Pune: The city will see a straight fight between Congress’ Mohan Joshi and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Girish Bapat. Both are loyal workers of their respective parties and are friends. Joshi faces the challenge of uniting party workers and achieving victory, while Bapat has to prove the faith his party has put in him by retaining the Lok Sabha seat . The local issues are dominating the campaign discourse.
The constituency, which isa mix of cosmopolitan and local population, has over 20 lakh voters.
In 2014, BJP’s Anil Shirole benefited from the Modi wave. He defeated Congress’ Vishwajeet Kadam by a margin of over three lakh votes. This time, BJP has replaced Shirole with district Guardian Minister Girish Bapat. The party sensed that Modi’s popularity is diminishing in the country and thus would have to consider a candidate who is a known face and has mass appeal. Therefore, party has given a chance to Bapat.
Since 1980, the BJP has won from Pune only three times, 1991 (Anna Joshi), 1999 (Pradeep Rawat) and 2014 (Shirole).
Bapat, 68, is a five-term MLA from Kasba Peth, one of the six constituencies that make up the Pune Lok Sabha seat. Also, his party is in power in Pune Municipal Corporation with 90-plus corporators. BJP won all assembly seats in 2014 assembly polls. After five years, the scenario has changed. Internal reports of the party showed that it is losing ground in Pune Cantonment, Parvati and Vadgaon Sheri area.
Bapat doesn’t have good support within the party and from coalition partner Shiv Sena. Sitting MLAs are also not happy with his work as district Guardian Minister of Pune. This means retaining the seat will not be an easy job for him. Despite this, BJP leaders are confident of retaining the Pune seat with a bigger margin by focusing on developmental issues like Metro rail, High Capacity Mass Transit Route (HCMTR), Smart city, Chandni Chowk fly over, and approval of new airport at Purandar to claim that voters will back the party.
Joshi: A big challenge
The Congress has said the BJP’s entire campaign of development in Pune is based on false propaganda of city’s development. Congress leader Mohan Joshi, who is contesting from the seat, said despite having its own MP, six MLAs and power in the civic body, the BJP failed to address the basic issues such as water, roads, parking, and solid waste management.
The Pune Lok Sabha seat has a legacy of Congress stalwarts like VN Gadgil and socialist leader Mohan Dharia. After that, Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi won from Pune three times and also served as a Union minister. However, after Kalmadi’s suspension over corruption charges, the party became weak in the city. The party was divided into different factions and there is no strong single leadership.
Meanwhile, the party has raised the issue of loyalists and ‘outsiders’ in the selection of Pune Lok Sabha candidate. Loyalist party leaders wrote letters to Congress President Rahul Gandhi when party outsiders names started making the rounds. Gandhi took cognisance of the letters. He chose loyalist and senior leader Joshi. However, there is lack of coordination within the party and with its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Besides that, Party declared Joshi’s named very late, delaying the party’s campaign. The party has failed to get a grip on the campaign. Also, its allies, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and senior leader Ajit Pawar, have not given 100 per cent participation.