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Pune's pre-poll Jitters


Rebels within the rank and files of many political parties in Pune district could prove to be a big spoiler in the Lok Sabha elections, says Chandran Iyer
CHANDRAN IYER | Issue Dated: April 13, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Lok Sabha | MP Suresh Kalmadi | Commonwealth Games | Vishwajeet Kadam |

Political parties in Pune district have a reason to worry. The main problem is not just how to tackle their political opponents, but how to deal with their own rank and files who are sulking and rebelling for denial of the ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections.

Coming April 17, polling will be held at all the four Lok Sabha constituencies of Pune – Pune, Maval, Shirur and Baramati. What’s causing a headache to the political parties is that while some of the rebels do have the chances of winning the elections, there are a few others who have the capacity of spoiling the chances of the official candidates.

In Congress, the biggest rebel is the sitting MP Suresh Kalmadi who was denied a party ticket to contest the national election. Kalmadi was dropped from the list because the party did not think it worthwhile to give ticket to an MP who is tainted with the Commonwealth Games scam. Kalmadi was charged by a Delhi court in February last year with allegedly cheating, conspiring and causing a loss of over Rs90 crore to the exchequer as the chairman of the 2010 Commonwealth Games organizing committee. Following his arrest in the CWG case, Kalmadi was suspended from the party in 2011.

While keeping the scam-tainted Suresh Kalmadi out of the fray, the Congress has managed to field a strong candidate 32-year-old Vishwajeet Kadam who is Maharashtra Pradesh Youth Congress president, the son of cabinet minister Patangrao Kadam and the son-in-law of builder-industrialist Avinash Bhosale. Kalmadi, a former Indian Air Force pilot turned politician could give a good “Dogfight” to the official candidate if he decides to rebel.

To mollify Kalmadi the Congress sent its emissary, state minister Harshwardhan Patil to meet him. Both Vishwajeet Kadam and his father Patangrao Kadam also met him, though none of them were ready to divulge what happened at the meeting.

Kalmadi, while interacting with the media, held his cards close to his chest, saying, “I have completed talks with just half my supporters. I will take a call on my next move after consulting all of them.”

Asked whether he wanted Congress high command to nominate his wife Meera for the Pune seat in view of the CWG scam allegations against him, Kalmadi replied in the affirmative. “If not me because of the so-called scam, my wife could have been given the ticket in my place. I had told the high command to consider my wife’s nomination as she is an active member of the party engaged in social work in slums,” he said. When asked why his wife too was not considered for the seat, he said “I do not know.”

However, to the Congress party’s relief, all speculations of Kalmadi’s contesting as an independent candidate ended when he declared, “It gives me immense pleasure to announce my support to Congress candidate Kadam, which is in the best interest of Pune’s future development.” Though Kalmadi for the time being has offered his support to official Congress candidate Kadam, if he changes his stand, it will have direct repercussions on the Pune polls.

This problem of disgruntled people is also there in the BJP where the party dropped Girish Bapat, a four time MLA with excellent rapport with the people and picked BJP’s Pune unit chief Anil Shirole as its official candidate. This decision is the outcome of power tussle between the two BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde. It is well-known that the BJP deputy leader in Lok Sabha, Gopinath Munde, and former BJP president Nitin Gadkari do not share a cordial relationship. Girish Bapat is very popular having a good mass base, which he demonstrated in the 2009 assembly elections and has the blessings of Gadkari as he is opposing the candidature of Shirole, a Munde loyalist.

Though Bapat missed the election campaign for three days, he declared his full support to Shirole, saying that it was the party discipline and RSS ‘sanskar’ that have pushed him to work for the victory of Shirole.

Pune has traditionally voted for the Congress. Of the 15 Lok Sabha election so far, the Congress has won the Pune seat nine times. In addition, the party has also ruled the Pune Municipal Corporation for decades. The only exception was in 2007 election when a “Pune pattern” emerged and the Corporation was ruled by BJP-Shiv Sena and NCP together. The “Pune pattern” is the ‘alliance of convenience’ forged among the NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP in the Pune Municipal Corporation. The alliance had come into existence on March 17, 2007, in a bid to keep the Congress out of power in the civic body.

Pune battlefield will be an interesting watch. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Shirole had lost to Kalmadi by 25,000 votes and the BJP – which had put the base on elective merit – chose Shirole against Bapat. This time around, Shirole said he is doubly prepared and that the Modi wave and anti-incumbency will be in the party’s favour. However, the fact that Girish Bapat has won the elections for four times speaks volumes about his vote pulling capacity and needless to say that if Bapat decides to rebel or refrain from extending his support to the BJP official candidate, then it can prove costly for the party.

The NCP too in Maval is hard-pressed to keep its flock together. After Laxman Jagtap, an associate member of NCP, decided to contest with the support of MNS and Peasants and Workers Party, as many as 30 sitting NCP corporators, including Pimpri-Chinchwad Deputy Mayor Raju Misal, have been campaigning for him.

The worst rebellion has been seen in Shiv Sena where six of its leaders deserted the party. Some of them joined NCP while others joined the MNS. A large part of the political parties success in the elections will depend upon how they tackle the dissidence and rebellion.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017