Even as interviews of aspiring candidates for the civic polls were conducted peacefully by the NCP, the Shiv Sena, the BJP and the MNS in the city yesterday, the Congress Bhawan turned into a major problem spot as aspiring candidates from the party decided to hold a show of power.
In mood to celebrate: Congress party activists burst firecrackers outside Congress Bhawan yesterday.
Many aspiring candidates were chanting slogans, dancing to drums, bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets to express their joy at Kalmadi's release from Tihar Jail last morning. Party leaders did not try to control this chaos and the police remained passive spectators even though there was a major traffic blockage near Balgandharv Rangmandir.
The district Congress committee started the interviews in front of a jumbo panel of judges yesterday morning. A total of 708 aspiring candidates will be interviewed in three days. Under the leadership of Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam, Cultural Minister Harshvardhan Patil, city Congress president Abhay Chhajed and senior party leaders like Anantrao Deshmukh and Anant Gadgil, a panel of 35 senior Congress leaders interviewed the candidates. Group interviews were conducted.
The panel of interviewers hardly asked any questions. Candidates were seen submitting to the panel members booklets with pictures that listed their achievements.
Many aspiring candidates were happy when they got the news of Kalmadi's release on bail in the CWG scam case. "We are relieved as Boss is now out and the Congress will certainly win the election," said an aspirant, requesting anonymity. An aspiring woman candidate, also requesting anonymity, said, "I can't hide my happiness as Bhai is a free man and Pune will have good fortune. I will be barred if I (take) his name in the interview. My workers have already distributed pedhas in the constituency."
A member of the interview panel, who also did not want his identity revealed, said, "If the Kalmadi supporters will continue to break firecrackers and distribute sweets to the people, Congress shall certainly lose 25 per cent of votes." According to the panel member, Congress workers should "stop this nonsense as there is no sympathy for Kalmadi".
Congress state spokesman Anant Gadgil, one of the members of the interview panel at Congress Bhawan, refused to comment on Kalmadi's release. "I am here to interview the candidates for the PMC election and nothing more," he said.
Gadgil is the son of the late Viththalrao Gadgil and an arch rival of Kalmadi. "In the regime of my father as MP, there were only nine Nationalist Congress Party members in the PMC and the Congress strength was 64 and it was ruling the civic body. You can yourself see the difference as the Congress number has gone down to 36 and NCP could reach up to 40 in the last election," he said.
Kalmadi photo in Congress Bhawan
THOUGH Suresh Kalmadi was expelled from the Congress on April 26, 2011, after his arrest a day earlier, his picture was still there at the Congress Bhawan. The picture can still be seen on a wall in the cabin of Abhay Chhajed, president, city Congress unit. Kalmadi's picture was with Rahul Gandhi in the frame. Many Congress workers were gathering and watching the news of Kalmadi's release on the television set in the office.
Traffic thrown out of gear around Congress Bhawan
IN the backdrop of the daylong interview session of Congress civic poll aspirants at Congress Bhawan, the road outside the party headquarters was choc-a-block with several vehicles and teeming with party cadres, virtually bringing movement of vehicles along the roads leading to Congress Bhawan to a standstill. Major traffic jams were witnessed on J M Road, Bajirao Road, University Road and other adjoining roads leading to the Congress Bhavan in Shivajinagar and the traffic branch staff was helpless in managing the chaos on the roads. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Vishwas Pandhare admitted that there were traffic jams on some roads of the city. "It was inevitable as the aspirants of Congress took out rallies from their respective wards to the party office. We had informed our traffic staff to keep a tab on the traffic in the city and if necessary divert it and also directed our police inspectors to monitor the traffic in their jurisdictions," said Pandhare.