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Maharashtra Assembly by-polls gives a major setback for BJP as MVA snares Kasba after 30 years

BJP’s Ashwini Jagtap coasts to victory in Chinchwad as a triangular fight queers pitch for MVA

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Mumbai: In a major setback to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena coalition, the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) of Uddhav Thackeray led Sena faction, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Thursday won the Kasba Peth Assembly by-poll in Pune, defeating the BJP for the first time in the assembly segment in nearly three decades. 

Congressman Ravindra Dhangekar, the MVA’s candidate and a former four-time corporator, pulled off a thumping win in the BJP citadel of Kasba Peth in ‘Old Pune’, defeating the BJP’s Hemant Rasane by over 11,000 votes. Ravindra Dhangekar polled over 72,000 votes while Hemant Rasane could manage a little over 68,000. 

However, the BJP managed to retain the Chinchwad Assembly segment, with its candidate Ashwini Jagtap – wife of the late MLA Laxman Jagtap – coasting to victory with a solid margin of more than 36,000 votes over her nearest rival – the MVA’s Nana Kate (from the Nationalist Congress Party).  

Ashwini Jagtap polled a little over 1.35 lakh votes while Nana Kate polled over 99,000 votes. However, the BJP primarily managed to win Chinchwad owing to a three-way split in votes with ‘rebel’ Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Rahul Kalate, who contested as an independent, queering the MVA’s pitch by securing 44,000 votes.   

The two by-elections, for which voting took place on February 26, had been necessitated following the recent demise of sitting BJP MLAs Mukta Tilak (Kasba Peth) and Laxman Jagtap (Chinchwad).  

Notably, both by-polls were fiercely-contested with scarcely a trace of any ‘sympathy wave’ in either constituency despite late Mukta Tilak – a former Pune Mayor and scion of Bal Gangadhar ‘Lokmanya’ Tilak’s family – and late Laxman Jagtap being influential BJP leaders in their respective segments.   

According to some analysts, resentment among the Brahmin community against the BJP in Kasba Peth owing to a member of the Tilak family not getting the ticket helped the experienced Ravindra Dhangekar, an ex-corporator and a former ‘face’ of the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in Pune, clinch the keenly-fought Kasba seat.

Others, however, pointed to the changing demographics of the Kasba segment post-delimitation in 2009 and the BJP’s lack of a strong local leader like Girish Bapat – who had held the Kasba seat since 1995 – as the cause of the saffron party’s defeat. 

Remarking that the results “sent out a strong message across Maharashtra,” Leader of Opposition and NCP leader Ajit Pawar said that all three MVA parties (NCP, Congress and Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction) had worked with “a united spirit” in the elections.  

“Despite ruling BJP and Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena making use of every device to defeat Ravindra Dhangekar, he emerged triumphant and MVA won in a seat that had been the BJP’s stronghold for the last 28 years…a message has gone out in Maharashtra that if the three parties fight together and the seat sharing is done properly, then nothing can stop MVA from gaining success in future elections in Maharashtra. Moreover, the Shiv Sena cadre have expressed their anger at the manner in which Uddhav Thackeray was toppled from the CM’s post by voting against the Shinde-Fadnavis government in the Kasba by-poll,” remarked Ajit Pawar further. 

The NCP leader observed that the MVA would have won the Chinchwad seat as well if Rahul Kalate (of the Thackeray Sena) had not contested as an independent, thus splitting votes and undercutting chances of Nana Kate, the MVA’s candidate. 

Speaking in Mumbai, former CM Uddhav Thackeray said that the BJP’s “use and throw” policy had dearly cost them in the bypolls.  

“First, they made use of the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal and then threw them overboard once these parties had served their purpose. They did the same with late (Goa CM) Manohar Parrikar’s son (Utpal Parrikar) when they denied him a ticket (2022 Vidhan Sabha election) … now, they denied a ticket to a member of the Tilak family in the Kasba Peth election.”  

Uddhav Thackeray claimed there was “tremendous discontent” within the Tilak family against the BJP. However, the late Mukta Tilak’s son – Kunal Tilak – denied such suggestions while refuting claims that the Brahmin community, a traditional BJP vote-bank in Kasba, had voted against the saffron party. 

Meanwhile, while acknowledging that the Kasba Peth defeat demanded introspection, state BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule dismissed the MVA’s elation over its win, remarking that “no BJP bastion had been breached.”  

“This is not the MVA’s win, but a particular candidate’s victory… Ravindra Dhangekar had voter sympathy as he had lost a previous election. Today, the Congress is nowhere in the Assembly election results for the three north-eastern states (Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya). Why is the Congress and the MVA so jubilant about a single win in Kasba?” argued Chandrashekhar Bawankule. 

A high-decibel campaign had been mounted by top BJP brass as well as Chief Minister Eknath Shinde in Kasba Peth, while the MVA leaders, too, strained every sinew in the run-up to the polls. Deputy Chief Minister and BJP Devendra Fadnavis visited Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad for several days ahead of the polls, and the CM held a massive road show in support of the BJP’s candidates earlier this week. 


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