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Friends are foes and foes have turned friends in Maharashtra's electoral battle

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NewsDrum Desk
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Mumbai, Apr 13 (PTI) With parties breaking up and new alliances forming, Maharashtra is seeing head-spinning political realignments in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections where one-time colleagues have become rivals, and enemies have become allies.

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An illustration of this was on display at Union minister Amit Shah's rally in Nanded on Thursday where former chief minister Ashok Chavan and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Pratap Patil Chikhalikar shared the stage.

Chikhalikar, then the MLA of undivided Shiv Sena from Loha in Latur district, joined the BJP in 2019 and went on to defeat sitting Congress MP Ashok Chavan from Nanded, a Congress bastion, in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.

Modi, at a campaign rally then, had targeted Chavan over the Adarsh society scam, while then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had said Chavan was a "dealer and not a leader." Chavan joined the BJP in February this year, and became its Rajya Sabha member. He is now campaigning for Chikhalikar and other BJP candidates in the Marathwada region.

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Shrirang Barne of the Shiv Sena defeated Parth Pawar, NCP leader Ajit Pawar's son, in the Maval Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. It was the first time a member of Sharad Pawar's extended family tasted electoral defeat.

Come 2024, and Ajit Pawar -- who parted ways with his uncle to join hands with the BJP last year -- and his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are campaigning for Barne.

On his part, Barne no longer owes allegiance to Uddhav Thackeray; he is now with the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. Ajit Pawar is now Shinde's deputy in the state government.

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Ajit Pawar is said to have persuaded Amol Kolhe, a popular television and film actor who was then with the undivided Shiv Sena, to cross over to the NCP and contest against sitting Shiv Sena MP Shivajirao Adhalrao-Patil in Shirur Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. Kolhe defeated Adhalrao-Patil.

Kolhe is now with the Sharad Pawar-led NCP (SP). In the seat-sharing arrangement of the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena-NCP 'Mahayuti' alliance, Shirur seat went to Ajit Pawar, and with the intention of defeating Kolhe, he inducted Adhalrao Patil into the NCP. Now Ajit Pawar would be campaigning against Kolhe, his former protege.

In Mumbai South-Central constituency, Rahul Shewale, two-time MP of the undivided Shiv Sena, is pitted against Anil Desai of the Shiv Sena (UBT).

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Shewale joined the Shinde-led Shiv Sena when the party split in 2022.

Desai, a close aide of Uddhav Thackeray, is largely known as a backroom warrior. After his Rajya Sabha term ended, Desai is making his debut in electoral contest against his former colleague.

In a further twist, Desai will be banking on the support of Mumbai Congress chief Varsha Gaikwad whose father, late Eknath Gaikwad had been defeated by Shewale in the 2014 Lok Sabha contest.

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In Baramati, two members of the Pawar family are facing off.

Ajit Pawar used to manage his cousin Supriya Sule's election campaigns in the past. Now the NCP led by him has fielded his wife Sunetra Pawar against Supriya Sule, the three-time MP.

The battle has caused fissures in Ajit's immediate family too as his younger brother Shrinivas and his family have come out in Sule's support.

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In Beed, the BJP replaced sitting MP Pritam Munde with her elder sister and former state minister Pankaja Munde as candidate.

Pankaja was defeated by her estranged cousin and NCP leader Dhananjay Munde in the 2019 assembly polls. Dhananjay Munde is now in the Ajit Pawar-led NCP, and he would be campaigning for Pankaja, candidate of the ruling alliance.

In coastal Raigad, Sunil Tatkare of the NCP defeated long-time Shiv Sena MP Anant Geete by a narrow margin in 2019. Congress had then backed Tatkare as it was in alliance with Sharad Pawar's party.

Now, Tatkare is with Ajit Pawar's NCP, while Geete has stayed with Uddhav Thackeray's faction after the Shiv Sena split, and he has Congress and NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) by his side.

"Before Devendra Fadnavis engineered splits in the Shiv Sena and NCP, both were family parties. Now the election has turned into a Mahabharat battle," senior journalist and political commentator Prakash Akolkar told PTI.

"While family members are fighting each other, they are also helping erstwhile enemies," he said. PTI MR KRK NP

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