The Congress remains tentative about the Pune seat, represented by Suresh Kalmadi whom it wants to replace in light of his arrest for alleged corruption during the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The BJP, too, has kept this seat open while naming candidates for most others in Maharashtra.
Various factions are pushing for the Congress candidacy and among the frontrunners so far is Vishwajeet Kadam, state Youth Congress chief and son of minister Patangrao Kadam. “There has been speculation about me being fielded. I am ready to fight the elections from wherever Rahul Gandhi asks me to,” Kadam said at a recent rally in Sangli.
But almost every other aspirant has put up his or her own show of strength. Among them is an MLA, Vinayak Nimhan, who recently cycled from Delhi to Pune. He got the tour flagged by NCP chief Sharad Pawar in Delhi and was welcomed by Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter. What goes against his prospects is that his roots are in the Shiv Sena and fielding him would upset many Congress old-timers.
Other aspirants include Mohan Joshi, Kamal Vyavhare, Abhay Chhajed and Deepak Mankar. And Kalmadi himself has been seeking to push his wife as the candidate but the party is said to have snubbed him. “The party has not forgotten the dent caused to its image by the Commonwealth Games scandal. It is looking for someone who will ensure a change in image,” a state Congress leader said.
Pune is the only seat the Congress is contesting in the eponymous district, with the NCP contesting the other three. “The Congress cannot let the bastion go out of its hand as it would mean the party has no presence in the district. It needs a strong face to retain its hold,” the state leader said.
The party also wants the candidate with a reach wide enough to hold all factions together, especially if Kalmadi should jump into the fray as an independent.
Kadam does enjoy the confidence of the party leadership, as evidenced by his election as state Youth Congress chief for two straight times. “Kadam’s is a familiar name in the city. He also recently married the daughter of real estate developer Avinash Bhosale, who has good relations with leaders of all parties, especially the NCP,” said a local Congress leader. But some in the party consider him an outsider as he hails from Sangli district.
Of other parties, the AAP has fielded Subhash Ware, the MNS Deepak Paigude, and the BSP D S Kulkarni. For the BJP, the names being discussed are of four-time Kasba MLA Girish Bapat and the party’s city president Anil Shirole.
The BJP camp is banking on the Modi wave to help it tide over the delay in declaration of candidates. “The delay is due to infighting, but we have managed to get booth-level committees in place. We hope the delay will not affect us,” a BJP leader said.