A fresh boost to a two-decade-old feud. A family divided because a nephew walked out on his uncle and mentor for favouring his own flesh and blood. Loyalties switched on both sides of the battle.
Beed may be the home turf of BJP veteran Gopinath Munde but the contest here has been spiced up by the animosity between him and Sharad Pawar, who has opted out of the polls but is going full throttle to embarrass his old adversary.
Ruffled at home for the first time, Munde is said to have betrayed his desperation by calling Raj Thackeray on Tuesday to seek local support from his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has a minuscule presence in Beed. Raj has obliged Munde by issuing a letter of support.
“Nothing more to say at this point,” a tired-looking Munde told The Telegraph on Wednesday evening, when asked if the BJP was cosying up to Raj with this year’s Assembly elections in mind.
Munde, the BJP’s Other Backward Classes face in the state, has been at loggerheads with Pawar since before the Shiv Sena-BJP came to power in 1995, toppling then Congress chief minister Pawar. Munde became deputy chief minister in that government, headed by the Sena’s Manohar Joshi.
The rivalry continued as each tried to control the sugar and cooperative sectors, with Munde consolidating his position in Marathwada and trying to undermine Pawar’s sugar bastion of western Maharashtra by making allies there.
Pawar is a friend of former BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who is a party rival of Munde. Sources say the favourite pastime of Pawar and Gadkari is to target Munde covertly.
The latest chapter in their feud was opened two years ago when Munde’s nephew Dhananjay joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) with father Pandit-Anna (Munde’s brother).
Dhananjay, mentored since his early teens by Munde, was angry when the uncle chose daughter Pankaja over him, making her a legislator in the 2009 Assembly elections.
The nephew, who has severed all family ties with Munde, went all out against him during this campaign, calling the uncle a liar and denting his support among the family’s native Vanjara clan.
A tearful Munde is said to have told a recent election rally that he had not been able to meet his mother, who lives with Pandit-Anna, in a long time.
Even his chief rival this election, NCP candidate Suresh Dhas, is an old protégé of Munde and is being backed by Pawar because he comes from the Maratha caste.
Marathas account for about 6.5 lakh voters in this 17 lakh-strong constituency. The Vanjara voters, whom Dhananjay is trying to split, are estimated to number about 4.5 lakh.
Dhas, a state minister, is now a loyalist of Pawar’s nephew Ajit. The NCP has thrown everything at its disposal to make the going tough for Munde, despite strong sentiments against the Congress-NCP government across Marathwada.
Pawar himself addressed five rallies here and camped in Beed twice for two days each. Almost every NCP cabinet minister campaigned here.
“The entire NCP has been united against him (Munde),” said an ice cream parlour owner near Munde’s home in Parli-Vaijnath, 90km from Beed city and 210km from Aurangabad.
Munde is tapping all the disgruntled NCP leaders in the district, including local Maratha community leaders. He has already won over former Ajit loyalist Vinayak Mete, a lawmaker who runs a social outfit that is campaigning for reservations for the poorer Marathas.
Munde has said that if his party comes to power, it would give reservations to Marathas.
The BJP leader has also been fuelling protests in sugar mills run by Pawar’s aides in western Maharashtra.
Early this year, his party tied up with the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, whose leader and MP Raju Shetty has been steering sugar farmers’ protests at mills under Pawar’s sway for the past five to six years.
The BJP is also fanning protests among cane-cutting labourers, who mostly belong to Beed, giving the NCP a headache. The Sanghatna has for three years been delaying the sugar-crushing season demanding higher cane prices, and thus eating into the NCP’s farmers’ base.
Munde is supporting Shetty in Hatkanangale and another Sanghatna leader, Sadabhau Khot, in Madha, a constituency in Solapur. Pawar lieutenant Vijay Singh Mohite Patil, a sugar baron and former state minister, is contesting from Madha.
The BJP leader has also created hurdles for Pawar aide and sitting MP Padamsingh Patil in Osmanabad, also in Marathwada, where three straight years of drought has been tormenting farmers and a hailstorm destroyed standing crops in February-March.
Munde has campaigned hard across Osmanabad, fuelling the farmers’ anger against the Congress-NCP government. Add to that Anna Hazare’s campaign against Patil, who faces accusations in connection with the murder of his local political rival, Pawanraje Nimbalkar, and his driver in 2006.
Patil had won by just 6,787 votes in 2009. He is pitted against the Sena’s Ravi Gaikwad this time, and is banking on a popular BJP leader’s son, who is contesting as an Independent, to split his rival’s vote.
Munde is eyeing Pawar’s cabinet berth too. “We’ll form the government at the Centre,” he was quoted by a local daily as saying earlier this week. “If that happens, I might become the next agriculture minister.”
Beed and Osmanabad voted on April 17 with four other Marathwada constituencies