Pune: The Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seat, which was represented by Nana Patole of the BJP, fell vacant after Patole, who was critical of the BJP, joined the Congress.
The bypoll for this constituency has become a cut-throat contest between NCP’s Madhukar Kukde and BJP’s Hemant Patle and the announcement of support by the Communist Party of India (CPI) to the NCP candidate has drawn flak from the Left-Ambedkarite circles, who have fielded LK Malavi.
The Communist parties in the country have always faced criticism for not understanding the importance of caste and caste identities, which has made Dalit groups and parties approach them with caution. The CPI and the CPM have been close friends of the Prakash Ambedkar-led Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh. However, the CPI’s decision to back the NCP candidate has caused outrage in Ambedkarite groups. The CPM has stayed with the Bharipa camp.
While the decision of supporting the NCP candidate also works against the Bharipa candidate Malavi, Ambedkarites have also alleged that the NCP candidate Madhukar Kukde has links to the Khairlanji massacre, in which the family of Surekha Bhotmange, a Dalit woman farmer, was brutally murdered by upper caste mobs of the Khairlanji village.
The CPI, however, denied knowledge of any such taint on the candidate, calling it a fight against the ‘fascist’ BJP.
“We have no reason to work against secular and progressive forces in the country. The local unit of our party voted to support the NCP candidate as he has better chances of defeating Hemant Patle of the BJP,” said Bhalchandra Kango, the senior leader of the CPI. He added, “It is our party policy to fight against the BJP. Hence, the local leadership sided with the candidate probable to win with the help of our small number of votes.”
When asked about the linkage of Kukde with the Khairlanji incident, Kango said, “I am no more a state committee member. I have not followed the process closely. But as far as I know, Kukde was a BJP candidate 10 years ago and is now with the NCP.
“Besides, the party leadership has not been informed by the local body.”
He said, “We are committed to our principles and are helping defeat the BJP.”
Ashok Sonawane of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh said, “After we got to know that the CPI unit supported the NCP candidate, we got in touch with the central leadership of the party.
”The local unit apparently did not inform the party leadership. There is also a possibility that the CPI unit got compromised.” He said, “For now, we are focused on winning the elections. Once they get over, we will surely hold talks with our natural ally.”