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Modi wave reaches Pawar bastion

Mumbai, May 17: Sharad Pawar should be a worried man. The Narendra Modi “wave” that routed the NCP-Congress in Maharashtra nearly breached his citadel too.

Allies Shiv Sena and the BJP have for the first time made inroads into the Congress-NCP’s traditional stronghold in western Maharashtra, particularly the Pawar family bastion of Baramati.

While the Congress failed to win even one of the 12 seats in western Maharashtra, only four NCP candidates withstood the storm but with sharply reduced victory margins.

The Sena-BJP won eight of these seats, toppling Congress heavyweights like Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in Solapur and minister of state Pratik Patil, the grandson of former chief minister Vasantdada Patil, in Sangli, a seat the Congress had not lost since 1960.

The only exception was the NCP’s Udayanraje Bhosale, a descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji, who had virtually no rival in Satara and won by 3.66 lakh votes.

Pawar’s daughter and sitting MP Supriya Sule fought her toughest battle yet against little-known Sena-BJP candidate Mahadeo Jankar, who belongs to the Dhangar (shepherd) community that accounts for over five lakh of Baramati’s 18 lakh voters.

In 2009, Jankar, who represents the small Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, part of the Sena-BJP-led alliance, had contested against Pawar from neighbouring Madha and lost.

NCP workers were tense when the counting began in Baramati yesterday. Till the 10th round, Supriya was leading only in the Baramati Assembly segment, and trailing in the other five — Indapur, Daund, Purandar, Bhor and Khadakvasla.

However, in the post-lunch session, Supriya started leading in Indapur and Bhor, apart from Baramati. By evening, her lead had increased to 40,000, and continued growing to end at 69,719 votes. This is the first time in recent memory that the victory margin of a Pawar family member has shrunk to less than a lakh.

In 2004, Pawar had won from Baramati by four lakh votes. In 2009, he had shifted to Madha, leaving Baramati for Supriya, who was making her debut in politics. She trounced the BJP’s Kanta Nalawade by 3.36 lakh votes.

Compared to that win, the sharply reduced margin of 69,719 is certain to worry Pawar. His nephew, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, the sitting MLA, faces an election here in October.

Ajit is certain to be the chief target of the Sena-BJP and his “urination in the dam” remark could hurt the NCP.

In April 2013, speaking at a public meeting in Indapur in Baramati, Ajit had ridiculed a farmer activist who was on hunger strike to press for the release of water from Ujni dam in Solapur. “When there is no water, where will I arrange water from? Should I urinate (in the dam)?” he had said.

In another controversial remark at the same rally, Ajit had said: “I have also come to know that because of load-shedding in Maharashtra, there has been an increase in the birth of children in the state. What else can you expect people to do if there is shortage of power.”

Ajit got involved in another controversy last month when he visited some villages about 20km from Baramati and allegedly threatened residents that he would cut off their water supply if they didn’t vote for Supriya.