Mumbai: The BJP’s loss of two incumbent seats in Vidarbha is being viewed as a major setback for the party, especially given its much lower tally in the 2019 assembly polls and its December 2020 defeat in the Nagpur graduate constituency for the first time in 50 years.
Of the five seats from the teachers and graduate constituencies, the party wrested the Konkan teachers’ constituency from the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) but lost the Nagpur teachers and Amravati graduate constituencies. Former minister Ranjit Patil was defeated by the Congress’s Dheeraj Lingade from Amravati, while the Congress-supported Sudhakar Adbale defeated the BJP-supported Nago Ganar in Nagpur.
According to insiders, apart from the infighting among the BJP’s state and local leaders and the anti-incumbency against sitting MLCs in Nagpur and Amravati, the party’s official stand over the old pension scheme (OPS) resulted in the defeats. “The united fight put up by the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena has also resulted in two seats going to the Congress,” said a party leader.
Vidarbha, which is considered the traditional citadel of the Congress, voted in favour of the BJP in the 2014 general election. Two top leaders of the party – Union minister Nitin Gadkari and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis – as well as the party’s state unit chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule hail from Vidarbha, which is why the defeats there were a big shock.
A Nagpur leader attributed the defeats to other factors. “The party was aware of the anti-incumbency factor against the Vidarbha MLCs,” he said. “Both Ganar and Patil had become unpopular after serving two and three terms in the council respectively. However, the party believed that its command over the region would help them win.”
Deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis said the party would take the lessons from the defeat seriously. “We tried to convince the Shikshak Parishad, which fielded Ganar, to concede the seat to us but they did not agree,” he said, adding that voters had deliberately polled invalid votes against the BJP Amravati candidate in large numbers. “There will be proper deliberation on that too,” he added.
Party leaders also attributed the defeat to the state government’s stand on the OPS. Fadnavis had announced in December that the implementation of the OPS would cripple the state economy, which upset teachers, who account for over 50 percent of state employees. The OPS issue emerged in the poll campaign, and realising the discontent among voters, chief minister Eknath Shinde and Fadnavis announced that they were considering its reintroduction.
“The defeat in both Vidarbha seats is a major setback to the BJP, more so because the defeat has come from the teachers and graduate constituencies, which are assumed to be the party’s core vote bank,” said political analyst Hemant Desai. “The Congress seems to be regaining lost ground, which could be attributed to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra.”
Satyajeet Tambe, who fought the Nashik graduate constituency as an independent, defeated the Shiv Sena-supported Shubhangi Patil. The Congress rebel had stood as an independent candidate, defying the party diktat to his father, sitting MLC Sudhir Tambe, to contest. The latter stood by his son, and was suspended by the party while Satyajeet was expelled for six years.
Despite the BJP’s announcement that it would extend support to him, Satyajeet kept a safe distance. “He neither took the support nor is he going to join the party,” said a close aide of Satyajeet. “The Tambes would prefer to realign with their own party.”
Satyajeet said he would clarify his further course of political action on Saturday.