In southwest Maharashtra, Kolhapur is well-known for its martial spirit. But never has communal violence has erupted amongst Hindus and Muslims. The reason for this could be that to this day, they continue to abide by the secular teachings of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur. Kolhapur is politically vibrant, socially sensitive and aggressive when injustice takes place. This could be the reason why the Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar addressed his first public meeting in Kolhapur. The Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray too did the same. But times have changed and the mindset of society has changed. This is true especially of the youth and this could be largely attributed to the influence of social media.
District collector Daulat Desai has informed that in Kolhapur district, 106 candidates are are contesting the assembly election. The hotspots in the district are -- Kolhapur North, where the Shiv Sena's Rajesh Kshirsagar is facing Congress candidate Chandrakant Jadhav; Kolhapur South, where the Bharatiya Janata Party's Amal Mahadik is facing the Congress's Ruturaj Patil; Karvir, where the Shiv Sena's Chandradeep Narke is facing the Congress's PN Patil; Shahuwadi, where the Shiv Sena's Satyajeet Patil is facing the Congress' PN Patil and Ichalkaranji, where the BJP's Suresh Halvankar is facing the Congress's Prakash Avade.
In Karvir, Chandgad, Hatkanangale and Radhanagari, the fight is three-cornered. The high-voltage fight is in Kolhapur South, between Mahadik and Ruturaj Patil. The entire district is paying attention because both candidates are young and they are backed by the BJP state vice-president Dhananjay Mahadik (a former member of Parliament from the NCP) and the district Congress president and legislator Satej Patil respectively.
Once upon a time Dhananjay and Satej were best friends but as the power game unfolded, they drifted so far apart that they turned foes. In the recent Lok Sabha election, Satej Patil helped the Shiv Sena candidate Sanjay Mandlik ensure the defeat of the then NCP candidate Dhananjay Mahadik. Now, in the assembly election, Mandlik will fully support the Congress candidate Ruturaj Patil, going against his party chief Uddhav Thackeray. This will adversely affect the chances of its ally, the BJP and their candidate, Mahadik. This clearly indicates how the run-up to the assembly election is not based on party ideology but on local love-hate games.
Another interesting aspect is that women are actively participating in election rallies across Kolhapur. NCP leader Jayant Patil is asking, "If there is no opposition, as the BJP claims, why is it organising rallies by national leaders like Amit Shah and Modi in small cities in Maharashtra?" He was alluding to the meeting addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Tapovan Grounds in Kolhapur last week. Shah is addressing a rally in Shirur, Pune, tomorrow, while Modi will be campaigning in Jalgaon and Sakoli, Bhandara.
When the BJP came to power in the state, its first agenda was to crackdown on the bank and sugar cooperatives. Chandrakant Bacchu Patil, whose family is from Khanapur village, has no public acceptability and till date, is not a leader with mass appeal in Kolhapur. From his childhood, he has been in Mumbai, as his father was a millworker. During this period, he was influenced by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Jana Sangh (now the BJP).
In Kolhapur, BJP leaders like Subhash Vira, JG Joshi, Ganpule Tatya Tendulkar and Colonel Shankarrao Nikam kept the party alive in the face of Congress strength. Chandrakant Patil had no role to play in this district, which is the key reason he didn't dare contest this election from Kolhapur, preferring the safer confines of Pune, instead. On social media, it is said Patil is a Jain, when in reality, he is a Maratha.
His main task in this district was to rope in leaders from other parties into the BJP, for which he was anointed the party's state president. The Kautilyan principle of 'saam, daam, dand, bhed', were the weapons used by Chandrakant Patil in this district.
Sweetening the electoral pot, directors of 54 sugar factories are in the poll fray, with the BJP having allotted tickets to 28 and the NCP to 30 of them. In Bhudargad-Radhanagari, Rahul Desai, the grandson of former Congress MLA Anandrao Desai and the son of Congress MLA Bajrang Desai is contesting as an Independent. At a 25,000-strong public gathering, he was promised by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Chandrakant Patil that he would be the candidate from this constituency but this promise was not fulfilled.
A similar promise was also made to their own Samarjeet Ghatge for the Kagal seat. He too is now contesting as an Independent, thus adversely affecting the candidate fielded by the Sena. Ghatge says, "I am an independent candidate now, not a BJP candidate. I don't work for any caste or religion but want to bring a model development plan for my region Kagal, Gadhinglaj and Uttur."
A key poll issue is that of flood-affected farmers. Guardian minister Chandrakant Patil had promised them rehabilitation and compensation for their losses but nothing has been done so far. It was promised that all flood-affected residents would receive an immediate assistance of Rs 15,000.
No new industries have been set up here in the last five years and this has caused frustration among jobless youths. Farmer Pravin Sawant says, "Farmers will vote against the BJP and put it in reverse gear."
MLC Satej Patil is very confident about the victory of Ruturaj Patil, his nephew and grandson of former Bihar governor D Y Patil.
Professor Bal Desai, president of the Bahudargad Taluka Shetkari Sahakari Sangh says, "Even today, Kolhapur district, especially the Bhudargad-Radhanagari belt belongs to Leftists, not to communal-minded political parties, so the NCP candidate K P Patil will win."
The BJP's unkept promises to farmers, youth and election candidates is likely to boomerang on the ruling party in the upcoming elections.
(The writer is a veteran journalist from Kolhapur)