Even as the Congress is trying hard to do some damage control in Maharashtra with the exit of their senior leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, whose son Sujay got a BJP ticket from Ahmednagar, they are dealing with questions being raised over their Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg candidate Navinchandra Bandiwadekar having links with accused Vaibhav Raut, a Sanatan Sanstha member.
Moreover, reports are rife that another potential candidate Pravin Chheda is switching sides to BJP, (perhaps to contest from Mumbai North-East, currently held by Kirit Somaiya). He had quit the BJP in 2012 to join Congress. Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam says, “He hasn’t told us anything but it’s not true that he was our candidate for north-east. His name was being discussed, that’s all.”
Congress ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has had to face similar setbacks. Senior NCP leader Vijaysingh Mohite Patil’s son, Ranjitsingh has crossed over to BJP in hope (or promise) of a ticket from Madha constituency in Solapur. Following him, state-vice president Dr. Bharti Pawar has also joined the saffron party.
“Party is bigger than one person and we will not suffer any damage because of their exits. In fact, he hadn’t been very active in the constituency. We are confident of winning Ahmednagar and Solapur both. However, I do wish to point out that it reflects on the BJP, which is not confident of winning the election with their party leaders and require leaders from other parties,” says Nawab Malik, spokesperson of the NCP.
Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil remained unavailable for comment. His son Sujay told the regional television media that he was doing what was needed for the betterment of the people and that he has the support of the people.
The Congress recently seemed to have infused fresh energy at the state level after Priya Dutt was convinced to come back to politics and contest from her previously held seat of Mumbai north central. In 2014, she had lost to BJP’s Poonam Mahajan, daughter of BJP stalwart late Pramod Mahajan. Few weeks ago, she had announced that she was giving up politics for personal reasons and to be able to give more time to her family. In 2014, there were reports of infighting in the Congress party, which also hampered the campaigns of leaders like Dutt, Narendra Modi wave factor notwithstanding. She was convinced to return to the party fold and contest this election and has already started reaching out to the people in her constituency.
However, that positive was short lived with Vikhe Patil leaving the party on moral grounds after his son crossed over. Reports of Bandiwadekar’s association with Vaibhav Raut are rather damaging for their secular narrative, given that senior leaders such as Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil had called for a ban on the organisation.
“There is no evidence of Bandiwadekar attending any function or meeting of Sanatan Sanstha. He has attended a meeting held for the Bhandari community of which Raut was a member. The said community is a minority in Nala Sopara and they were facing some issues for which the meeting was held. He cannot be punished for that,” says Sachin Sawant, Congress spokesperson. "If some truth is found in the allegations, party high command will take a call on his candidature."
Last year, Vaibhav Raut was arrested in Nala Sopara and a large cache of ammunition was seized from his residence. It is unclear if Bandiwadekar will face any disciplinary action from the Congress, given the party may not have anyone else to field from the constituency, previously held by Nilesh Rane, Narayan Rane’s son. Narayan Rane has since left Congress and is likely to field candidates of his own political outfit–Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha, and political pundits are wondering if he will be joining an alliance on either side.
If intense speculations are anything to go by, crossovers and defections will only rise in the next few days.
For complete coverage of the Lok Sabha elections, click here.