Will Congress field an ‘imported’ candidate?

Pravin Gaikwad

Pravin Gaikwad  

With the Congress plagued by a dearth of strong candidates to field from the Pune Lok Sabha constituency, BJP MP Sanjay Kakade, who announced his entry into the Congress, and Maratha leader Pravin Gaikwad, formerly of the Sambhaji Brigade, have emerged as serious contenders. However, both candidates face a strong opposition from the old guard of the Pune Congress, many of whom are against fielding ‘imported’ candidates.

The seat, which has traditionally been a Congress bastion, was recently a big thorn in the seat-sharing arrangement between the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) until being finally resolved in favour of the former.

Since senior Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi’s drift into political oblivion, the party has steadily weakened at the organisational level. Now, the pro-Kalmadi group led by Abhay Chhajed is pitted against the anti-Kalmadi group led by former Pune Congress Chief Mohan Joshi.

“Pune has traditionally been a Congress stronghold. However, the constituency needs a Congress face, and not an ‘outsider’, for the party to wrest the seat from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” said a supporter of Mr. Joshi, one of the aspirants for the Pune LS seat.

In 2014, Congress worker Vishwajeet Kadam, son of late Congress leader Patangrao Kadam, was propped up as the party’s candidate for the Pune LS seat, only to be trounced by the BJP’s Anil Shirole, who won by a margin of over three lakh votes.

“The Congress today does not have a voter base of more than three lakh. It needs a candidate with more pull to carry the day for them...things [candidacy of the Pune LS seat] will become clear soon in the next two days,” said Mr. Gaikwad, one of the Maratha quota agitation leaders, who has laid claim to the Pune LS seat.

Mr. Gaikwad is hoping that the ‘wave’ generated by the Maratha agitation will play in his favour.

While the NCP chief has reportedly endorsed Mr. Gaikwad’s candidacy, his former outfit, the Sambhaji Brigade, has decided to field its own candidate for the Pune seat.

“It does not affect us in the least if Mr. Gaikwad is fielded from the Congress. The Sambhaji Brigade has been working at the grassroots and has taken heed of the needs of various communities and classes. Moreover, Mr. Gaikwad lacks any personal base of his own,” said Santosh Shinde of the Sambhaji Brigade, who is planning to contest the Pune seat too.

On the other hand, Mr. Kakade, a prominent Pune-based realtor, with significant political and social clout, has claimed that he is more than capable of taking on the BJP and winning the seat for the Congress.

“If the Congress top brass is forced to make a choice between Mr. Gaikwad and Mr. Kakade, they might settle for the latter [Mr. Kakade] as Mr. Gaikwad may seem to represent only the Maratha side of the equation. Mr. Gaikwad’s candidacy is certain to put off Brahmin voters, of which there is a sizeable pocket in Pune. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether his work has any wider impact,” an election observer said.

The Congress’ dilemma about bringing in an outsider for Pune at the risk of alienating its loyalists is expected to only strengthen the BJP’s hand, especially that of present MP Anil Shirole.

“Mr. Shirole is a Maratha face with strong ties to the Sangh. This makes him acceptable to a number of constituents. Plus, he has the advantage of being in the driver’s seat as opposed to a tottering Congress,” the observer said.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 2:44:55 PM |

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