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    Maharashtra assembly polls: Congress a drag as NCP puts up a fight against BJP in Pune

    Synopsis

    Pune is a major RSS centre, second only to Nagpur. The BJP’s recent tenures at the Centre and state have been clinically used to strengthen the RSS hold. But, this time, the Congress and NCP are together and, therefore, they will avert a split of anti-BJP votes.

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    PUNE: The BJP which won all eight assembly seats of Pune in a four-cornered contest in 2014 has launched a blitzkrieg to retain its supremacy in the city that was a Congress-NCP stronghold for long.

    Politicians often quote YB Chavan who once said, “a political earthquake in Pune would have repercussions across the state.” Proving Chavan right, BJP’s electoral fortunes boomed in 2014, wreaking havoc on the Congress-NCP, making Pune a bellwether for the saffron surge across the state. Political discussions this time centre on the possibility of another BJP sweep, though some are hopeful Congress-NCP may wrest a few seats.

    Pune is a major RSS centre, second only to Nagpur. The region has a dominant Brahmin vote-bank (around 35%). The BJP’s recent tenures at the Centre and state have been clinically used to strengthen the RSS hold in the constituencies of Shivaji Nagar, Vadgaon Sheri, Kothrud, Khadkwasla, Parvati, Hadapsar, Pune Cantonment and Kasba Peth.

    Kothrud has an interesting line up, with Congress-NCP supporting the MNS candidate against BJP state president Chandrakant Patil.

    “BJP governs our municipal corporation, Mumbai and the nation. However, Congress-NCP’s long stint in power and internecine feuds in their local units have made BJP the choice in Pune seats despite the economic slowdown and infrastructure issues,” said Mandar Chikane, a voter in Kothrud.

    VN Gadgil used to be Pune’s tallest leader before Sharad Pawar wrested the area and made it part of his western Maharashtra base. Pawar’s friend-turned-foe Suresh Kalmadi was the last Congress satrap before he and his party crumbled in 2014. While NCP is perceived to be in the fight, the uninspiring local leadership, cadre exodus to BJP and riddled organisational setup, may have made the Congress a drag on the alliance. Local partymen lament that barring Jyotiraditya Scindia’s solo visit, no Congress leader has backed up Pawar’s efforts or countered the BJP campaign which has received a boost with sorties of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union home minister Amit Shah.

    “This time, the Congress and NCP are together and, therefore, we will avert a split of anti-BJP votes,” said Anand Gadgil. BJP is fighting all eight seats, the Congress and NCP are contesting 3 and 4 seats, respectively.
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