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Pune set for triangular fight

PUNE, APRIL 04. This cultural Capital of Maharashtra is set to witness a triangular contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections with the presence of fiery former bureaucrat Arun Bhatia in the poll fray attracting considerable nation-wide attention.

The Congress has fielded political heavyweight Suresh Kalmadi from Pune city, while the BJP has re-nominated Pradeep Rawat, its MP in the 13th Lok Sabha. But it is the presence of M.r Bhatia, a former Pune municipal and divisional commissioner which has made the contest interesting.

As Pune Municipal Commissioner in late 1990s, Mr. Bhatia had fought against corruption and taken on illegal constructions by influential figures and builders. His strong actions had prompted the then government to transfer him, inviting unprecedented protests from Punekars, who took to streets in his support and got him reinstated by approaching the court.

As Tribal Commissioner in the city, he had unearthed corruption in welfare schemes launched for the adivasis.

According to the Election Commission data, Pune has an electorate of 15,69,507 comprising 81,7049 males and 75,1479 females voters. In 1999, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was floated by Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar a few months before the polls, had fought the elections separately, thus benefiting the BJP.

However, this time around both the parties have forged a pre-poll alliance under which Pune has gone in the Congress' kitty. Mr. Kalmadi has already signalled a thaw in his relations with his once bitter rival Mr. Pawar.

Mr. Kalmadi, currently a Rajya Sabha MP, has an edge over the other two main candidates if calculations of the previous elections results are any indication, said city Congress President Mohan Joshi.

In 1999, Mr. Rawat had got elected, polling 3,04,955 votes, while Congress candidate Mohan Joshi and NCP's Vitthal Tupe received 2,15,000 and 1,90,000 votes respectively.

"We will win as NCP and Congress have an understanding this time round," Mr Joshi said.

Political observers, however, believe that the going will not be easy for the Congress although Pune is a traditional stronghold of the party.

Mr. Kalmadi got the ticket in spite of opposition within the party from Mr. Joshi and another aspirant Ulhas Pawar. However, the three were seen together at the first press meet after the announcement of Mr. Kalmadi's candidature.

The Congress has won the Pune seat six times in the past and non-Congress candidates four times. Congress leader and former Union Minister late Vitthalrao Gadgil had won the seat three-time in 1980, 1984 and 1989. Among the non-Congress candidates S.M. Joshi of the United Socialist Party won in 1967, Mohan Dharia (Janata Party) in 1977, Anna Joshi in 1991 and Pradeep Rawat in 1999 (both BJP).

Mr. Kalmadi has contested thrice and elected once in 1996, riding high on a popularity wave as Minister of State for Railways in the Congress' Narasimha Rao Government.

He contested the 1998 polls under the banner of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi after quitting the Congress but lost to Congress candidate Vitthal Tupe. Mr. Kalmadi, who lacks mass base, returned to the Congress later made it into the Parliament on a Rajya Sabha ticket.

Recently, he has been credited with bringing the Commonwealth Games to India in 2010 and has set his sights on getting the country host Olympics, moves which have boosted his image nationally.

BJP's Mr. Rawat, a camera shy person too lacks mass base but will reap benefit of the strong BJP-Sena alliance.

Political observers, however, feel that he will lose a substantial amount of youth and intelligentsia votes to Mr. Bhatia, who is still popular among Punekars because of his image of an honest and no nonsense former IAS officer.

However, Mr. Rawat took a prominent part in helping restore the vandalised Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) early this year, gaining some favour among the locals, who were outraged by the incident.

Mr. Bhatia is expected to snatch the votes of the intelligentsia and the youth, further affecting the BJP prospects. Vinod Bodhankar, Media Manager for Mr. Bhatia said the former bureaucrat, who was transferred 26 times in his career, may spring surprises.

-- UNI

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