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PUNE is among the fastest-growing cities in the country and the most notable change that has taken place in its political corridors and neighbouring Pimpri-Chinchwad is the “change of guard”, with BJP propelling itself to the seat of power, in a city where Congress and NCP had been in power for years. The Congress had bigwigs representing the Pune seat in the Lok Sabha. In 1971, Mohan Dharia was elected to the Lok Sabha, and he went on become a minister in the Union government. Similarly, Vithalrao Gadgil won the Pune Lok Sabha seat consecutively three times, in 1980, 1984 and 1989. The veteran leader was entrusted with responsibilities in the government as well as at the party level.
Rise and fall of Kalmadi
The BJP put the brakes on the Congress’ growth in the city when party leader Anna Joshi won the parliamentary election in 1991. However, the Congress bounced back after Suresh Kalmadi was given an opportunity to carry forward the party legacy. Kalmadi won the election in 1996 and the Congress got Vithal Tupe elected in 1998. In 1999, the bickering within the Congress once again gave an opportunity to the BJP to grab the seat, with Pradeep Rawat getting elected.
It was again Kalmadi’s rule, more than the Congress, which dominated city politics, as he won the Lok Sabha Seat in 2004 and 2009. He also got an opportunity to serve as a minister in the Congress-led Union government. However, the Congress’ debacle unfolded after Kalmadi was suspended by the party over allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The party denied a ticket to him in 2014 and instead fielded Vishwajeet Kadam, son of senior Congress leader Patangrao Kadam, for the Pune Lok Sabha seat. He lost to Anil Shirole of BJP, who was riding on the Modi wave, in 2014.
“The debacle of Congress began after 2001 as the city unit became personality-centric, rather than functioning on the ideologies of the party,” said state Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil. The party’s image was dented after senior leaders faced corruption allegations and the formation of NCP divided the Congress votebank, he said.
Emergence of Ajit Pawar
It was the opportunity that the NCP, formed after Sharad Pawar parted ways with the Congress, was waiting for — to take on Kalmadi in city politics and establish the party’s hold. The party entrusted the responsibility to Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the NCP chief. The NCP didn’t try for the Lok Sabha seat, allying with the Congress in Lok Sabha as well as in the assembly elections till 2014. But the NCP and the Congress contested the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) election independently.
The NCP managed to make a mark in its very first civic election in 2002, as the Congress had to take the support of the party to retain power in the civic body. It was in 2007 that the tables turned, with the NCP emerging as the largest party in the PMC. A disappointed Congress, under the leadership of Kalmadi, decided to stay away, and the NCP joined hands with the Shiv Sena to come to power. Later, the NCP and the Congress resolved their differences and went on to jointly hold power in the PMC. The NCP retained power in the 2012 municipal election, putting an end to the re-emergence of Congress in the civic body.
Dominance of BJP
The Modi wave, along with the anti-incumbency factor against the Congress, helped BJP win the Pune Lok Sabha seat, with party candidate Anil Shirole winning with a record margin. The party went on to win all eight assembly seats from the city. This led to a direct fight between the BJP, which came to power at the state and the Centre, and the NCP, with each party trying to establish its hold in the civic body in the 2017 election.
The BJP won 100 of the 162 seats and single-handedly came to power in the PMC for the first time. “The increasing cosmopolitan population in the city has changed its votebank. The impact of the popularity of PM Narendra Modi was the major contributor towards the growth of the party in the city,” said a BJP leader, adding that there “will not be any looking back now”, as senior party leaders at the state and national level were keeping track of city politics.
PCMC: Cong upper-hand
THE political scenario in Pimpri-Chinchwad started to witness a change a decade-and-a-half ago. Till then, the Congress had had the upper hand, ruling the municipal council first and then the municipal corporation, since the first election in 1986. The Congress won the civic elections in both 1992 and 1997. Political power started to slip out of the Congress’ grasp as the NCP, formed in 1999, wasted no time in going on an expansion drive. Several Congressmen left their original party to join the NCP. And in 2002, the NCP captured power for the first time in Pimpri-Chinchwad.
The Congress was led by the likes of Ramkrishna More, a teacher by profession in the initial years, until Ajit Pawar entered politics in 1991. “After Pawar’s entry in politics, the Congress was divided into two camps. One was led by Ramkrishna More and the other by Ajit Pawar,” said Yogesh Behl, the longest-serving corporator in the PCMC, who won his first election in 1986.
After NCP was formed in 1999 with a clock as the party symbol, Ajit Pawar started calling the shots in Pimpri-Chinchwad. The party made rapid strides, winning the first election in 2002 and then coming back to power with landslide victories in 2007 and 2012. “The Congress had no leader of repute in the industrial town, especially after the death of Ramkrishna More in 2003. Sharad Pawar was at the peak of his popularity from 1999, after the NCP was formed, and Ajit Pawar had ushered in a fresh aggressive streak that appealed to the masses, resulting in NCP establishing itself in Pimpri-Chinchwad,” said G Landge, a political analyst.
Before the 2017 civic election, the NCP received one jolt after another. Its key leaders such as Laxman Jagtap, Mahesh Landge, Azam Pansare, as well as several of its sitting corporators and former corporators shifted loyalties to the BJP, over the perceived inability of the NCP to resolve the issue of illegal constructions. “With Jagtap and Landge in the party, there was little doubt about BJP’s success,” said Sarang Kamtekar, BJP general secretary, who was earlier with the Sena and the MNS. Jagtap, who was once close to Ajit Pawar but later fell out with his mentor, is primarily credited for the BJP’s victory in Pimpri-Chinchwad.
Mahesh Landge, another former close aide of Ajit Pawar, also played a crucial role in the BJP’s victory. In Pimpri-Chinchwad, the BJP outsmarted and outplayed the NCP, which was clearly caught napping. “Though the NCP was instrumental in changing the face of Pimpri-Chinchwad — improving the road network, widening internal roads and highways, constructing flyovers, grade separators, subways, gardens and swimming pools — it apparently remained complacent, which resulted in its humiliating defeat in the 2017 election,” said Satish Verma, a political analyst.
Pimpri-Chinchwad had always been a part of the Baramati parliamentary constituency, from where NCP leader Sharad Pawar had been elected since 1984 for six terms. Ajit Pawar was elected as the MP from Baramati parliamentary constituency in 1991. Shankarrao Patil was elected twice from Baramati parliamentary constituency. “Such was the popularity of Sharad Pawar that he rarely campaigned in Pimpri-Chinchwad and yet got a massive number of votes. He was seen only undertaking a padyatra on the concluding day of the campaign,” recalled Jayshree Marale (70), a retired principal.
In the assembly, Haveli was first represented by Congress and then Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Babar and NCP’s Vilas Lande, who were both elected twice. Till 2008, only one MLA and one MP represented Pimpri-Chinchwad in the assembly and Lok Sabha. From 2009, Bhosari, Chinchwad and Pimpri assembly constituencies came into being. And Baramati parliamentary constituency was replaced by Maval and Shirur Lok Sabha constituencies.
Despite all-out attempts by the NCP, it could not win both Maval and Shirur constituencies in the past two elections. Sena’s Shivajirao Adhalrao-Patil has secured a hat-trick from Shirur constituency, while Gajanan Babar was elected once. Maval is currently represented by Sena’s first-time MP Shrirang Barne.