A week prior to polling, voters in the cultural capital of Maharashtra are an undecided lot. This is owing to different factors relating to candidates and parties in contention.
If electoral success alone is taken into consideration, Pune can be viewed as a Congress bastion — the party has won the seat nine out of 15 times. It has been in power in the state for 15 years at a stretch, is ruling the municipal corporation (in coalition with the NCP), besides winning the Lok Sabha seat. But by no stretch of imagination can it be said that Pune is Congress’ safe bet.
In a constituency that has been seeing turnouts of less than 40 per cent, the Congress has fielded Harvard-educated, PhD holder Vishwajeet Kadam, son of education baron and state forest minister Patangrao Kadam. The BJP took time to announce the candidature of Anil Shirole, who lost to Congress’ Suresh Kalmadi in 2009. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has fielded social worker Deepak Paigude, while the Aam Aadmi Party has pinned its hopes on Subhash Ware, who runs an NGO. Interestingly, all candidates are Marathas and under 50.
However, internal differences seem to be plaguing both the BJP and the Congress. Shirole is seen as the choice of BJP leader Gopinath Munde whose rivalry with former party president Nitin Gadkari is known. Gadkari wanted to field four-time MLA Girish Bapat. Party insiders say there is a lack of co-ordination between the two factions and this may mar the candidate’s chances.
Another problem that crops up for the BJP and the voters is the MNS, whose leader Raj Thackeray has announced he will support BJP’s Narendra Modi for prime ministership. So, how will the voter decide which way to go? BJP leaders feel this may undercut their chances — the 2009 polls in which the MNS secured 75,000 votes hit the BJP hard, with Shirole losing by 24,000 votes.
This, despite NCP leader Ajit Pawar, cousin of party chief Sharad Pawar, maintaining a distance even though the party is in alliance with the Congress. In addition, the local Congress was a divided house when the ticket was announced as aspirant MLA Vinayak Nimhan stayed away from campaigning. He had to be cajoled by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. Mohan Joshi, a Congress MLC, while talking to Deccan Herald, however, exuded confidence that there are no differences within the party, which according to him, is united.
Two candidates also face the ‘outsider’ tag. “Both Shirole and Paigude are not from Pune. So, this factor may go slightly against them,” political analyst Nitin Birmal observed.
With first-time voters numbering over two lakh here, they will also be a crucial deciding factor.