Elections 2019: Second generation Congress loyalist takes on BJP in Wardha
Charulata Rau Tokas to fight BJP's Ramdas Tadas, who is embroiled in controversy over his alleged plan of cash-for-votes; BSP's Shailesh Agrawal could split votes
Wardha-Sewagram, once the main war-room of India's independence struggle, shot back into prominence late last year, thanks to the Congress' successful attempt of holding the party's national executive's convention here, against all odds. A defiant management of the Sewagram Ashram, Mahatma Gandhi's home for many years before he was assassinated, wasn't willing to allow the Congress to host a meeting here, but the pressure that Mahatma lovers across the country and those holding fort in dusty Wardha, which proudly runs the institutes that keep the Gandhian thought alive, saw the Congress event through.
Six months after, Mahatma's karmabhumi is active again, as the Congress uses the traction to promise a free and fair India, seeking votes to end the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) grip over the Parliamentary constituency that the Congress won 12 times in 16 general elections held so far. A second generation Congress loyalist, Charulata Rau Tokas, whose mother is late Prabha Rau, the former local MP, ex-minister and ex-governor, is contesting in the Lok Sabha for the first time, against a Congressman-turned-BJP leader, Ramdas Tadas, who is caught up in a controversy over his alleged plan of cash-for-vote and an estimated election budget of Rs 25 crore.
Former international shooter, Charulata, had been away from Wardha for long after marrying a swimming star of yesteryear, Khajan Singh Tokas, but her mother had insured that she remained in touch with the district, by getting her elected as the zilla parishad president 20 years ago. In a power-sharing agreement, Charulata's cousin and MLA Ranjeet Kamble, was installed in Rau's Assembly segment of Deoli, from where he has won four terms. With a close relative keeping the family politically active, Charulata had sought a Lok Sabha ticket which was denied in 2014. Later, the Congress appointed her as the president of the state women's unit which helped her blur the tag of an outsider. Yet, she faces the charge of having lost the connect with 17 lakh voters. She is out to do some damage control through a hectic campaign and a rally of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, which was held on Friday.
Tadas, on the other hand, doesn't care much about the controversy he has courted ahead of polling on April 11. A former professional wrestler, MLC and Deoli municipal council president, he relies heavily on his public relations. Even Congress campaigners acknowledge this particular strength of Tadas. He has become politically so strong over the years – especially during the current regime-that he has managed to sideline his mentor Datta Meghe, a stalwart who served Congress and NCP, and built an empire of educational institutes across Vidarbha and Mumbai, before making BJP his new abode 5 years ago. Meghe's son Sagar, a Congress nominee in 2014, had lost to Tadas, and wished to replace the sitting MP this year, but the plan didn't work out.
Cast(e)ing a spell
In Wardha, two major castes - Teli (Tadas) and Kunbi (Charulata) - are expected to polarise in favour of their respective community colleagues. The Kunbis have the highest vote share of more than 3 lakh, followed by the Telis 2.75 lakh.
Political analyst Pravin Dhopte said Tadas would have smooth sailing if the Teli community (which has represented the seat on many occasions in the past 25 years) votes. "The Teli community was furious when attempts were made to replace Tadas with Meghe, a dominant Kunbi. The Telis held a convention in which all party leaders threatened to defeat a candidate other than Tadas. In this event, some insulting remarks were made against the Kunbis, who now are being mobilised to support Charulata, also a Kunbi," said Dhopte. He said the consolidation of Dalits (1.75 lakh) and Muslim (1.25lakh) would also be a deciding factor. The Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) Shailesh Agrawal is expected to split votes as his party does every election. The BSP which polls an average one lakh votes, has been finishing third in the past three elections. So, a three-cornered contest cannot be ruled out.
Dhopte said the caste equation would overshadow the elections, which, in fact, should debate real issues of the rural-dominated constituency which faces so many problems at the ground level that continue to cause agrarian distress. Wardha is one of the cotton-belt districts that have an alarming number of farmers' suicide. The distress is caused because of lack of irrigation and industry, unemployment, and lowly rates or farm produce. The Congress PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, had declared a national policy of loan waiver from this constituency some 13 years ago.
Boon and bane
The BJP has made a sustained effort to bring in change here. BJP's infrastructure projects like 4-laning of Nagpur-Tulajapur highway and construction of Samriddhi Super Expressway has brought some cheer to the people. Wise investors from among the farmers whose land was acquired for these projects against a hefty compensation are looking at the brighter side in the future. But some farmers have splurged the money. Four and two-wheel dealers in Wardha said there was a sudden spurt in buying high-end cars and bikes. A dealer said last Diwali he delivered 100 Enfield bikes to the residents of a village, a rehabilitation unit of cash-rich farmers, who have sold their land for the Samriddhi Super Expressway.
Wardha, which remained an affordable education hub till late 80s, has now transformed into a town which offers highly expensive medical, dental and allied courses, engineering degrees and pharmacy courses, thanks to politicians like the Meghes, who have built a private empires of deemed universities in the past 30 years. These institutes gave minor jobs to locals, but only in limited numbers. The irony of the education hub is that the pass-outs (filthy rich students not included) don't get jobs in Wardha or neighbouring Nagpur, because the number of employers is largely disproportionate to the job aspirants. The jobless go out to the cities like Mumbai and Pune in search of employment.
Many private engineering and pharmacy colleges in the area have been shut, rendering hundreds of people jobless. The owners of the colleges are replacing defunct courses with more profitable ones and holding on to the land that was bought at a concessional rate from the government for further profiteering.
Nyay has takers but...
Rahul Gandhi's minimum income guarantee scheme - Nyay (Rs 72,000 per year) - has takers here, but then there are people who fear it will have an adverse effect on farming sector. A farmer, Laxmikant Raut, said the political decision would discourage people from taking up farm labour. "Anyways, farm labour is too expensive these days during the season. The guaranteed income would deter landless and marginal farmers who work on farms from going to the field. The mechanical farming is even more expensive. I fear the worst for the rural employer-employee relationship," he said.
But Rajendra Waghmare, also a farmer, had a different opinion. "Dry land farming (90% of total area under sowing) in places like ours offers jobs only for five to six months. Where do people get employment rest of the year? I like the idea because it will help the poor sustain," he said. Most of the newly registered voters (2 lakh) in the urban areas (most of seven municipal councils are ruled by BJP) in the constituency seem to be in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A survey conducted by Dhopte's newspaper 'Sakal' said that the young urban preferred Modi and BJP for the work that is visible. The segment is largely rural in character that does not open up easily when asked questions, but speaks louder through the ballot. The 294 gram panchayat election results late last month showed that the picture wasn't rosy for the BJP and the Congress had a stunning comeback in the mofussil.
Ramdas Tadas (BJP's sitting MP)
Charulata Rau Tokas (Congress)
Shailesh Agrawal (BSP)
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