Why Nana Patole joining Congress could alter political equations in Maharashtra
Rebel BJP MP from Gondia-Bhandara Nana Patole formally joined the Congress and met party President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday. This move was being anticipated ever since he resigned from the BJP and the Lok Sabha last month citing inaction by the Modi government on farmers’ issues.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi warmly welcomes Mr Nana Patole, Ex-MP from BJP, to the Congress family. pic.twitter.com/LZpHtlBS6Q— Congress (@INCIndia) January 11, 2018
As soon as he joined the Congress, political circles in Maharashtra were abuzz with speculation whether he will be contesting the Lok Sabha by-election from the seat. It will be a battle of prestige for BJP as well as NCP.
If BJP loses the seat, especially to Patole, it would be a huge humiliation for the party as he had been openly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies. For the NCP, the seat is important as it happens to be the turf of senior leader Praful Patel.
Both BJP and NCP have begun brainstorming on how to handle a possible bypoll, which has to be held within six months of the MP’s resignation. Patole resigned on 8 December, so the bypoll will have to be held by May.
While Patole indicated that he could contest the by-election, he also downplayed the importance of the alliance for him. Nana Patole belongs to the agrarian OBC Kunbi community and the caste composition in the constituency works in his favour. If the Congress does field him, the NCP would see it as a direct infringement on its area, which could harm the prospects of an alliance between the two parties.
In either case, the NCP will soon have to open its cards on whether it wants to align with the Congress or not.
When contacted Nana Patole said, “I will contest the by-election if asked by the party leadership.”
When reminded of his earlier statement that he was interested in contesting the Assembly elections and the fact that Gondia-Bhandara is an NCP seat, Patole said cryptically, “The situation has changed now”.
NCP leader Sunil Tatkare said, “Gondia-Bhandara is the constituency of our national leader Praful Patel. Congress cannot take a decision about it, circumventing us. They will have to keep us in loop.”
Patole, however, is said to be of the belief that even Patel won’t be able to defeat him in the seat. Interestingly, Patole had declared earlier that he will contest against Patel if the latter contests from the seat with the BJP’s support.
This is another possibility that is doing the rounds. “Given Pawar’s style of politics, one should not be surprised if this happens (Patel contesting with BJP’s support). Since it is matter of prestige for both BJP and NCP, they might join hands to defeat Patole at any cost. Either Patel will contest on BJP ticket or NCP will support the BJP candidate against Patole. BJP is most likely to field MLC Parinay Fuke who is also from the same area and same caste as Patole,” a BJP source said.
Maharashtra BJP chief spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, however, claimed that Patole left the party and joined Congress because he had realised that he cannot win the elections.