Mumbai, Apr 16 (PTI) The bypoll to Pandharpur-Mangalvedha assembly constituency in Maharashtra' Solapur district will be held on Saturday amid the COVID-19 surge in the state and the restrictions imposed by the government to curb the spread of the virus.
The ruling NCP and the opposition BJP are in a direct fight in this by-election, which was necessitated due to the death NCP legislator Bharat Bhalke owing to post-COVID complications in November last year.
Political observers feel that this bypoll will prove to be a litmus test for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies- Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, three ideologically different parties that have been sharing power in the state for the last one-and-a-half years.
The NCP has fielded Bhagirath Bhalke, the late MLA's son, against BJP candidate Samadhan Autade, who had contested the 2019 assembly election as an independent and the 2014 polls on Shiv Sena ticket.
Pandharpur is a famous pilgrim town known for the temple of Lord Vitthal and goddess Rukmini. It is situated on the banks of river Chandrabhaga. Lakhs of devotees visit the temple every year.
The Pandharpur-Mangalvedha assembly segment comprises Pandharpur and Mangalvedha towns, and has Marathi and Kannada-speaking population. It is part of the Solapur Lok Sabha seat currently held by the BJP.
Even though the BJP has been targeting the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government's alleged failure in coronavirus management and the allegations of corruption against former Home Minister and NCP leader Anil Deshmukh, these state-level issues hardly figured in the campaign rallies, which witnessed casual trading of barbs.
During one of the campaign rallies, Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis targeted the MVA government saying that it was moving from lokshahi (democracy) to 'lockshahi' (lockdown governance).
However, the NCP managed to keep the campaigning to local issues and tried to tap the sympathy factor for Bhalke.
State NCP chief and Water Resources Minister Jayant Patil said it would be no surprise if a BJP MLA switches sides and there is a by-election again.
The observers feel that the BJP had no competent candidate in the constituency. Sudhakar Paricharak , a long time MLA, who was in the Congress earlier, died of COVID-19 last year. He had contested the 2019 assembly polls on BJP ticket. Paricharak was a supporter of NCP leader Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, a strong leader in Solapur.
However, Paricharak did not campaign for Mohite Patil in 2009 when the latter shifted to Pandharpur after his traditional seat Malshiras was declared a reserved seat. Mohite Patil suffered a defeat at the hands of Bharat Bhalke, who contested as an independent. Bhalke supported the Congress and won the seat as that party's candidate in 2014 and as an NCP nominee In 2019.
The political observers feel that the local leaders of Congress and NCP have canvassed for Bhagirath Bhalke unitedly.
'Unless an accident happens, all the MVA allies are likely to contest the 2024 assembly polls together. This will be the second direct election for the three-party alliance after the elections to Pune and Nagpur teachers' and graduates' constituencies of the legislative council last year, in which Congress and NCP defeated the BJP,' the observers say.
The counting of votes for the bypoll will be taken up in Pandharpur on May 2. PTI MR NP NP