After drawing a lot of criticism for sharing stage with Ashok Chavan, the scam-tainted former chief minister from his party who was subsequently allotting candidature, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has made sure to keep Suresh Kalmadi, embroiled in the Commonwealth Games scam, at a safe distance.
MP Suresh Kalmadi
The sitting MP and suspended Congressman is not invited for Gandhi’s election rally today in the city.
Congress leaders have made it clear that there is no question of his presence at the event, a situation that has arisen after roughly 10 years.
Two days to polls: Preparations under way for the rally at the AISSMS college ground, on the final day of campaigning in the city. Pic/Mohan Patil
After BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s crowd-puller of a rally last Saturday, Congress has set a target of gathering at least 50,000 people for Gandhi’s rally, scheduled on the last day of election campaigning at the ground of AISSMS College near the RTO on Sassoon Road.
Rahul Gandhi with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Vadra in Amethi on April 12; Rahul is contesting from the Congress bastion. Pic/EPA
Congress MLC Mohan Joshi, who is looking after the rally arrangements, confirmed that Kalmadi hasn’t been invited for the rally, and he would not make an appearance.
Winds of change: Preparations under way at AISSMS for the rally, the first major one in a decade from which Kalmadi would be missing. Pic/Mohan Patil
He also said, “We are expecting more that 50,000 people.” Referring to Modi’s rally, he said, “It was a joint rally of all four candidates contesting elections from four constituencies in the Pune district. But, Rahulji is coming specially to address the people for Congress’ Pune city candidate Vishwajeet Kadam.”
Another party leader, Ulhas Pawar, said, “I think that since (Kalmadi) has been suspended from the party, he will not come for the rally.”
Meanwhile, after failing to grab the Lok Sabha candidature for himself or his wife and subsequent threats that he would contest the general elections independently, Kalmadi finally extended his support to Kadam. It seems that his supporters, who are currently campaigning for Kadam, are also involved in preparations for the rally.
A close aide of Kalmadi’s, MLA Ramesh Bagwe, told mid-day, “If he appears on the stage, he will be targeted by the media. So, although he is supporting Kadam, he prefers to remain out of limelight.”
He, however, added, “Amid all this campaigning, I am certainly missing my leader (Kalmadi), under whose guidance I entered politics. All my party workers are involved in rally preparations and we will make it a successful one.”
Bagwe’s son Avinash, who is a city corporator, is busy mobilising a sizeable crowd at the rally ground from the Cantonment area, which is his father’s constituency. Avinash Bagwe said, “There is no confusion in party workers’ minds over Kalmadi’s absence at the rally, as everyone knows the reason for it.”
BJP’s election coordinator Ganesh Bidkar said, “Before making claims of gathering a huge crowd, Congress should first check the limited space of the ground they have finalised for Rahul’s rally. We placed 60,000 chairs for Modi’s rally held last week, and including the entire crowd, the number of people who attended, the number goes to up 90,000.”
He added, “By giving candidature to Ashok Chavan, Rahul Gandhi has already proved the difference between his action and words. Kalmadi is also his ally. Whether he is physically present or not makes no difference.”
While kicking off the Maharashtra leg of his Lok Sabha campaign on March 5, Rahul Gandhi shared the dais with former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan at a rally in Aurangabad, for which he was flayed by the media. Exactly three weeks later, despite expectations to the contrary, Congress declared his candidature from Nanded. Chavan was indicted by an inquiry panel that investigated the Adarsh scam in Mumbai in December 2010. He had to resign as CM because of this.
Allies to skip rally
NCP chief Sharad Pawar and his daughter Baramati MP Supriya Sule, are not going to attend Gandhi’s rally. “As per tradition, Pawar will spend the last day of campaign in his own constituency. That’s the only reason why (he and Sule) will not be there for Rahul’s rally,” said Congress MLC Mohan Joshi. NCP spokesperson Ankush Kakde confirmed that both Pawar and Sule will wouldn’t attend the rally, as they have to address Baramati the same morning.
Kalmadi, who has won the parliamentary elections from Pune thrice, was suspended by the Congress in 2011 after he was jailed in connection with the Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in October 2010. As Chairman of the Organising Committee of the event, he is accused of hiring ineligible companies. He is currently on bail. The 69-year-old has not been picked by his party as its candidate from Pune. The party also did not succumb to his pressure to let his wife run instead of him.