Nanded: Little ground clearance for ex-CM

After initial euphoria post-induction of Ashok Chavan, BJP seems to be on shaky wicket.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with senior leader Ashok Chavan during an election campaign in support of NDA candidates in Maharashtra’s Nanded on Saturday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with senior leader Ashok Chavan during an election campaign in support of NDA candidates in Maharashtra’s Nanded on Saturday. (Photo| PTI)

MUMBAI: Two months ago when former Maharashtra Congress chief minister Ashok Chavan joined the BJP, the saffron camp went euphoric about its forgone victory prospect in the Lok Sabha polls. A “red zone” turned “safe zone” in Nanded in the saffron parlance. Today, the constituency is anything but safe for the BJP even though Congress has fielded fresh and new candidate Vasant Chavan against BJP’s Lok Sabha MP Prataprao Chikhalikar.

In 2019, BJP’s Chikhalikar won the Nanded Lok Sabha seat by over 40,000 votes against Congress’ Ashok Chavan. Interestingly, Prakash Ambedkar-led party candidate polled 1,65,341 votes that is 14.9% of the total votes while Ashok Chavan lost by mere 3.6% vote share. This was the second defeat of Ashok Chavan in Lok Sabha elections in his political career.

Historical links

Nanded holds a significant historical importance. The 10th and last Sikh Guru Sri Gobind Singh spent his last days in Nanded and passed on the mantle to the sacred Guru Granth Sahib before his passing in 1708.

During the Marathawada Mukti Sangram, Shankarrao Chavan, the father of Ashok Chavan, who originally belonged to Paithan in Aurangabad, shifted base to Nanded and contested the first municipal corporation election and won. The Chavan family became Nanded residents. Later, Shankarrao Chavan and Ashok Chavan became CMs twice. The Chavan family nurtured Nanded as it grew into a Congress bastion. It was breached in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Given the age-old ties, Nanded continued to support the Congress ideology.

2019 equations

In the previous Lok sabha polls, the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) turned out to be a spoiler for Congress’ Ashok Chavan by grabbing 1,65,341 votes while Chavan lost by 40,000 votes only. This time too, the VBA factor is important as it is giving headaches to the BJP and Ashok Chavan who has taken the responsibility of this seat. The VBA has fielded a Lingayat community candidate in Nanded; the community has over 1.5 lakh votes, most of which predominantly comprise BJP supporters.

The demography of the Nanded is very interesting. Out of the total 18 lakh voters, eight lakh are Maratha while 4.5 lakh are Dalit and Muslim and 1.5 lakh Lingaya.

The remaining belong to various communities.

Saffron ‘spoiler’

“This time too, VBA candidate Avinash Bhosikar may turn out to be a spoiler, not for Congress but for the BJP. Put together, the Lingayat vote can change the poll outcome which would not be good for the BJP. This time, Dalits could be rallying behind the Congress candidate given the narrative around the so-called changes in the Constitution whose chief architect was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar” said an observer. Muslims, too, could be looking at the Congress due to a campaign of hatred launched by sections of Hindu outfits, he added. The stance of the Maratha community is not very clear, making the Nanded contest tough.

The first sign of disturbance for the saffron camp emerged a few days ago when reports came in that Ashok Chavan and his wife have started facing adverse reactions from people, particularly the Maratha community during Chavan’s campaign meetings. The couple was even barred from entering some villages in Nanded. At one place, the mob was so huge that the elderly Congressman of that particular village came out for Chavan’s rescue. The former CM has never faced this kind of public wrath.

A video of Chavan speech being disturbed by Maratha community youths went viral. In the latest video, Chavan is seen addressing barely 50-80 people, as most chairs of the audience are seen empty. Chavan is seen pleading with the people that that he has given his word to the top BJP leadership that party candidate Prataprao Chikalikar would win from Nanded.

“If BJP loses Nanded, my political support will go down within the BJP. People should trust his guarantee even if they don’t believe in Modi’s guarantee,” Chavan has told villagers.

Difficult situation

The BJP’s initial exuberance is somewhat calmed down as party leaders’ campaign rallies are scheduled one after another. “Initially, it was planned that BJP chief JP Nadda’s rally would compensate for the voter anger. But ground reality. To encourage the cadre further, Union minister Amit Shah’s rally was also planned. That, too, has helped little. An internal survey continued to give an edge to Congress candidates.

Finally, the BJP state leadership decided to organise PM Narendra Modi’s rally in Nanded. It is rarely in the BJP that both Shah and Modi address the same election campaign rally. “It was necessary because each seat is important in such a closely fought political battle,” said a senior BJP leader, adding that the BJP gave a Rajya Sabha seat to Chavan to secure Nanded, but it turned out that the decision was wrong.

The BJP leader said the reason people are not coming out in BJP support is that PM Modi raised the Adarsh housing scam – which took place during Ashok Chavan’s tenure -- and a few days later, Chavan was not only inducted into the party but was also given the Rajya Sabha seat.

Losing steam

“In the last 15 years, the BJP’s committed workers fought against Ashok Chavan and Ajit Pawar. Both Chavan’s Adarsh housing scam and Ajit Pawar’s Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam were hammered time and again to get votes. These leaders were termed as epitome of corruption, but have now become the strength of the party. For loyal party workers, it is like losing trust in the party,” said a BJP leader.

“We not only lost the perception battle but also the ground support, which is now visible in Nanded and other parts of the state,” he said.

Congress candidate Vasant Chavan says Ashok Chavan left the Congress, but not the Congress workers. “When he was in Congress, he was one of the most sought-after campaigners across the state, but sadly, Chavan cannot freely campaign in his home town,” said a senior Congress leader who worked with Ashok Chavan.

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