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In fight for family legacy, old political rivalries at play in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar seat

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Mumbai, May 11 (PTI) The Vikhe Patil family's hold on the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra, a BJP bastion since 2009, is facing a fierce challenge from NCP (SP) candidate Nilesh Lanke, who has posed himself as the common man's leader.

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Sitting BJP MP Sujay Vikhe Patil has been renominated by the party in the seat. In 2019, he defeated Sangram Jagtap of then undivided NCP by a margin of 2,81,526 votes. This time, Jagtap, an Ajit Pawar-faction leader, is campaigning for Vikhe Patil after a split in the NCP.

Lanke, who was earlier with the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), resigned as an MLA and is fighting the election on a Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) ticket. Polling for this seat will be held in the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha polls on May 13.

Political observers feel that the election is a chance for Lanke to prove himself as someone who can defeat the mighty while for Sujay Vikhe Patil, winning this election is important to ensure the continuance of his family's legacy and the saffron party's dominance in the district.

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Apart from that, it is also a fight between the traditional rivals Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and Sharad Pawar, they said.

In 2019, Vikhe Patil visited most of the villages in the constituency and established a good rapport with locals. However, some political observers feel that he has lost his touch after the 2019 victory, which made things easier for Lanke to make inroads.

"As a parliamentarian, one needs to be regularly in touch with one's voters and people. I know that Sujay Vikhe Patil has not been consistent in keeping contact with people as most of his (Vikhe Patil family's) educational institutes are in Shirdi Lok Sabha constituency and not in Ahmednagar," Lanke said, The BJP candidate, however, rejected the charge.

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"I have set up a network of assistants for every tehsil in my Lok Sabha constituency. I have been receiving regular follow-ups with them related to the issues faced by people," Vikhe Patil said.

He claimed that he had undertaken several developmental works, including sanctioning and constructing highways and developing the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) area to provide jobs for the youth. "You need someone who can understand the technical issues and follow them up with Delhi's various departments." The Ahmednagar Lok Sabha constituency comprises six assembly segments -- Ahmednagar city, Shevgaon, Rahuri, Parner, Shrigonda and Karjat-Jamkhed. Acute water scarcity is a major problem in the constituency.

Sujay Vikhe Patil belongs to a prominent political family in Ahmednagar district. His great grandfather late Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil had established India's first sugar cooperative factory.

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His father Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil is a minister in the Eknath Shinde government. Before joining the BJP in 2019, he was associated with the Congress for two decades and with Shiv Sena before that. He has been representing the Shirdi assembly constituency in the Ahmednagar district since 1995.

The BJP Lok Sabha candidate's grandfather late Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil was a seven-time MP from Kopargaon and once from Ahmednagar after delimitation. He was part of the Congress as well as the Shiv Sena and was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Sujay Vikhe Patil is largely relying on the educational and cooperative institutions controlled by his family and the traditional BJP vote bank to win the polls.

On the other hand, Lanke has a strong network of loyal supporters and his efforts to provide free treatment to people during the Covid pandemic earned him appreciation from the locals. He has been keeping his campaign centred around local issues such as water supply and healthcare.

The old rivalry between Sharad Pawar and the Vikhe Patil family is also a major factor in this seat. PTI ND NP NSD NSD

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