The development plank of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi nowhere holds more significance as in Aurangabad, the City of Gates.
The city’s makeover with swanky showrooms selling latest cars and air-conditioned shopping malls conveys a sense of economic well-being. In fact, Aurangabad has hit the national headlines in the recent years when 100 bookings for BMWs were made in the city in a single day, only to be surpassed by 101 for Mercedes.
But when it comes to politics, the town appears stuck in the 1990s model of Hindus versus Muslims. The polling in Aurangabad in Marathwada region will take place on April 24.
Unlike two decades ago, Sena is no longer perceived as militant force. The party’s three-term MP Chandrakant Khaire’s personal charisma and ability to connect to masses across sections has helped him hold the constituency for the last 15 years.
However, this time around, the Modi factor has sharpened the communal divide in this constituency, with Khaire fighting to hold his bastion against Nitin Patil of the Congress, which hopes to consolidate its Muslim and Maratha votes. Muslims constitute 40 to 45 per cent of the total population in the Aurangabad Lok Sabha constituency that comprises of six Assembly segments – Aurangabad (South), Aurangabad (Central), Viajapur, Kannad, Khultabad, Gangapur.
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Besides dealing with the Congress, Khaire also has to contend with unrest within his party ranks. Sena sources concede that Khaire’s dominance in the region is by second-rung leaders as a roadblock.
Khaire, however, seems confident. “The Modi factor will work to my advantage as he represents development. The aspiration level of people in this city is inevitable and Modi works.”
He dismisses the challenge from Congress, saying its candidate is not acceptable to all in the party. The Congress has been struggling to wrest the seat from the Sena, which has held it since 1991. AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi has already campaigned here.
Khaire’s confidence notwithstanding, his battle may not be easy this time.
Ramesh Patil (20), an engineering student, says, “The city may have hit the national headlines for record number of bookings in a single day for top-end cars, but this economic prosperity is confined to a miniscule section within the city. As you travel in the rural areas, backwardness is apparent.”
“However, a common thread that binds both economically forward and backward is the communal polarisation,” Patil says.
Shahanawaz Hussain (76) is clearly apprehensive of Modi. “How will the community accept Modi? How can we justify the killings of innocents in Gujarat? Even in the past, majority of Muslims did not vote for the Sena.”
For the Congress, Vinayak Mete’s (NCP) decision to support the saffron alliance remains a worry. RPI’s Ramdas Athavale is also proving a headache. To make the matters worse for the party, Uttamsingh Pawar, who fought the 2009 polls on a Congress ticket, is contesting as a rebel this time. Pawar had lost to Khaire by 33,000 votes in 2009.