Big jolt to Deshmukh family, Congress bastion of Latur falls to BJP

A YEAR after it roped in a “Water Train” to quench the thirst of drought-hit Latur city, the BJP managed to get a green signal from voters to rule the Latur Municipal Corporation for five years which will be the first time in the 35-year-old history of the civic body. In the 70-member LMC House, the BJP notched up 36 seats while the Congress was relegated to the second position with 33 seats. NCP managed the solitary seats.

Though the initial trends showed that BJP was racing well beyond the clear majority and Congress trailing far behind, the saffron party could only manage one seat more than the 35-seat majority mark. The Congress caught up in the later stages, securing 33 seats.

The victory is a big jolt, especially for the Vilasrao Deshmukh family. For three decades, the Congress had maintained its supremacy –first over Latur Municipal Council and then over Latur Municipal Corporation — with the late Vilasrao Deshmukh himself leading the party’s campaigning and picking candidates. Vilasrao died in 2012, the year which saw Congress securing brute majority with 49 seats in the civic body.

“Vilasrao’s son, Amit Deshmukh, who is an MLA from the area, took on the onus of carrying forward the father’s legacy, but could not ensure the party’s victory in his very first election,” lamented a Congress worker. Unlike Vilasrao who always remained among the masses, Amit, alleged a Congress leader, remains inaccessible to voters most of the time and his cellphone switched off, “which went against the party.” Though Vilasrao’s actor-son Reitish Deshmukh held a rally for the Congress which drew a sizeable crowd but it could not translate into votes for the party.

The victory is highly significant for BJP as it had drawn a blank in the 2012 elections while the Congress had won 49 seats. Also, the Latur city has highest Muslim voter count at 70,000 who have been the traditional Congress voters. Similarly, the Lingayat community, which the BJP went all out to get on its side, has around 60,000 voters. The Maratha community, which has been agitating for Maratha reservation, has 55,000 voters while Dalit community has nearly 40,000 voters.

Analysts said rally by Chief Minister Devendra Fadanavis and Union Nitin Gadkari proved decisive for the party with both promising enough drinking water to slake Latur’s thirst. MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s rally drew a goodly crowd but could not change the fortunes of the party which drew a blank in the city with highest Muslim population. “The BJP tried to woo the Muslim by fielding 4-5 Muslim candidates. At least one of them won. It is clear that Muslim also voted for the BJP,” said analyst Dr Kalyan Barmade. Another analysts said the 8000-strong Marwari community also voted for the BJP after Congress workers allegedly beat up a Marawari resident three days before voting alleging that he was distributing money. “The BJP managed to play up this issue and win over Marwari votes too.”

Analysts claimed that the Lingayat community, which also tilts towards Congress during elections, en masse vote for the BJP. “Before the corporation election, BJP appointed a Lingayat community member as the Latur ZP president which seems to have gone down well with the community,” said Barmade. He said Latur like other parts of the state or the country seems to have gone with the “Modi wave.” “The upper caste, the Dalits, all seem to have voted for BJP.”

BJP leaders claimed that the initiative of roping “Water Train” last year, has paid rich dividends for the party. “This was the high point of our election campaign. At his rally, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also promised Laturites that will get water through taps in future as his government was making all arrangements to ensure that the citizens don’t suffer…. This surely seems to have been lapped up by the voters, ” a BJP leader. Other BJP leaders too played up the train issue to woo the voters.

Reacting to party’s defeat, Congress State president Ashok Chavan said, “BJP won but it was a very narrow victory. Congress went down fighting…We have not done badly in Latur,” he said. He said it would be wrong to blame Amit Deshmukh for the defeat, but would instead acknowledge the solid fight put up the party.

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