On 23 April, Baramati, one of the four Lok Sabha constituencies in Pune district, will go to poll with 14 other constituencies in Maharashtra. Over the years, Baramati has been a safe seat for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on account of being the home-town of party supremo Sharad Pawar. Even amidst the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) wave of 2014, where the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena led NDA swept 41 out of 48 seats in the state. Supriya Sule, the sitting Member of Parliament and Pawar’s daughter, held her seat.
Early in the 2019 campaign, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis had publicly stated his party’s aspiration to unseat Sule from the NCP bastion. The Chief Minister had also clarified that unlike in 2014, this time the NDA candidate would fight the election on the lotus symbol. On 23 March, the party declared the name of Kanchan Kul, wife of NDA’s Daund Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Rahul Kul for Baramati.
The Kul family is no novice to the state politics. Rahul Kul’s father, the late Subhash Kul, had held the Daund seat in the 1990s, winning with a convincing margin even as a rebel independent candidate. In the 2014 assembly elections, Rahul Kul, fighting as a candidate of the RSP, which is part of the NDA, won the same seat by 11,000 votes.
The Baramati Lok Sabha constituency consists of six assembly segments namely — Daund, Indapur, Bhor, Baramati, Purandar and Khadakwasla. Currently, the NDA and Congress-NCP share the spoils with NDA MLAs representing Daund, Purandar and Khadakwasla and Congress-NCP combine ruling Baramati, Indapur and Bhor. Vijay Shivtare of Shiv Sena, who won from Purandar for a second time in 2014, is also a minister in the Fadanvis government in the state.
An analysis of the voting pattern in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, which happened with a gap of barely six months in 2014, throws some interesting observations. In 2014, Sule, who defeated Mahadev Jankar of RSP, saw her margin of victory erode significantly compared to 2009 — from over 3 lakh to about 70,000 with a negative vote swing of nearly 17 percentage points.
Mahadev Jankar, the NDA candidate, got 452,000 votes in Lok Sabha elections, while BJP and Shiv Sena candidates, who fought the assembly elections separately, polled 483,000 votes cumulatively. On the other hand, while Sule polled 521,000 votes in the Lok Sabha elections, when the Congress and NCP candidates fought assembly separately, their combined vote tally improved significantly to 722,000 votes.
One of the conclusions that can be drawn from these numbers is that the Congress voters in this constituency are far likelier to show up to vote for their own party’s candidate than the candidate endorsed by their party in the Lok Sabha elections, whereas the NDA voters had a far more efficient transfer of votes even for a candidate that belonged to neither of the two largest parties of the alliance.
There is no doubt that both parties are treating this as a prestige battle. While all the NCP leaders/cadre I spoke to sounded extremely confident of not only winning but actually adding to the 2014 margin, the NDA cadres claim that there is a change in the air this time.
Members of the state executive, BJP, Chandrabhushan Joshi, Sujit Shilimkar and Piyush Kashyap who are involved in the social media war-room effort for Baramati, claim that this time the team has gone the extra yard to reach to even the remotest areas using innovative means.
“We are trying our best to convey Modi ji’s message to the voters, not just through social media but also through on the ground interventions when needed,” Joshi told me. Fadanvis has termed this election for Baramati as a chance to change the future of the constituency. Several on ground observers also claim that with Ajit Pawar’s son Parth seeking to win against the sitting Maval MP Shrirang Barne, the Pawar family’s resources are much more strained than they were in 2014.
In the backdrop of this, we caught up with the NDA Baramati candidate, Kanchan Kul, after a rally at Saswad.
Excerpts from the interview
Q. What are the main problems faced by Baramati today?
A. Of course water. This region has always faced water shortage for both daily needs as well as for farming, and this has held back the development. There was a time when people would hesitate marrying their daughters in these areas due to the perpetual drought. Under honourable Devendra Fadanvis’ leadership and due to efforts of leaders like Vijay Bapu Shivtare, we see some progress happening in this area. But prioritising projects that will improve the water situation will remain at the top of my agenda.
Q. What are some of the aspirational projects you have in mind for Baramati?
A. This area has such rich culture and history. So much of Maharashtra’s proud history took place in these parts. Shivaji Maharaj’s Hindvi Swarajya in a way started its uprising from Purandar fort. The great warrior Dharm Veer Sambhaji Maharaj was born here. Places such as Morgaon, one of the Ashtvinayaks and Jejuri (Khandoba) are in these parts.
We have many forts, temples and places of worship which are either poorly maintained or ignored altogether. If we create adequate infrastructure as well as facilities at the venue itself, I am certain many people from the state as well as out of it, will come to Baramati region to discover our rich heritage. As an MP, I will promote and start new projects to help revive the rich and diverse heritage of my region.
Q. What are your plans for the urban part of your constituency?
A. Chandani Chowk area in Khadakwasla is gridlocked almost on a daily basis due to traffic congestion. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had approved a flyover project to ease the traffic woes. Similarly, Sinhgad road area, which has developed rapidly, doesn’t have a metro connection in the current plan. I will follow up on road and infrastructure projects to ensure their speedy implementation and execution.
Being a woman, the safety and well-being of all my sisters from that area is very close to my heart. I will work hand-in-hand with the state government stakeholders to improve the law and order situation in my area.
Q. What are your plans for the economic development? Where will the youth get its employment from?
A. As Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis mentioned in a rally, the Purandar airport project is a game changer for the region’s economy for many years to come. At the same time, our party will ensure justice for all the stakeholders including the landowners and farmers from the area.
Apart from this, we have MIDCs like Indapur and Daund, where there is much scope for development. Daund MIDC primarily has chemical-related units, we will work on bringing companies with other specialisations such as engineering to these areas. Sustainable development that will take care of the poorest of the poor will be our mantra.
Q. Finally, what is your message for the voters in Baramati?
A. A vote for me is a vote to strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hands. Your vote is also a blessing for a young leader like me which will only motivate me to work hard for you. The development of entire Baramati is my first and only goal. Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra!
This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.
The writer is a investment services professional and novelist. His latest novel The Dark Road was published by Juggernaut Publications.
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