It won’t be until this weekend that the din of electioneering will resound in Ahmednagar city, with star campaigners Narendra Modi and Sharad Pawar set to address rallies in the constituency. For now, however, the candidates are sweating it out in the 40-degree-plus heat in the dusty villages, trying to woo people disenchanted with the usual promises of “bijli, paani and sadak”.
This is the constituency from where social activist Anna Hazare will cast his vote. His Ralegan Siddhi village that falls in Parner tehsil is an hour’s drive from the city. Hazare has appealed to voters to back candidates with a clean and good image. But a majority of his supporters have made their intentions clear about whom they prefer. They have thrown their weight behind former Bombay High Court judge B G Kolse-Patil from Lok Shasan Party who has been involved in various social movements and activities in Ahmednagar after his retirement.
“Anna’s people are working with me and I am also planning to meet him on April 15,” says a confident Kolse Patil (73). Shyam Asawa, a close Anna aide and trustee of the Brashtachari Jan Andolan, vouches for Kolse Patil. “He is a genuine candidate,” he says. However, it seems to be a straight fight between sitting BJP MP Dilip Gandhi and NCP’s Rajiv Rajale in this constituency. Aam Aadmi Party has fielded Marathi dancer-actress Deepali Sayyed.
Another Anna supporter, Dr Girish Kulkarni, who runs the Snehalaya home for the destitute, slams the BJP-Sena alliance. “This constituency has been facing issues related to water, electricity and roads, and we have a corrupt sitting MP who has been openly charged with corrupt practices at the urban bank here. Other BJP-Sena MLAs too have criminal cases registered against them,” he says.
Ahmednagar is located in the middle of the Golden Triangle of Pune, Mumbai and Nashik and is the largest district in Maharashtra. With a population of 45 lakh, this district has two parliamentary constituencies — Ahmednagar (South) and Shirdi. Despite being a Congress bastion for decades, both Lok Sabha seats were wrested by non-Congress candidates in 2009 — Dilip Gandhi of BJP (Ahmednagar south) and Bhausaheb Wakchaure of Sena (Shirdi).
Wakchaure has since switched parties and is now contesting on a Congress ticket from Shirdi.
Gandhi’s getting the ticket for a third term has left many party workers disappointed. The party’s Ahmednagar district chief Prataprao Dhakne has quit and joined the NCP, taking along with him nearly 1.5 lakh Banjara votes. “The party leadership has erred in giving tickets to a lot of unwanted candidates this time,” says Dhakne, who has been campaigning for NCP’s Rajale.
Gandhi, however, rubbishes Dhakne’s claim of dissent in the BJP ranks and is hoping for a huge swing of votes in his favour after Narendra Modi’s rally on April 12. “L K Advani was present in 1999 and 2009 when I launched my campaign. This year too, he was present for the launch and Modiji will be there on Saturday. What more can I ask for,” he says.
“Of the six Assembly segments in the district, only one MLA belongs to the Congress-NCP while the rest are from Sena-BJP which will give us an edge,” he points out.
But Gandhi faces an angry electorate owing to the bank irregularities coupled with a lack of connect with the people over the last 10 years. NCP’s Rajale, the nephew of minister Balasaheb Thorat, had contested as a rebel and garnered more than 1 lakh votes last time. With his uncle’s backing, he now has his own network of supporters and is set to give Gandhi a tough fight.
In the villages, angry voters accost the candidates with their list of complaints. “People face so many problems. We are told not to drink water here but get our own mineral water bottles instead,” says AAP’s Sayyed. The 34-year-old actress is from Mumbai but does not think contesting on alien turf will be a problem. “People want a change from the corrupt and criminal candidates,” she says as she focuses on door-to-door visits.