'I'm on my way to create history'
Even as Devendra Fadnavis eyes another term as Maha boss, Congress candidate Ashish Deshmukh makes tall claims of turning the tables on once supporter; promises to end BJP's 30-year run
Nagpur: When the BJP went solo in the last Assembly polls, it struck gold by winning 26 of the 32 seats in eastern Vidarbha. Nagpur district alone contributed 11 seats. With son of the soil Devendra Fadnavis vying another term as Maharashtra boss, Nagpur, from where the party's ideological parent RSS operates, is again looking to spin magic. The BJP is marketing initiatives such as infrastructure development, new national educational institutes, IT jobs and farm loan waiver, along with their nationalist agenda. But, the Opposition claims to have made the ruling party's ride bumpier. The most confident of the lot is Congress candidate Ashish Deshmukh, who is up against CM Fadnavis in Nagpur South-West, a carefully cultivated BJP bastion for 30 years. "I'm on my way to create history by beating Fadnavis. Please be here on result day to see it happen," he told mid-day.
'The CM rejected his people'
It was Fadnavis who gave Ashish, the son of former state Congress president Ranjit Deshmukh, a ticket to fight the 2014 elections. Ashish beat his uncle and sitting minister Anil Deshmukh from Katol, but later quit BJP and gave up his seat to return to the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Ashish said his claims might seem unrealistic at this stage, but the results will prove him right. When asked why people would choose him over the CM, Ashish said Fadnavis had lost connect with the city and ignored real public issues. "The CM has kept his Nagpur home closed. People don't have access to him. Have you seen a CM who rejects his own people? Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh and many others worked in the state capital, but stayed connected to their roots."
He said that the BJP had also failed to address rising unemployment, was responsible for dismal city management and corruption in development projects. Another issue that might go against the BJP is a decision to extend reservations in jobs and education up to 74 per cent, against the ceiling of 50 per cent fixed by the Supreme Court. The protesters included a core of high caste BJP supporters, who had taken to the streets under the 'Save Merit Save Nation' umbrella, accusing the BJP of ruining the careers of their children.
Four-time MLA Fadnavis, however, is brimming with confidence. He ended the campaign in the constituency with a massive Mahajanadesh road-show on Saturday morning. His poll manager and ruling party leader in Nagpur Municipal Corporation, Sandeep Joshi, told mid-day that the CM will be re-elected by a margin of at least one lakh votes. "We will win all six seats in Nagpur. People want the CM as their representative," he said, adding that Fadnavis had addressed important issues concerning citizens in his term. "The CM's commitment is to transform Nagpur into a hub of financial activity, business, service and top class education. Many projects have already been set up, and many more will come to the city within a couple of years," said Joshi. He said the Save Merit Save Nation movement wouldn't affect the party in any way.
Congress working president Nitin Raut (centre) is confident of winning against BJP’s Dr Milind Mane from Nagpur North by one lakh votes
BJP is confident
Congress working president Nitin Raut, who is the party's candidate from Nagpur North, said his opponent, BJP's Dr Milind Mane, had already lost the battle. "Don't be surprised if I beat my closest rival [Mane] by at least one lakh votes." In Nagpur Central, young Congressman Bunty Shelke has created a buzz. He is contesting against BJP's Vikas Kumbhare, who party insiders said was in the danger zone. BJP's Krishna Khopde from Nagpur East is expected to make a clean sweep, because of his style of working and simple living.
Nagpur South has been in the news because the BJP dropped a sitting MLA—Sudhakar Kohale—and put the CM's close aide Mohan Mate, former legislator, in the race. Congress's Girish Pandav is fighting a tough battle against Mate. Former Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar's mentee Vikas Thakre is pitted against BJP's Sudhakar Deshmukh in Nagpur West. While he seems to be getting traction, it might not be enough to win comfortably.
Teli community upset?
There is speculation that the Teli community, which could swing results in many segments of Vidarbha, is upset because their representative, Energy and Excise Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule, was dropped unceremoniously for another candidate, also from the same community in Kamptee. Tekchand Ramteke of BJP is likely to win here. Sources said Bawankule's loyal workforce has shifted to Savner constituency, where his MLA friend Sunil Kedar of the Congress is in a winning position.
Fadnavis seems to have understood the social undercurrent considering he promised voters that Bawankule would be rehabilitated. "Chandubhau (Bawankule) amchyasathi heera aahe. Tyanna yapekshahi mothe kaam amhi denaar ahhot (Bawankule is a diamond for us and we will give him a bigger role)," Fadnavis was quoted as saying at an election rally. Meanwhile, BJP and Sena rebels who belong to the Teli community are weighing their chances against the saffron alliance candidates in the Nagpur revenue division that comprises Nagpur, Wardha, Bhandara, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts.
The CM's protégé and minister of state Parinay Fuke has been given the task of beating Congress's Nana Patole in Sakoli. Patole unsuccessfully contested against Gadkari from the Nagpur Lok Sabha seat early this year. Patole was also beaten in the 2014 Assembly elections. "This contest has become uncertain and the scales could tilt either way. Fuke's emergence in eastern Vidarbha politics is because he hasn't let his mentor down. He may be from Nagpur, but has been working in Bhandara and Gondia districts as an MLC successfully. The power equations might favour him," said a Congress leader, adding that Patole would stand a chance provided he convinces the people of stability in his political affiliations.
Three Congressmen who hold seats for the party—Ranjeet Kamble (Pulgaon-Deoli), Amar Kale (Arvi) and opposition leader in the Assembly, Vijay Vadettiwar (Brahmapuri)—keep the party's hopes alive. Kamble enjoys an upper hand over Sena candidate Sameer Deshmukh because the BJP's formidable rebel Rajesh Bakane could split votes. Kale is fighting against arch-rival, ex-MLA Dada Keche. In Gondia, the party has placed Amar Varhade. He is hoping to beat Gopaldas Agrawal who switched over to the BJP ahead of the nominations. BJP insiders are not very sure of winning Gondia and Tumsar, where sitting MLA Charan Waghmare was dropped.
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