Major embarrassment for Congress as its preferred Dalit candidate loses Maharashtra Legislative Council poll

The Maharashtra Congress suffered a major loss of face on Monday after it failed to ensure the victory of its candidate Chandrakant Handore, who interestingly was deemed as the party’s first choice candidate, and the most likely to get elected in view of the numbers that the party has in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

The Congress had fielded two candidates in the Legislative Council elections in spite of having numbers to ensure the victory of only one. The candidate list released by the Congress had Handore’s name as the first candidate and many felt that he would easily sail through while the second party candidate, Bhai Jagtap, would face a tough battle as he needed votes from the party’s allies to see his candidature sail through.

While Jagtap emerged triumphant, Handore suffered a defeat, making the Congress susceptible to accusations that it did not do enough to ensure the victory of its lone Dalit candidate.

Handore’s candidature by the Congress was seen as an outreach to Mumbai’s large Dalit community in the run-up to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections.

Sixty-five-old Handore started off his political career as a Dalit activist and later became a corporator in the BMC in 1985. Handrore, who was associated with the Republican Party of India, subsequently served as the mayor of Mumbai in 1992-93, at a time when the city saw its worst communal violence after the Babri Masjid demolition.

Handore made headlines when, on the evening of January 8, 1993, a reporter Yuvraj Mohite, whom Handore had taken along with him to the residence of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, claimed he overheard orders to attack Muslims during the riots that had engulfed the city.

Mohite’s deposition in front of the Srikrishna Commission, set up to investigate the Mumbai riots, was instrumental in the Commission making its judgment about the alleged involvement of Balasaheb Thackeray and the Shiv Sena in the riots. While Mohite gave testimony before the Commission, Handore did not.

He went on to join the Congress, winning the 2004 Assembly elections from Chembur, and was made a cabinet minister. He was reelected in 2009 but was dropped from the state cabinet.

On February 5, 2021, Handore was appointed as the working president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee. His nomination was an attempt by the Congress to project a Dalit face in the Legislative Council.

Former Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam said, “It is unfortunate that Dalit candidate Chrandkant Handore, who supposedly got first preference, lost to a Congress candidate of second preference Bhai Jagtap. This is very bad and prima facie, it looks like sabotage by our own people.”

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