Maharashtra: Ideologies blur as personal equations take over poll battle in sugarcane belt

Parthasarathi Biswas
Many of the cooperative sugar barons had joined the BJP, which now has one MLA in the constituency. (Express File photo by Praveen Khanna)

Politics make for strange bed fellows and in Kolhapur the general elections have thrown up many such combinations.

Tucked in the sugarcane belt of southern Maharashtra, Kolhapur is a bastion of cooperative bodies in the state where elections to the cooperative milk dairies and sugar mills have often seen political ideologies blur as personal equations take over.

Last year, during the Dudhganaga Vedganga Cooperative Sugar Mill elections at Bhudargad taluka in the district, NCP leaders had joined hands with the BJP to wrest control over the mill. A similar politics of personalities, analysts say, is now playing out in the general elections as well.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Kolhapur was one of the four seats that the NCP had managed to win amid the heightened Modi wave. Party candidate and sugar baron Dhananjay Mahadik had defeated arch rival Sanjay Mandlik of the Shiv Sena with a margin of around 33,000 votes. Mandlik's father Sadashivrao had thrice represented the seat, twice on NCP ticket and once as an Independent. Both the families control multiple cooperative sugar mills and milk dairies in the state.

Interestingly, Dhananjay's cousin Amal Mahadik had defeated Congress strongman Satej Patil in the 2014 Assembly elections, purportedly with open support from his cousin, which, in turn, had soured the relationship between the two allies.

In fact, a section of NCP leaders had severely opposed Dhananjay's candidature this time. It was only after party chief Sharad Pawar's intervention that his ticket was finalised. However, the undercurrent of resentment continued, with rumours doing the rounds that Dhananjay was on the verge of joining the BJP, given his closeness to the party leaders, like state revenue minister Chandrakant Patil.

Not surprisingly then, several Congress leaders were seen actively campaigning for Mandlik - renominated on the seat by the Shiv Sena - while a clutch of BJP leaders, considered close to the Mahadiks, were seen canvassing for Dhananjay. Repeated intervention by senior leaders of all parties, reportedly, failed to bear fruits.

Mandlik, on his part, claimed that this election was between the son-of-the soil and outsiders, apparently indicating that the Mahadik family, which has its origins in the neighbouring Sangli district, were not welcome in Kolhapur. Dhananjay owns a cooperative mill in Solapur.

"People are tired of the high-handedness of this (Mahadik) family, thus irrespective of party lines people are helping me," Mandlik said.

Traditionally, Kolhapur has been a stronghold of the Congress, but internal feuds and rise of the NCP almost wiped out the party from the region. Many of the cooperative sugar barons had joined the BJP, which now has one MLA in the constituency. Analysts say this change in allegiance has much to do with personal ambitions, with powerful cooperative barons clashing over the control of mills and dairies.

The Mahadik family, which controls multiple mills both in Sangli and Kolhapur, had often clashed with other families over elections to local bodies or sugar mills.

It is this fight, voters say, that is now being played up in a much larger canvass.