Congress fields Mohan Joshi from Pune

The seasoned campaigner has held several posts, including that of State Youth Congress chief

Published - April 03, 2019 01:02 am IST - Pune

Mohan Joshi, Congress candidate from Pune, campaigning in the city on Tuesday.

Mohan Joshi, Congress candidate from Pune, campaigning in the city on Tuesday.

With the Congress naming old-timer Mohan Joshi as its candidate from the Pune Lok Sabha seat, the party faces an uphill task to reclaim the constituency which was once a Congress bastion.

He has a number of things common with his main BJP rival Girish Bapat. Both are in their 60s, both are Brahmins with strong base in old Pune, both have been party loyalists for over three decades, and both enjoy the support of the city’s trading community.

Yet, the question arises whether either candidate is capable of catering to the needs of a burgeoning, rapidly-changing Pune city dogged with water, transport and pollution problems.

A highly experienced campaigner, Mr. Joshi has held a number of posts in the party, serving as the MPCC Youth Congress president in the 1980s as well as helming the party in Pune from 1997-2005.

But since three-time MP and senior Congressman Suresh Kalmadi’s political twilight, the Congress has been losing its toehold in Pune, morphing into a weak, fractured party, very different from the one under stalwarts like V.N. Gadgil.

A number of BJP insiders are, in fact, relieved that the Congress has picked Mr. Joshi, and not a Maratha candidate like Arvind Shinde against Mr. Bapat.

“A younger candidate like Arvind Shinde, who is more dynamic and has its pulse on the problems facing Pune city, might have given Mr. Bapat and the BJP a run for their money. However, with the Congress fielding Mr. Joshi, it is akin to a walkover for us,” said a close aide of Mr. Bapat, remarking that the BJP could “now breathe easy with their campaigning for Pune”.

Mr. Joshi, however, is unfazed by his political detractors. “By giving me the honour to contest Pune, our party president Rahul Gandhi has sent out a strong and positive message to all Congress loyalists in Maharashtra that there is justice for those who have worked diligently for their party,” he told The Hindu .

“I plan to release my vision document tomorrow, which will speak in detail on the problems – be it water or transport or pollution – plaguing the city and the BJP administration’s failure in resolving them,” he said.

Mr. Joshi, who contested the 1999 Lok Sabha election, lost (by 70,000 votes) to the BJP candidate Pradeep Rawat.

“In 1999, the NCP and the Congress contested separately. It was this division of votes which benefited the BJP. Today, I have the support of every aspirant be it Arvind Shinde or [Maratha community leader] Pravin Gaikwad, the NCP and other friendly parties,” he said, denying suggestions of factionalism within his party.

He expressed confidence that the poll result would see a renaissance of the Congress in Pune.

But Mr. Joshi’s optimism and rhetoric apart, the odds are heavily stacked in Mr. Bapat’s — and the BJP’s — favour.

All six Assembly segments in Pune Lok Sabha constituency are held by BJP. “A large number of Maratha voters will support the BJP despite Mr. Bapat being a Brahmin candidate. He will have the advantage of the vote-base of sitting BJP MP Anil Shirole. Further, the BJP also has an overwhelming majority in the Pune civic body,” said an election watcher.

“It is unfortunate that the election in a growing, cosmopolitan city like Pune can be reduced to caste equations instead of being an issue-based one,” said the watcher.

The Congress faces daunting operational challenges as well, with the party having eight corporators in the PMC.

With barely three weeks of campaigning left for Mr. Joshi, the Congress has been woefully deficient in setting up booth-level committees. Factionalism and in-fighting between the senior leaders of the city Congress has ensured a lack of pre-election outreach drives to make voters aware of the party agenda.

With Mr. Bapat filing his nomination papers on Tuesday, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Joshi can carry the day for the Congress in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

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