Maharashtra polls: Clamour for local face, Yeola seat may not be cakewalk for three-time MLA Bhujbal

NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal

Fifteen years ago a group of like-minded citizens and politicians had decided to invite NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal to contest elections from Yeola constituency, located 250 km north of Mumbai, with the hope that his presence will fuel development in the small town. After electing him for three consecutive terms, local residents are now contemplating if Bhujbal, presently out on bail on charges of money laundering, has become a liability.

At a recent meeting, held by Sharad Pawar in Nashik, residents of Yeola, including the NCP chief s one-time ally Manikrao Shinde, reportedly urged Pawar to ensure that Bhujbal did not get a ticket this time. In 2004, we were the ones who had requested him (Bhujbal) to contest from Yeola. However, after 15 years there is a growing call from residents that a local should contest. We have informed party president Sharad Pawar of the ground realities and have requested him to give a ticket to a local, Shinde told The Indian Express.

In early 2003, alarmed by the then government s neglect of Yeola, famous for its skilled sari weavers, Shinde and a group of like-minded citizens had decided to invite any senior state politician to contest the 2004 Assembly elections from the constituency. The group had finally approached Bhujbal, who after quitting the Shiv Sena in 1991 had failed to win any legislative Assembly election in the state and was looking for a safe seat.

While representing Yeola constituency for three consecutive terms, Bhujbal had managed to successfully transform Yeola into a VIP constituency, funding large-scale cosmetic changes. Between 2004 and 2014, Yeola had one of the best road networks in the state along with a state-of-the-art Central Administrative building. It was also one of the few villages in the country then to a have swimming pool.

The former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister, however, had to face dissent early on as his family tightened its grip on the constituency and in Nashik district – in 2009, his son Pankaj was elected from adjoining Nandgaon constituency, while nephew Sameer was elected to parliament from Nashik. This had led to some discontent in the party. In 2009, Shinde had rebelled and contested against Bhujbal on Shiv Sena ticket. However, as the Congress-NCP returned to power in the state, Shinde was cajoled to rejoin the Bhujbal camp.

With a change in guard following the 2014 state polls, Bhujbal s clout in the area, however, saw a gradual decline. The 26-month jail in a money laundering case against him by the Enforcement Directorate also meant that he was away from his constituency for a prolonged period. There have also been talks that Bhujbal, who got bail in the case in 2018, has been contemplating a switch over to the Sena.

Yeola definitely became a better place to live when the Congress-NCP was in power. However, since 2014, the constituency is facing problems. The roads are in bad shape. There is a sense that the constituency is being victimised because of its association with the Bhujbals. This time around, people will think twice before voting in his favour, if he contests from the seat, Dattu Trimbak Shinde, a farmer in Yeola, said.