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Pawar vs Pawar in Baramati: NCP fields Ajit Pawar's wife Sunetra against sister-in-law Supriya Sule

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Mumbai, Mar 30 (PTI) Baramati constituency, the home turf of Sharad Pawar, is set for a high-profile battle, with the Nationalist Congress Party on Saturday fielding Sunetra Pawar, wife of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, against her sister-in-law and the Pawar senior's daughter Supriya Sule.

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In her first reaction, Sunetra Pawar, 60, said this was a lucky day for her.

"I thank Narendra Modiji, Amit Shah, and all leaders of Mahayuti (Shiv Sena, BJP, and NCP) for considering me capable of fighting the election," Sunetra Pawar told a Marathi news channel.

"Voters have taken the fight in their hands," she said when asked about facing off with Sule.

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The announcement of her candidature was made by Maharashtra NCP unit president Sunil Tatkare, hours after the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) declared its first list of five candidates for Lok Sabha elections from Maharashtra.

The NCP(SP) retained Supriya Sule from Baramati and fielded Nilesh Lanke, who switched sides from the Ajit Pawar camp, from the Ahmednagar constituency.

Among the five names declared by the Sharad Pawar camp are sitting MP Amol Kolhe (Shirur constituency), Bhaskar Bhagre (Dindori), and former Congress MLA Amar Kale (Wardha).

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Bhagre will square off against Union minister and sitting BJP MP Bharati Pawar in Dindori (ST) seat.

Lanke, the sitting MLA from Parner, will face off against BJP MP Sujay Vikhe Patil from the Ahmednagar constituency.

Meanwhile, Tatkare said the battle in Baramati is of ideology and principles, and not a family one With Sunetra Pawar, a novice in electoral politics, in the field, Baramati is set to witness a first-of-its-kind Pawar versus Pawar battle, post the split in the party founded by the Pawar senior in 1999.

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The real fight lies between Ajit Pawar, who joined the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government last July, and his uncle Sharad Pawar, a wily and battle-hardened politician.

The Baramati Lok Sabha constituency includes six assembly segments — Baramati town, Indapur, Daund, Purandar, Bhor and Khadakwasla.

Bhor and Purandar assembly segments are with Congress, Baramati and Indapur were won by NCP (undivided), while BJP represents Daund and Khadakwasala.

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Sharad Pawar has won the Baramati LS constituency multiple times in the past. He has a committed voter base and enjoys immense goodwill among people.

In the 2019 elections, Supriya Sule scored a hat-trick of winning the Baramati constituency as NCP nominee.

Even before Sunetra Pawar's name was formally announced, she had started campaigning and meeting various social groups.

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On the other hand, to guard his home turf, Sharad Pawar recently visited the family of Congress legislator Sangram Thopte and met his father Anantrao Thopte, an old rival.

NCP (SP), part of the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), also comprising Shiv Sena (UBT) and Congress, will contest 10 seats in Maharashtra, which sends 48 members to Lok Sabha Baramati goes for polls in the third phase on May 7.

For Sule, 54, this will be the first Lok Sabha election wherein the NCP cadre will be split between loyalists of the Pawar senior and Ajit Pawar.

It was Ajit, the sitting MLA from the Baramati assembly segment, who used to play a key role in Sule's victory in the past polls by ensuring that the vote bank of the Pawars remained unaffected.

Like his daughter, Sharad Pawar, 83, is also touring the constituency and holding meetings with various groups in a bid to leave nothing for chance.

While Sule is relying on voters loyal to the Pawar clan and her work as a Lok Sabha member, Ajit can draw additional support from the cadres of Shiv Sena, led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and Bharatiya Janata Party.

Notably, the BJP had identified Baramati as one of the tough constituencies in the past.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP candidate Kanchan Kul, wife of Daund MLA Rahul Kul, lost to Sule by a margin of over 1.55 lakh votes.

Ajit Pawar had dropped enough hints that Sunetra Pawar will be fielded from Baramati.

However, with Shiv Sena leader Vijay Shivtare from Pune district launching a diatribe against Ajit Pawar and throwing his hat in the poll ring to contest as an Independent, it appeared that Sule may have an advantage over Sunetra.

However, Shivtare was persuaded against contesting by CM Shinde and his deputies Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar.

“Over 1.5 lakh votes will now be given to the ‘clock’ symbol (of NCP). An election campaign will be run with full strength. I would like to thank Ajit Dada as he was also present during the meeting (Mumbai),” Shivtare told reporters earlier in the day on Saturday. The margin of Sule's victory in Baramati in her maiden contest for Lok Sabha in 2009 was 3,36,831 against BJP nominee Kanta Nalawade. In 2014, the margin plunged to 69,719 when Rashtriya Samaj Paksha leader Mahadev Jankar was Sule's challenger.

Jankar, a prominent leader from the Dhangar community, is now supporting the Mahayuti alliance.

In 2019, Sule's vote tally increased to 6,86,714 with a vote share of 52.63% and she won by a margin of over 1.55 lakh votes.

Sunetra is probably the second member of Ajit Pawar's family to contest the LS elections. In 2019, Ajit's son Parth contested from Maval seat in the Pune district but fell out against Shiv Sena's Shrirang Barne.

Sunetra Pawar comes from a political family in Marathwada. She is a sister of Padamsinh Patil, a former minister. Earlier with Congress, Patil later joined Sharad Pawar when the latter founded NCP in 1999.

For Ajit, the contest lies between himself and the Pawar clan. Even his younger brother Srinivas Pawar has sided with Sharad Pawar.

Winning the high-stakes battle is important for Ajit to cement his position in the Mahayuti alliance where he shares space with Shiv Sena and BJP. PTI MR NSK

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