During the campaign for Assembly polls, Pune saw an array of leaders from different parties visiting the city and holding forth on various issues in a bid to sway voters. The Indian Express takes a closer look at the campaign strategy pursued by each party, and the leaders who made a difference
The ruling party in the state and Centre, the BJP went all out to retain all the eight Assembly seats in the city it won in the 2014 polls. The party kicked off its campaign weeks before the Election Commission announced the poll dates, with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis taking his Mahajanadesh Yatra across 36 districts, and making stops in both Pimpri and Pune.
Charged up after its performance in the Lok Sabha polls, the party mounted a confident campaign that included a public rally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Pune earlier this week. Other senior leaders who campaigned in Pune included Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar.
Adding a bit of glamour to the proceedings, party MP and actor Sunny Deol held a road show in Pune. State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, who is contesting from Kothrud seat, also campaigned for BJP candidates in other seats, while state minister Pankaja Munde addressed a rally for her staunch supporter Madhuri Misal in Parvati.
Throughout the campaign, the BJP decided to focus on the Union government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. At his rally in Pune, Modi also hinted at continuation of action against tainted political leaders, saying, “It has just begun and it will not stop.” Other Union ministers, however, found themselves defending the central government’s economic policies, and claiming there was no slowdown in the country.
In the last few months, the party had faced mass exodus of senior leaders, who jumped ship to either the BJP or Shiv Sena. So, the NCP campaign was spearheaded by none other than party chief Sharad Pawar. Senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar addressed campaign rallies for party candidates in Parvati, Hadapsar and Vadgaonsheri Assembly seats, as well as the three seats in Pimpri-Chinchwad. NCP MP Supriya Sule and actor and MP Amol Kolhe held road shows and padyatras for party candidates in the four Assembly seats that the party is contesting in the city.
During its campaign, the NCP took on the BJP-led state government over its “failure” to resolve the many issues plaguing the state. Party leaders alleged that the Centre’s misguided policies were responsible for the economic slowdown and rising unemployment. They also targeted the BJP for not seeking votes on state issues, and highlighting the abrogation of Article 370 instead. NCP leaders criticised Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for allegedly failing to deliver results despite being in power for five years.
As no national or top state leaders turned up for the election campaign in the city, the party struggled to enthuse its workers. The candidates held road shows and corner meetings, while senior leaders preferred to hold press conferences. The Congress, which is contesting only three of the eight Assembly seats, was supported by local leaders of alliance partner NCP in the campaign.
The city Congress had requested party chief Sonia Gandhi, former president Rahul Gandhi and even general secretary Priyanka Gandhi to campaign in Pune, but none of the leaders held any rallies. While younger Congress leaders, such as Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, were expected to hold rallies in Pune, these were cancelled at the last minute.
Even Mallikarjun Kharge, the party in-charge for Maharashtra, didn’t campaign in Pune. The few leaders who were seen on the campaign trail were senior leader Anand Sharma, who held a press conference in the city on the last day of campaign, women’s wing chief Sushmita Dev, Congress MP Revanth Reddy and national spokesperson Szarita Laitphlang. Maharashtra Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat and party leader Vishwajeet Kadam were the only two state leaders who campaigned in Pune.
While MNS candidates were relying heavily on party chief Raj Thackeray to campaign for them and secure votes, heavy rain thwarted part of their plan. Thackeray’s first rally in the city to launch the MNS’ campaign was washed away by an unexpected downpour. The MNS chief later held a public rally in Kasba Assembly constituency and, a day before the end of the campaign, addressed more rallies in Hadapsar and Kothrud seats. Party candidates also held road shows and corner meetings to reach out to voters.
Thackeray had launched an attack on the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance during the Lok Sabha election campaign, and he continued on that theme for Assembly polls. Realising that the party’s chances were slim, MNS leaders urged voters to elect their candidate to provide a strong opposition, which could keep a check on the ruling party.
Thackeray blamed the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance for the economic slowdown and shutdown of industrial units in the state, which have led to the loss of thousands of jobs. He also criticised the BJP for seeking votes on abrogation of Article 370, alleging that this was a ploy to divert the attention of voters from failures of the state government.
As per the seat-sharing arrangement between the BJP and Shiv Sena, the party is not contesting any of the eight seats in the city. The Sena had demanded at least two seats and party workers openly expressed their disappointment at being left out of the poll fray in the city. In most city constituencies, local Sena workers stayed away from the BJP candidate’s campaign. Sena leader Neelam Gorhe, who campaigned in Shivajinagar and was present for the Prime Minister’s rally, was one of the few Sena leaders visible on the campaign trail.
Some local Sena leaders also participated in the campaign of state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil in Kothrud constituency.
Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi
The Prakash Ambedkar-led VBA had created a lot of buzz in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. Though it didn’t win a single seat in the Lok Sabha polls, this didn’t dent the enthusiasm of the outfit, which fielded several candidates in the Assembly elections. While most VBA candidates campaigned on their own, Ambedkar held a rally for party candidates in Mangalwar Peth. He urged voters to elect candidates who could provide them with a better standard of living and were also mindful of protecting the environment. The VBA chief criticised both the ruling BJP-Sena alliance and opposition Congress-NCP alliance for failing to meet the expectations of citizens.
The AIMIM, which won the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat, is looking to expand its political presence in the state. The party has fielded candidates in three Assembly seats in Pune city. The election campaign was launched by party chief Asaduddin Owaisi while state unit chief and MP Imtiyaz Jaleel campaigned for the candidates.
Owaisi took on the BJP over the issue of lynchings and said discrimination and resentment against the Muslim community has increased in the country under the BJP-led government. He also criticised the Congress for failing to provide a strong opposition to the government and said it was difficult to revive the Congress, which, he claimed, was in its worst phase.