Aurangabad: In the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, some interesting contests are likely to be witnessed during this assembly election. Bhokar, Nanded district, where the former Congress chief minister Ashok Chavan is contesting is one such. The Maratha community holds the key to a candidate's victory in this seat. By and large, the electorate has stood by the Congress and the Chavans since 1960. Bhokar has given the state two CMs, the father-son duo, Shankarrao and Ashok Chavan.
Geographically, Bhokar is one of the most drought-prone and poorly equipped towns in Marathwada, with neither good roads nor municipal infrastructure. The Chavans are banking on co-operative institutions.
To sharpen the challenge for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance in Nanded, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) poached the NCP chief of Nanded district, former legislator Bapusaheb Deshmukh Gorathekar, who joined its ranks a month ago. He is now contesting Bhokar on a BJP ticket. The main contest is expected to be between Chavan, Gorathekar and Namdev Ailwar of the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi. Currently, Bhokar is represented by Amita Chavan, the wife of Ashok Chavan. Of the six assembly seats of Nanded, the Congress currently has three sitting legislators, while the Sena has two and the BJP one.
In 2009, Naigaon constituency was carved out of Bhokar after delimitation. In 2004, Gorathekar won from Bhokar, his father having won the seat earlier, in 1999. After delimitation, Gorathekar moved to Naigaon, where he lived. But contesting as an NCP candidate, he was defeated in 2009 and 2014 and he blamed Ashok Chavan for backstabbing him in Naigaon. To avenge this defeat, he has now challenged Chavan on his family turf.
VBA candidate Ailwar is likely to get support from the Dalit and Muslim-dominated pockets in Bhokar but he may not prove a spoiler for Chavan, as non-Maratha voters do not hold the deciding vote. Maratha voters are around 80,000 in number. The way these voters go will seal the fate of Chavan or Deshmukh. This community is divided between the Deshmukh and non-Deshmukh factions and this factor will play a role in this election.
Thin margin in Lok Sabha
Five months ago, Ashok Chavan lost the Nanded Lok Sabha seat by nearly 40,000 votes. He managed to post a lead in only three of the six assembly segments and in his home constituency Bhokar, his lead was only 4,786 votes. For the first time, he tasted defeat and some of the glory of his leadership seems to be fading. The massive victory he registered for the Congress in the Nanded-Waghala Municipal Corporation in 2017, when the party won 73 of 81 seats is now a distant memory.
The Congress has won Bhokar eight times, while the NCP has just bagged it once and twice, it has gone to an Independent. The BJP has never been able to notch a victory here. The Congress has always dominated the Bhokar seat, considered the safest Congress seat. Despite this, the Congress is wary, as senior leaders have left to join the BJP or the Sena. Therefore, Chavan is busy campaigning in Bhokar on his own. Even if this constituency has stood by his family, Chavan can take no chances.
Will history repeat itself?
In 1978, Shankarrao Chavan faced Babasaheb Gorthekar, the father of Bapusaheb and won. In 2019, Ashok Chavan, the son of Shankarrao Chavan and Bapusaheb Gorthekar, son of Babasaheb Gorthekar are pitted against each other from the same constituency. It will be interesting to see whether history will repeat itself or be written anew this time.