The NCP and Congress are already caught in a tussle over their claims over the Pune Lok Sabha seat. Now, the BJP is finding itself in a tight situation after its Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Kakade declared his intention to contest the Pune seat, challenging the claim of sitting Lok Sabha MP Anil Shirole. The announcement has not gone down well with the BJP’s local unit, which has avoided making any direct comments on Kakade’s claim. It only said that “it (Kakade’s claim) was not an appropriate thing to do” at this stage.”
The NCP, in the meanwhile, has indicated that none other than its party chief Sharad Pawar might be interested in contesting the Pune seat. “I am keen to contest the election as I believe I can win the Pune seat with a record margin. In 2014, our party candidate won by a margin of 3.12 lakh votes. If I am given the ticket, I will win by a margin of over 3.50 lakh votes,” said Kakade.
However, the builder said even if he was denied a BJP ticket, he was not going to challenge the party discipline. “If I am denied the ticket and (sitting candidate) Anil Shirole is fielded again, I will campaign for him,” he said. Kakade claimed his candidature was not going to cause any fissures in the party. “I don’t think my candidature will lead to any problems in the party. I am confident about receiving support from all leaders and party workers,” he said. Top BJP leaders said they were not aware of Kakade’s announcement. “I have not heard about it…I have no comments to offer,” said Yogesh Gogawale, president of the BJP’s Pune unit.
Gogawale said a “process had to be followed” to select a Lok Sabha candidate. “The party’s parliamentary board takes the call…,” he said. When asked whether Kakade has broken the party discipline by making the announcement, Gogawale refused to comment. “Such things are not done in any party,” he said, but quickly added that he was not referring to Kakade’s announcement.
The competition for the Pune Lok Sabha seat is also causing ripples in the Congress-NCP combine. Traditionally, the seat has always been contested by the Congress. Its alliance partner in the state, NCP, recently announced that it wanted to field its candidate from Pune seat.
When NCP’s Pune unit chief Vandana Chavan was asked about Kakade’s candidature, she said he was “not a strong candidate”. “But we don’t underestimate anybody. Last time, nobody thought Shirole would win, let alone win by such a large margin. It clearly happened because of the Modi wave, which has now disappeared,” she said. “Kakade’s track record as a Rajya Sabha MP is there for everyone to see… he has hardly spoken in the Rajya Sabha… he has neither intervened nor raised a question. Pune voters know that very well,” said Chavan. Addressing speculations that party chief Sharad Pawar may contest from Pune, Chavan said, “Anything is possible. If Pawar contests the Pune seat, it will be a cakewalk for him”.
Echoing the NCP’s views about Kakade, Congress spokesperson Ramesh Iyer said, “Kakade was neither a corporator nor an MLA. He does not have the experience of being a people’s representative, though he has been a Rajya Sabha MP.” Congress leaders said they weren’t keen on letting NCP contest the Lok Sabha election from Pune. “Several constituencies in Pune district, such as Baramati, Maval and Shirur, are with the NCP.
If the Pune seat also goes to the NCP, the Congress symbol will disappear on the ballot paper,” said Iyer. The party said it has several aspirants for the seat, such as Mohan Joshi, Abhay Chhajed, Balasaheb Shivarkar and Anant Gadgil.
“Each leader has a mass following and we are hopeful of snatching the seat from the BJP in the next election,” said the Congress spokesperson. On reports about Pawar contesting from Pune, Iyer said,”If there is an alliance between both parties and the high commands of both the NCP and the Congress agree, then we will have no problem in supporting him.” Pawar, who had contested from the Baramati Lok Sabha seat for decades, had last contested, and won, from Madha in Solapur district in the 2009 parliamentary polls. He didn’t contest in the 2014 election and had declared that he would no longer contest Lok Sabha polls.