the BJP was defeated in this election by the public. The common people of Bhandara-Gondia fought against an arrogant BJP and showed them that arrogance has no place in the people’s court.”

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 3:22:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/why-bjp-lost-in-bhandara-gondia/article24061042.ece

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