In another major blow to the Congress in Maharashtra, senior party leader Harshvardhan Patil is set to join the BJP today.
After Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil and Abdul Sattar, he is the third major leader to leave the Congress, struggling since its dismal Lok Sabha performance. The party managed to win only one Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 elections — Chandrapur, represented by Balubhau Dhannorkar alias Suresh Narayan.
On Wednesday, Patil’s office said the former minister would join the BJP in Mumbai around 3 pm. “It’s final. The joining event is scheduled for today,” a close aide said.
When contacted, BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhaye said Patil will join the BJP in presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai today. “He will join at 3 pm. Another leader, Ganesh Naik, will join around 5 pm,” he said. Naik is a senior NCP leader from Navi Mumbai and a former minister.
On September 5, Harshvardhan Patil had held a meeting with his supporters in Indapur to get their views on quitting Congress and joining the BJP. The workers enthusiastically supported his switching over to BJP, said sources.
After that, Patil went incommunicado to Congress and NCP leaders. According to sources, he switched off his cellphone and was apparently available to BJP leaders on the phones of his close aides. “The former minister has had his phone switched off for some days now,” said a close aide.
Senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan said they made several attempts to contact Patil, but his phone was switched off. “We could not get in touch with him,” he said.
Patil’s aides said the former minister was in touch directly with Chief Minister Fadnavis, whom he had also invited to his booklaunch. “Since that time, he had made up his mind to join the BJP,” said an aide.
A long-time Congress loyalist, Patil is a four-time MLA from Indapur. He had served as minister in all governments since 1995. In the 2014 elections, when Congress and NCP fought separately, NCP candidate Dattatray Bharne defeated him.
Patil had been eyeing the Indapur seat this time. However, there was no word from NCP on this, though discussions were on between the two parties. “We had taken up the issue with NCP leader Ajit Pawar. Talks were underway, but he has already taken a decision,” said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.
Though Patil had held the meeting with his supporters in Indapur in an apparent bid to put pressure on the NCP, the party refused to budge. NCP MP Supriya Sule said it was “unfortunate that Patil chose to target NCP”.
In his speech, Patil said he had extended his support to Sule in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He had said in return, NCP had promised to help him during Assembly elections. However, he said the party was not interested in ceding the Indapur seat. “Enough of humilation, I want justice now…,” he had said.