After waging a verbal war with NCP chief Sharad Pawar during the first two days of his Maharashtra campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will now head towards Baramati, the Pawar family’s bastion, where he will address a rally on Thursday, October 9. On the same day, Modi will visit Pimpri-Chinchwad, another Pawar stronghold as the NCP has been in control of the local civic body for over a decade now. BJP leaders said the party was going all out to cause a dent in Pawar’s forts.
When Modi holds his first rally in Baramati on October 9, it will also be the first time when a prime minister will be addressing a public meeting there in 34 years. Last time a PM made it to Baramati was in 1980 when Indira Gandhi campaigned for Congress (I) candidate Marutrao Chopde. “Indira Gandhi had come to campaign against Sharad Pawar who was then the head of Congress (S). Gandhi’s campaigning had no effect as Pawar saheb was elected with a huge margin,” said Kiran Gujar, who has been a close associate of Pawar for over four decades. Pawar had polled 54,919 votes while his rival could manage only 26,550 votes. As many as 1,838 votes were invalid. Pawar was contesting the Assembly elections that time.
On October 9, Modi will address a rally at the HA ground in Pimpri. The last time a PM visited the industrial town of Pimpri-Chinchwad was in 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi had addressed a rally at Sangvi Keshri college grounds in Chinchwad.
“There was a huge crowd in attendance at Rajiv’s rally,” recalled Babu Nair, a Congress leader. Gandhi had come to campaign for Congress candidate Shankarrao Bajirao Patil, who was contesting from Baramati Parliamentary constituency. Pimpri-Chinchwad was then part of the Baramati constituency. Now, it is part of Maval.
The massive turnout, however, did not translate into votes for the Congress candidate who lost by a margin of over 1,40,000 votes to Pawar. Shankarrao Bajirao Patil was the father of Congress leader Harshvardhan Patil.
BJP’s Bhosari candidate Eknath Pawar said the PM’s rally would swing votes heavily in favour of the two BJP candidates and one alliance candidate in Pimpri-Chinchwad. “We are all looking forward to the rally as it will be the first of its kind by any prime minister,” he said.
The NCP, however, said the rallies would not make any difference to the party. “It did not make a difference to Pawar forts then and it will not make a difference even today,” said Gujar.
Yogesh Behl, the Pimpri-Chinchwad NCP president who is considered the right hand man of Ajit Pawar, said: “Supriya Sule (Pawar’s daughter) had led by a margin of 70,000 votes in Baramati Lok Sabha seat during the recent polls. Therefore, there is nothing to worry… Baramati seat is safe. Even otherwise, Ajit Pawar has no time to campaign in Baramati as he will be busy campaigning for other seats. It shows the confidence the leader has in his voters.”
Behl said NCP’s Bhosari candidate Vilas Lande had won twice and was poised for a third victory. “Similarly, Pimpri candidate Anna Bansode has no threat whatsoever as the candidates against him are very weak,” he said.
BJP has Laxman Jagtap contesting from Chinchwad seat and Eknath Pawar from Bhosari. It has allotted the Pimpri (Reserved) seat to its alliance partner RPI (A), which has fielded Chandrakanta Sonkamble. The Jagtap camp said Modi’s rally was “very significant” in view of the fact that Pawars had not been able to stop the drive against illegal constructions launched by PCMC. “We are looking forward to some kind of announcement by the prime minister in this connection,” said Seema Savle, an associate of Jagtap.
Political parties have, however, questioned the venue of the rally, HA ground, Pimpri. The ground comes under the Pimpri (Reserved) seat where the BJP has no candidate. “BJP aspirant Amar Sable was a strong contender for the seat. However, BJP gave the seat to its alliance partner,” said Babu Nair. BJP leaders said the venue was chosen as it was at the centre of the three constituencies.
Also, the capacity of the ground does not go beyond 50,000 whereas Modi has been drawing crowds beyond 1 lakh.