Low voter turnout in urban Pune raises Congress hopes for a new start

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first_imgA sharp decline in voting in Pune’s urban pockets is raising concern in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while giving hope to the Congress. A battered Congress, whose position in Pune city has progressively deteriorated in the past decade following senior leader Suresh Kalmadi’s drift into political oblivion, is hoping for a positive outcome in the Kasba Peth and Pune Cantonment Assembly segments.This could spark a minor renaissance in the party’s sagging fortunes in the city, said observers.Disappointing figuresIn the 2014 Assembly polls, the BJP had swept all eight seats in the city. This time, however, the urban segments of Kasba Peth, Shivajinagar and Pune Cantonment witnessed especially disappointing turnouts, recording poll percentage figures of 43, 43.65 and 42.68 respectively.In 2014, the Kasba Peth segment had recorded a figure as high as 61.57%, while Shivajinagar and the Pune Cantonment constituencies had recorded 52.12% and 47.24% respectively. Even the Kothrud Assembly segment, the focus of all electoral contests in Pune and the State owing to the BJP fielding its State chief, Chandrakant Patil, recorded a dismal turnout with only 47% voters exercising their franchise as compared with a 56% turnout in 2014.In the Kasba Peth segment, the BJP’s candidate is Pune Mayor Mukta Tilak, a scion of ‘Lokmanya’ Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s family, who faced the Congress’s Arvind Shinde, a three-time corporator. Ms. Tilak was given a ticket after Girish Bapat, the ‘unchallenged king’ of the seat since 1995, was elected as MP from Pune earlier this year. However, Ms. Tilak has had to contend with factionalism with BJP corporators Ganesh Bidkar and Hemant Rasane being disgruntled upon being denied a ticket. While the Pune Mayor has expressed confidence in securing a clear victory, the Congress is hoping this disaffection within BJP ranks is reflected in the low voter turnout. The local Congress leaders had mounted a low-key campaign that brought home unresolved civic issues as opposed to the BJP’s high-voltage extravaganzas that culminated with the Prime Minister’s public meeting in Pune.“Our campaign was not a below-the-belt one and we refrained from personal attacks on BJP candidates. Instead, we focused solely on extremely local, civic issues germane to residents in the Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) area, the Kasba Peth and other segments and not on Article 370 or Kashmir as we anticipated the BJP would do,” said Ramesh Iyer, secretary and spokesperson, Pune City Congress.According to Mr. Iyer, despite the BJP having won the Pune Municipal Corporation election in 2017 by a landslide, the problems of crumbling wadas in Kasba Peth, traffic congestion and water shortages in both the Cantonment and the Kasba areas remain unresolved. Dissatisfied with his work in the Pune Cantonment area, the BJP had dropped Dilip Kamble, its two-time Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and erstwhile minister of State (MoS) for social justice and special assistance in the cabinet reshuffle in June. Mr. Kamble was denied a ticket as well. Instead, his brother Sunil Kamble, a long-time corporator, was fielded from the Cantonment segment, where he faced off against city Congress chief Ramesh Bagwe, a former MLA and erstwhile minister of State for home in the Congress-NCP government.“In his capacity as MoS for social justice, Dilip Kamble failed to bring about any development in Pune Cantonment. He was hardly to be seen among his constituents. The same is the case with his brother. Moreover, the duo lack the rapport that Ramesh Bagwe shares with the various communities and sections in the area,” says a city-based analyst.‘VBA a spoiler’Mr. Iyer said Mr. Bagwe had succeeded in bringing special funds for the development of the PCB between 2009 and 2014 and had utilised it to improve internal roads and repair water pipelines, among other things. “In 2014, the BJP had taken a lead of 12,000 votes in the Cantonment segment owing mainly to Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) queering our pitch in the Mangalwar Peth area, which led to a fragmentation of traditional Congress votes. This time, we told people that the VBA is a spoiler and voting for them was a waste as it would harm the development of the PCB,” said Mr. Iyer, who is confident of Congress victories in at least two seats.last_img

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