Amid the election for the Gondia Zilla Parishad (ZP) president, Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole has criticised the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for forming an alliance with the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even as BJP remains one of the main oppositions of the Maha Vikas Agadi (MVA) alliance government in Maharashtra, the Congress chief lashed out at the NCP and accused them of “backstabbing” them.
“I will speak to our high-command on the NCP repeatedly backstabbing the Congress. They have done this at several places, like Malegaon and Bhiwandi. We will discuss their relations with the BJP and surely aim at evolving a solution to it,” said Patole. Notably, the three parties (NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena) had forged an alliance during the 2019 state election under the leadership of Shiv Sena party leader, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, to defeat the BJP.
Nana Patole also referred to the neighbouring Bhandara ZP election and said, “By allying with the BJP in Gondia-Bhandara, the NCP has shown that they want to cling on to power and that the Congress is their opponent.” The Gondia ZP consists of 53 seats, out of which, the BJP has 26 members, Congress has 13, NCP has 6, and Janata Ki Party has 4. The region also has two independent members. The election in Gondia concluded with BJP candidate Pankaj Rahangdale emerging as the president, defeating Congress candidate Usha Mendhe. The NCP’s Yashwant Ganvir was elected as vice-president, registering a victory against Jitendra Katre of Congress.
In Bhandara, the Congress emerged as the single largest party, winning 21 seats out of the 52 member-body. Additionally, they managed to split five BJP Zilla Parishad members into a “rebel faction” of the BJP, led by former MLA Charan Waghmare, to elect Congress candidate Gangadhar Jibkate as the president. While Jibtake defeated the BJP’s official candidate Avinash Bramhankar, the rebel group leader Sandeep Tale became the vice-president, defeating the BJP’s Maheshwari Neware.
The emergence of the BJP’s “rebel faction” in Bhandara that helped Congress gain the majority and defeat its own party members was a complicated series of events. Although the Congress was the single largest party, it lacked six members to gain a majority for the election of the president and the vice president. While the NCP, being a part of the MVA, should have been a “natural” ally, and had 13 seats in the member body, the disagreements between the parties led the BJP to step in with their 12 seats.
The NCP-BJP alliance amounted to 25 seats, which was still not enough. The BJP, reportedly, sent senior leader Chandrashekhar Bawankule to Bhandara, and since the NCP was defying the Congress, the vice-president post in Gondia was offered to them. This ensured the NCP-BJP alliance, however, they did not count on the emergence of the BJP faction which followed Charan Waghmare.
This faction led the Congress to gain a majority of six votes to secure the ZP president’s position. Sharing the reason behind his breakaway from the BJP, Waghmare said, “BJP tied up with NCP without consulting me, hence I had to take this decision. Our six members include one independent too. Also, many of our party members did not want an alliance with NCP.” He added that the Congress backed them up in Tumsar, and helped retain key posts after some members of Waghmare’s group had been “poached” by the NCP. This action, reportedly, led to Waghmare’s suspension from the BJP for at least six years for “anti-party activities”, as per Bawankule.
While the two recently concluded Zilla Parishad elections may have become a point of contention between the Congress and the NCP, each side has a different narrative. NCP leader Rajendra Jain and the BJP’s Pankaj Rahangdale have indicated that they were following the instructions of senior party leaders.
On the other hand, Congress chief Patole has alleged that he was in contact with the incumbent water resources department minister – Jayant Patil of the NCP – and former union minister Praful Patel, regarding the Gondia elections, both of whom did not respond timely and went on to ally with the BJP. “We expect that if you want to be friends, be honest in your friendship, don’t stab others in the back,” said Patole.
NCP state president Jayant Patil, subsequently, denied these allegations and said that the local leaders were expected to collaborate and ensure that the MVA stood together. He added, “Nana Patole had contacted us earlier, but it seems that relations at the local level were strained, creating problems in joining hands. We will surely go into these details. The NCP had no intention of disturbing MVA. In fact, the NCP favours that all three parties must join hands and stay together.”
Patil also acknowledged that Gondia being a neighbouring district of Patole’s home district must have led him to take such an extreme position, but has asked him to refrain from doing so. “Local body polls coming up across the state in the coming few months, where a few things might happen. As a responsible leader, we feel that such extreme expression should be avoided,” said the NCP leader.