The BJP has hopes of winning all the eight seats in Pune. But the one seat the party is most keen on winning with a record margin is Kothrud.
For this, the party has chosen Chandrakant Patil – a veteran leader, a Maratha, someone with a clean image, and who rose from humble beginnings.
The city of Pune has always played an important role in the politics of Maharashtra. Pune is the eighth largest city in India, and an important centre for manufacturing, defence, IT and education.
The salubrious climate of the city had once earned Pune the sobriquet of ‘pensioner’s paradise’. However, Pune is known equally as a student’s town with quality private and government educational institutions attracting students from all over India and abroad.
Pune has also been a citadel for India’s defence sector since the British rule. It is the headquarters of the Southern Command of the Indian Army. The city also has an important air force base.
Pune can also be called the cultural capital of Maharashtra. Out of nine Bharat Ratna awards conferred upon the residents of Maharashtra, three have been from Pune. Pune was once the centre of political power for the whole of India, and it continues to play an important role in the politics of Maharashtra.
In the forthcoming state elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken everyone by surprise by keeping all eight seats in the city to itself. Its poll partner, Shiv Sena is said to be not too happy about it. There are several pockets in the city where the Shiv Sena has traditionally been strong.
But the BJP top brass’s decision to not cede an inch in Pune to the alliance partners shows how much the city matters to the BJP leadership. How important Pune city is for the BJP can be gauged from the fact that the Prime Minister chose to address a public rally in Pune yesterday.
Even within the city, while it is clear that all eight seats will be keenly contested by the BJP, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the “Battle for Kothrud” is the one that will prove to be the most interesting.
Kothrud is a rapidly growing suburb of Pune that was once the abode of Mastani, Peshwa Bajirao the First’s legendary lover. Today, the area is home to more than 400,000 people, most of them educated and upper middle class.
The BJP’s choice of its state unit president Chandrakant Patil as the candidate from Kothrud raised quite a few eyebrows, both from within the party and from the opposition. It is the first ever assembly election for Patil. He is considered to be one of the most influential members of the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet.
Seen as someone with a clean image, Chandrakant Patil is a man who rose from humble beginnings. Like Narendra Modi, Chandrakant Dada as he is fondly known as, has a tea story to share. His father, Bacchu Patil, used to serve tea to mill workers.
Chandrakant Patil spent his childhood days in the Prabhudas Chawl in Mumbai. He earned his political spurs as a full-time student activist with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
In 2004, he joined the BJP and was elected as its state unit vice-president in 2013. In 2014, he was appointed as a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council as a representative of the graduates.
Since 2014, he has been a key member of the Maharashtra state cabinet holding important portfolios like Revenue and Public Works Department.
In addition, Chandrakant Dada is also the ‘palak mantri’ or guardian minister of Pune and Kolhapur district. However, since he is based out of Kolhapur, he is seen as an ‘outsider’ to Pune by some people within the BJP.
Kothrud has always been a citadel of the BJP-Sena. In the last assembly elections, Medha Kulkarni of BJP won from this seat by a whopping margin of more than 64,000 votes over the Shiv Sena candidate Chandrakant Mokate. This time too, she was hopeful of getting the party ticket and had made her disappointment at not being chosen public.
Another person who actively sought a BJP ticket from Kothrud was Murlidhar Mohol, a man known for his grassroots connect. When Chandrakant Patil’s candidature was announced, both Kulkarni and Mohol had publicly voiced their displeasure, forcing Chandrakant Patil to acknowledge their reservations. He had said in a meeting that the two leaders will be recognised by the party for their sacrifice.
Both Kulkarni and Mohol may have since then publicly backed the candidature of Chandrakant Patil, but there is an undercurrent of resentment among some sections of their supporters, even though many voters from Kothrud feel that that electing a powerful leader like Chandrakant Patil would be good for the development of the constituency.
Kothrud is one of the most up-market residential areas of Pune, and is rapidly expanding. However, it suffers from several infrastructure issues. Its proximity to the river made Kothrud see some of the worst floods this year due to excess rainfall. Public transport, traffic congestion and inadequate water supply are other major issues that the residents of Kothrud face on a regular basis.
In fact, Chandrakant Patil’s poll manifesto lays stress on exactly these issues. It focuses on improving traffic, road infrastructure and dealing with garbage as the three top focus areas.
To placate the discerning Kothrud voters, the BJP is highlighting the developmental projects in the area, including construction of the Pune Metro and building of some flyovers to ease the traffic congestion.
But both the projects are nowhere near completion, and the terrible condition of the roads adds to the woes of the Punekars. Irate Kothrud voters are asking, if everyone representing Pune from ‘Galli to Dilli’ is from the BJP, why is the city faring so badly as far as development of infrastructure is concerned?
However, Kothrud is also home to strong nationalist sentiment. Abrogation of Article 370 was celebrated like a festival in some parts of Kothrud. The feel-good factor of Article 370 abrogation and BJP’s plank of strong nationalism find strong resonance in Kothrud, and it will be an advantage to the BJP.
The BJP has sent a strong message to the opposition, in particular to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar by deciding to field Chandrakant Dada Patil from Kothrud. Pune district was known to be the stronghold of the NCP for many years.
Chandrakant Dada Patil, who also belongs to the same Maratha clan that NCP supremo Pawar hails from, is positioned by the BJP as a credible leader to counter an ageing Pawar, who is leading his crisis-laden party in what is widely perceived as the last electoral battle of his life.
NCP has seen mass desertions before these elections, with even senior leaders making a beeline for the BJP and the Shiv Sena. Rumours of a family rift between Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and his nephew Ajit Pawar have added to the party’s problems.
The recent Enforcement Directorate investigations against Pawar and the emergence of ties that connect Dawood Ibrahim aide Iqbal Mirchi and Pawar’s second in command, Praful Patel haven’t helped matters. Sharad Pawar is battling valiantly, criss-crossing the state, pulling the weight of a dead alliance between a Congress party plagued with internal struggles and his own beleaguered NCP.
The polls of 21 October could be the swan song of the NCP, and everyone knows that, including Sharad Pawar. Chandrakant Patil thundered recently at a rally that the BJP will “retire Sharad Pawar permanently from social and political life after results of the assembly elections are out”.
However, NCP is trying its best to defeat Chandrakant Patil along with its poll ally, the Congress. In order to minimise the vote split, both parties have decided to throw their might behind a common opposition candidate, Kishore Shinde of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Shinde had contested the last assembly elections as well against Medha Kulkarni, and had stood fourth.
This time though, Shinde has the backing of the NCP as well as the Congress, and some say, the tacit support of some sections of the disgruntled supporters of the BJP and Sena who are unhappy with Patil’s candidature.
Shinde had fought assembly elections from Kothrud twice, losing both times. He is an ex-councillor who was in the news a couple of years ago for roughing up vendors at multiplexes to stop them from charging exorbitant amounts for eatables.
The Shiv Sena had won the Kothrud seat in 2009, when it had fought the election with the BJP as an alliance partner. In the 2014 assembly elections, when the BJP and the Sena parted ways, the seat went to the BJP, with the Shiv Sena getting the second position. This time, BJP and Shiv Sena are in an uneasy alliance, with the ground level karyakartas of both parties lacking the synergy.
The BJP has hopes of winning all the eight seats in Pune. But the one seat the party is most keen on winning with a record margin is Kothrud. Once, Peshwa Bajirao I rowed in a boat from his official residence at Shaniwarwada to Kothrud to meet Mastani, riding on the waves of a swollen Mutha river.
In 2019, Chandrakant Patil hopes to row his way to political success riding on the wave of popular support for a stable state government and a resurgent BJP.