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In urban Pune,caste combos still matter

No Lok Sabha election can be about such issues as traffic and public transport,but Pune could prove to be an exception.

Written by Ajay Khape | Pune |
April 15, 2009 1:45:32 am

A four-part series on the poll equations in the constituencies in Pune district

No Lok Sabha election can be about such issues as traffic and public transport,but Pune could prove to be an exception. That is why,leveraging the Commonwealth Youth Games in October last year,sitting Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi ensured maximum funds were channellled towards removing the arterial blocks on the city roads. Rumours about ‘quiet lay-offs’ in the IT sector vie with talks that there is a definite revival in the auto sector. But these may not figure as issues as much as the caste combinations despite Pune being a young and urban face of the country.

BJP’s first time entrant Anil Shirole hitherto only a city corporator will try to ensure that as much as veteran parliamentarian Kalmadi. The traditional Congress bastion will look to ally NCP for much support,underlined by the fact that Sharad Pawar has visited this constituency to support Kalmadi,the most number of times for any Congress candidate. The BJP,meanwhile,will try and consolidate on the strong RSS base in the city.

There is also much speculation as to what damage BSP’s DS Kulkarni can wreak and whose vote base will he eat into. Also in fray are Ranjit Shirole of MNS,bureaucrat-turned-politician Arun Bhatia and former IPS officer Vikram Bokey who will now be supported by Professionals Party of India.

The constituency after the delimitation process has undergone a tremendous change with its previous area getting scattered in the neighboring Baramati and Shirur Lok Sabha constituency. The post- delimitation Pune Lok Sabha seat,having almost 18.5 lakh voters,is more concentrated on the central part of the city. Both Congress and BJP claim it will benefit them.

The BJP has gone in for a Maratha community in the bargain eyeing the votes of NCP loyalists. On the flip side the significant Brahmin vote bank in the city – about four lakh – that has traditionally voted BJP is under attack by BSP’s candidate D S Kulkarni,a Brahmin. The MNS candidature to Ranjit Shirole and independent Vikram Bokey also may further divide the caste votes as both belong to the Maratha community.

The city Congress unit had its share of trouble — tussle for the LS seat; strife with its electoral ally NCP ever since the ‘Pune pattern’ came into existence in the Pune Municipal Corporation with NCP forging alliance with BJP and Shiv Sena in a bid to keep the Congress out. However there is a thaw in the cold war between followers of Kalmadi and NCP leader Ajit Pawar ever since party chief Sharad Pawar took the local NCP leaders to task for not actively supporting Congress.

Similarly,the BJP too struggled to decide on its candidate for the Pune seat as the two factions led by state BJP chief Nitin Gadkari and party general secretary Gopinath Munde fought hard for getting the party ticket for their supporters. Staunch Munde supporter Anil Shirole was given the party ticket by shutting out Vikas Matkari who was backed by Gadkari. Now,with a Maratha candidate in place the BJP is looking to wean away NCP voters whose discord with the Congress is fresh in their minds.

There is a concern for BJP about the MNS entry. “We don’t rule out the fact that some of the Shiv Sena votes will divert towards Raj Thackeray-led MNS,but we are prepared for overcoming that loss and score elsewhere,” city BJP chief Girish Bapat said.

Kalmadi and Shirole have been focusing on seeking votes on the issue of development with both assuring an improvement in public transport system,slum rehabilitation and water supply. Many feel the Congress while it ruled the PMC could have done more. And by extension,Kalmadi too though they agree that the MP is busy with other assignments — hosting the Commonwealth Games and making a bid for Olympics 2020.

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