Has Congress given walkover to BJP in Vidarbha?

Hardeep Singh Bedi

New Delhi, April 2: The Congress workers in Vidarbha are wondering: has Congress given a walkover to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha elections?

Vidarbha is the eastern region of Maharashtra, comprising Nagpur Division and Amravati Division.

There are ten Lok Sabha seats in the region: Nagpur, Ramtek, Bhandara-Gondia, Gadchiroli, Wardha, Chandrapur, Yavatmal, Buldhana, Amravati, and Akola.

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The Congress is contesting on seven seats and its alliance partner the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on remaining three seats.

A source tells OneIndia that the selection of the candidates by the Congress for Vidarbha has given an impression that the party is not serious about winning the lost bastion.

"The Congress has given tickets to outsiders from many seats in the region that was once considered party's bastion. The party workers are holding Congress General Secretary Mukul Wasnik responsible for fielding weak candidates and allege that he has played a key role in giving a walkover to the BJP," a source tells One India, who keeps a close watch on Maharashtra politics.

Wasnik, who is in-charge of All India Congress Committee (AICC) Central Election Committee, hails from Maharashtra and had won his last Lok Sabha election from Ramtek in 2009.

"Congress candidate from Nagpur Nana Patole is an outsider, who has failed to connect with the Nagpur Congress workers. Instead of setting up his election campaign office in Dewadiya Congress Bhawan, Patole is managing his campaign from a friend 's office. The important Congress leaders from Nagpur are nowhere to be seen in his campaign," says the source.

Patole was elected from Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seat in 2014 on the BJP ticket and resigned from the BJP in January last year to join the Congress. He is pitted against Union Minister and current MP from Nagpur Nitin Gadkari.

The source further adds that the political rivalry between Maharashtra Congress President Ashok Chavan and Mukul Wasnik that came to fore in Chandrapur is an example of how united is the Congress in the state.

Vinayak Bangade, the Congress candidate was stripped of his candidacy from Chandrapur. His name was mentioned in the viral clip in which Chavan was heard telling a party worker that no one listens to him and he is in such a mental state that he also wants to resign.

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News of former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan mulling to resign had sent shockwaves through political circles. The Congress dropped Bangade and made former Shiv Sena (SS) MLA Suresh Dhanorkar new candidate from Chandrapur.

"The clip was purposely made viral to apprise the Congress high-command about the hegemony being enjoyed by Wasnik in distributing the tickets. Now, there are chances that Wasnik camp will leave no stone unturned in Chandrapur to defeat Dhanorkar," says the source.

Dhanorkar, who had represented Shiv Sena in the Assembly from Warora constituency in Chandrapur district, will face Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir, who had won the seat in 2014.

According to the source, the Congress workers in Ramtek are also saying that former Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kishore Gajbhiye, who lives in Nagpur, has been paradropped in Ramtek.

"The workers are also wondering why Wasnik has avoided contesting from Ramtek. He could have given a stronger fight to the Shiv Sena."

Gajbhiye, a retired IAS officer and a Dalit, had contested 2014 Assembly elections from Nagpur North as a BSP candidate. He will face Shiv Sena candidate Krupal Tumane, who had defeated Mukul Wasnik by a margin of 175791 votes in 2014

"Wardha Congress candidate and Maharashtra Mahila Congress president Charulata Tokas also spends considerable time in Delhi and is more or less like an outsider," says the source.

Tokas, who is the daughter of former Wardha MP and Governor of Rajasthan Prabha Rau, is pitted against BJP candidate Ramdas Tadas, who had won from Wardha by over 200,000 votes in 2014.

The source maintains that with such candidates if the Congress could win one or two seats from Vidarbha then it should consider itself lucky.

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Vidarbha was treated as a Congress bastion as it had won all seats in the Lok Sabha elections held in 1951, 1957, 1980, 1984, and 1998. Except for 1996 elections in which Congress could win only two seats, the show was dominated only by Congress and its allies including Republican Party of India (RPI).

In 2014, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party alliance faced a humiliating defeat when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena alliance swept Vidarbha by bagging all the 10 seats.

This time also the BJP has taken a lead in campaigning. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday kick-started BJPs Maharashtra election campaign from Vidarbha by addressing a public rally at Wardha. He is also scheduled to address a rally at Gondia on Wednesday.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to address rallies in Chandrapur and Wardha on April 5. Maharashtra Congress has also requested Priyanka Gandhi to campaign in the state, where the party had suffered one of its worst drubbings in 2014 by winning only two seats out of total 48 seats.

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