Mumbai: In a setback for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the hotly-contested bypoll to the Pandharpur-Mangalwedha assembly constituency in a neck-and-neck fight.
BJP’s Samadhan Autade wrested the seat from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), defeating its candidate Bhagirath Bhalke by 3,733 votes.
The bypoll was necessitated after the death of NCP MLA Bharat Bhalke due to Covid-19 last year, and was the first assembly byelection since the 2019 state polls, which had brought the MVA to power in an unexpected turn of events.
The Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress came together to form an alliance government in 2019 to keep the BJP from coming to power after the Maharashtra assembly results threw up a hung assembly.
The BJP, which emerged as the single-largest party with 105 seats in the 288-member assembly, had severely criticised the MVA for stealing its mandate and cheating the people of Maharashtra by forming an “unnatural alliance” that people had not voted for.
In this backdrop, the very first bypoll after the assembly election was a litmus test for the MVA as a small indication of whether the coalition enjoys public support after 17 months in power. Leaders from all parties of the MVA, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress, had campaigned for the NCP candidate. Fadnavis too held seven rallies, making the bypoll a high decibel one.
BJP calls bypoll ‘mirror to govt’, NCP blames loss on coordination
Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis said: “The people of Pandharpur have shown a mirror to the inefficient and corrupt governance of the MVA… All three parties entered the arena, fought as ‘saam, daam, danda, bhed‘, misused administration and money, but despite all this people here voted for the BJP.”
The former CM added, “I had appealed to people, you elect our candidate and at the right time I will topple this state government. Even now, I am saying the same thing. But only at the right time. Right now, our battle is against Covid.”
The NCP had fielded late MLA Bhalke’s son, Bhagirath, and campaigned aggressively highlighting the Bhalke family’s commitment to the development of the constituency, hoping to ride the sympathy wave.
The party, however, blamed the defeat on the lack of internal coordination within the local units of the party.
NCP president Jayant Patil said: “The bypoll constituency included the Pandharpur taluka and Mangalwedha taluka. We weren’t able to bring about effective communication between the two teams, as a result of which our candidate Bhagirath Bhalke lost out by a small margin.”
The bypoll was also crucial to the MVA as it came at a time when Maharashtra is struggling to contain a surge in Covid cases, and after a string of controversies that led to the resignation of two ministers from the MVA cabinet, all of which formed part of the BJP’s campaign agenda.
Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Rathod resigned in February after allegations of being linked to TikTok star Pooja Chavan’s death, while NCP’s Anil Deshmukh resigned last month after former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh accused him of running an extortion racket in the city.
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