Mumbai: Maharashtra BJP chief and Kothrud MLA Chandrakant Patil had proclaimed ahead of the Kolhapur North bypoll earlier this month that he would quit politics and take refuge in the Himalayas if the party did not win.
The statement has come back to bite him.
The BJP Saturday suffered a drubbing in the constituency at the hands of the Congress, which was supported by the Shiv Sena and the NCP, all partners in Maharashtra’s ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government.
After the defeat, Patil, who is among the most senior BJP leaders in the state and hails from Kolhapur, sought to put up a brave front.
“I did not even fight the election. Our Satyajeet Kadam fought and lost. Had I fought it, the MVA would have had no face to show,” he said.
Political analysts say the defeat is a setback for Patil, who is known for his frequent controversial statements.
“This is definitely a setback for him and now there is speculation about whether he will be removed from his post or not,” said political commentator Hemant Desai. “His position has weakened since he says he is from Kolhapur, but that has not reflected in the election results.”
However, BJP leaders dismiss the speculation and say the party has full faith in him. “Because we lost Kolhapur, Chandrakant Patil will have to resign? This will never happen,” said senior party leader Sudhir Mungantiwar. “Secondly, those who know the BJP know that if anyone loses an election, the party never gets angry with that person. We all work together.”
Also Read: How Sharad Pawar, Modi’s friend and foe, has emerged as MVA’s chief contact with Centre
‘Patil vs Patil’
Patil had put his weight behind the Kolhapur North bypoll and spearheaded the entire campaign. Even so, Kadam won around 78,000 votes while MVA candidate Jayashri Jadhav, widow of the late Congress MLA Chandrakant Jadhav (whose death necessitated the election) won around 97,000 votes.
In 2014, the BJP got 40,000 votes in the seat. So, despite Saturday’s loss, BJP MLA Ashish Shelar gave credit to Patil for the way he fought the elections. “Our votes increased and all credit goes to Chandrakant Patil,” he said.
The bypoll was fought on the Hindutva plank with “loudspeakers over mosques” and “recitation of Hanuman Chalisa” being prominent issues. Patil was also successful in garnering the support of local strongman and former legislator Mahadevrao Mahadik by choosing his nephew Kadam as the BJP candidate.
Analyst Desai said the bypoll was a “prestige battle” between Chandrakant Patil and Satej Patil, Guardian Minister of Kolhapur and Congress leader who was in charge of the Kolhapur bypoll for the party.
“This particular battle was seen as Patil vs Patil,” he added. “The role of the Shiv Sena was also important here. Because of Chandrakant Patil’s weight, all three MVA parties fought unitedly.”
‘Predicting MVA collapse’
Patil is known for making controversial statements. During the Kolhapur campaign, for example, he purportedly said the Enforcement Directorate (ED) would probe if any money is found deposited in voters’ accounts by the MVA.
Since the formation of the MVA, Patil has also been “predicting” that the government would fall. In 2021, he said the MVA had insulted Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari over the issue of the speaker’s election and this could lead to imposition of “President’s Rule in the state”.
This year, Patil said there would be a change in the government in Maharashtra after 10 March, the day the results to assembly polls in five states were announced.
A BJP leader who did not wish to be named said “Patil is very outspoken and at times becomes politically incorrect”. Desai added that Patil is not taken seriously because of such statements.
“He is mocked at most of the times. He is not taken as seriously as (former Maharashtra CM and BJP leader Devendra) Fadnavis. I have personally spoken to many BJP leaders who don’t have much confidence in Patil because of this,” he added.
Mungantiwar, too, admitted that “it is true that Patil makes such statements at times and he is aware of it as well, but he doesn’t mean ill will”.
On the trolling meted out to Patil since the Kolhapur results, the anonymous BJP leader quoted above said: “I don’t take this trolling seriously. This is not the measure of anyone’s success or failure but, yes, some senior leaders in the party are concerned about dada’s image because of this.”
From ABVP to state BJP president
Patil joined the BJP in 2004 and was a Member of Legislative Council from 2008-2019.
He is the BJP’s Maratha face in Maharashtra and has held the state presidency since 2019. Although technically he is the numero uno in state affairs, he is still second to state Opposition leader Fadnavis since he was a cabinet minister in the erstwhile BJP-Shiv Sena government (2014-2019) in which Fadnavis was CM.
A confidant of Amit Shah, Patil is a prominent BJP leader in western Maharashtra as well — the sugar-rich belt predominantly held by the NCP and Congress.
Brought up in Mumbai, he comes from a humble background and rose up the BJP ranks.
“He does not have a typical Sangh background. His father was a mill worker and they moved to Mumbai. During his college days, dada (as Patil is referred to) got involved in the ABVP (RSS student wing) and, being the sensitive man that he is, he could connect with people’s issues,” the BJP leader mentioned earlier said.
Mungantiwar added that “he is a decent man and quite an experienced person”.
“His nature is very sensitive and he communicates with everyone while running the party and takes everyone along. He gives importance to his colleagues and hence was given the BJP state president’s role,” he added.
During the Fadnavis government, Patil held various portfolios such as revenue, PWD, relief and rehabilitation, as well as being guardian minister of Kolhapur, Sangli and Pune. He became more influential after former BJP leader Eknath Khadse quit the party in 2020.
“One major criticism he faced was when he decided to contest the 2019 assembly polls from Pune (Kothrud) instead of Kolhapur. People started saying that he ran away from Kolhapur,” said Desai.
But Mungantiwar objects to this. “This is a misunderstanding that dada ran away to Pune. I am a witness to that happened then. In fact, he was actually not keen on fighting the 2019 polls,” he said.
“He wanted to tour the entire Maharashtra as state president to preside over the election preparations but, on the insistence of Amit Shah, he had to fight the polls. Dada never said he wanted to fight outside Kolhapur,” he added. “If at all he had to fight, he wanted to do it from Kolhapur. But traditionally, the Kolhapur seat was fought by the Shiv Sena and so, in the Sena-BJP alliance, the seat went to Sena’s kitty.”
He explained that Shah had given two options to Patil — either fight from the Mulund seat in Mumbai or Kothrud from Pune. “So, dada chose the safe constituency as the state president,” he said.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Also Read: ‘Shrewd politician, BJP puppet’: Why Governor Koshyari is at heart of Maharashtra deadlock