Being a Brahmin is seen as an electoral disqualification in Maharashtra, especially if one is from the BJP. Late Vasant Sathe had won thrice from Wardha, but on a Congress ticket. And though RSS favourite and former BJP president Nitin Gadkari has tried beating this trend with his networking among non-Brahmins, many wonder he could make it in the battle for Nagpur, his maiden Lok Sabha election, notwithstanding his track record as a man of development over his Congress rival and seven-time MP Vilas Muttemwar.
While the buzz in political circles is that Gadkari and Muttemwar are running neck and neck in this Congress bastion where the BJP has won only in 1996, the latter is confident.
“I am sure Gadkari will win with a huge margin,” says state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis. Incidentally, Congress workers whisper about Fadnavis not working for Gadkari, who had supported Sudhir Mungantiwar, a non-Brahmin, and not Fadnavis, a Brahmin, for the state chief’s post.
Gadkari discounts any such possibility, pointing out how extensively Fadnavis campaigned for him. But with his Purti Group’s alleged irregularities haunting him, Gadkari also battles the “one of the most corrupt politicians” tag given by the AAP. The AAP’s Anjali Damania, too, was later accused by the BJP of robbing farmers’ lands in Karjat.
Yet the BJP believes Gadkari is a sure winner. Its arithmetic: If 11 lakh (60 per cent) of the 18 lakh voters cast ballots, even if Muttemwar gets four lakh (three lakh committed Congress votes plus one lakh additional despite anti-incumbency), Damania gets one lakh, the BSP another one lakh and 50,000 go to all others, Gadkari will still romp home by at least 50,000 votes. The margin will go up if voting goes up. Clearly, Gadkari needs good polling percent to bail him out. And it all depends on how effectively the RSS implements its plan to bring the BJP voters out.
The Congress, on the other hand, is banking heavily on Dalit and Muslim votes. Muttemwar says he has it easy this time. The party made Vikas Thakre, a Kunbi, city party president woo Kunbis. With the three communities together counting more than eight lakh, the Congress feels it has the edge. But the BSP has fielded Mohan Gaikwad, a Kunbi.
The BJP says it will have at least 50 per cent of Kunbi and majority share of Teli and OBC votes, apart from 30 per cent of the Hindi-speaking votes that has got swayed considerably towards the BJP.
Gadkari hopes to get some share of Muslim goodwill votes on account of his work in the community and BJP making two Muslims deputy mayors, including the current one, Jaitunbi.