VICTORY of Congress candidate Abhijeet Wanjari in Nagpur graduates’ constituency on Friday has come as a rude jolt to the BJP that suffered its first ever debacle in the constituency.
With two party heavyweights – Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis – and the RSS organisational behemoth in the backdrop, BJP nominee Nagpur Mayor Sandeep Joshi’s victory seemed a foregone conclusion. However, backed by the unprecedented unity within the party and support from its alliance partners NCP and Shiv Sena, Congress’s first-ever official nominee Abhijeet Wanjari romped home with a margin of 18,710 votes.
The BJP was apparently weight down by the “caste” factor as was evident from the campaign speeches of its leaders. “The opponents have brought in caste factor. The BJP has never played politics of caste and religion. One becomes big due to one’s qualities not caste. I am of the opinion that the caste and religion-based cells in the party should be disbanded. I appeal the voters not to fall prey to the caste factor and vote for Joshi,” Gadkari had said at a party rally on the last day of the campaign.
Congress fielded Wanjari, a Teli, against BJP’s Joshi, a Brahmin. Telis are BJP’s traditional voters. So, to prevent a split in their votes, BJP had named prominent Teli community leader former Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule as Joshi’s campaign in-charge.
Represented by many BJP stalwarts, including Fadnavis’s father late Gangadharrao Fadnavis and Nitin Gadkari, the seat was currently held by party’s Anil Sole, who had won his first election in 2014 by a huge margin of over 33,000 votes. Considered Gadkari’s close confidante, Sole, however, was replaced after completing just one term with Fadnavis’s close friend Joshi causing disquiet in the party.
Such was the BJP’s dominance in the constituency that the Congress had never put its candidate in the fray before Wanjari.
The tide had started turning in favour of Congress almost immediately after Joshi’s nomination. The cold war between the Gadkari and Fadnavis camps was suspected to play out. And it did.
Days before the election, a social media pamphlet with Sole’s photograph and a few questions posed to the party leadership under the title, “Asaa mi kaay gunhaa kelaa?” (What was my fault?), seeking to know why he wasn’t renominated, went viral. Although Sole denied involvement in it, and also lodged a police complaint, leaders close to him supported the sly campaign blamed on a group that was angry with Joshi for his tirade against Municipal Commissioner Tukaran Mundhe, who was transferred within seven months from the city. “All those questions are valid. Sole’s nomination was seen as a foregone conclusion. He had also done a lot of ground work by registering voters, which Joshi is now using. They didn’t even use his photo in their campaign material. They didn’t highlight the good work he did in the last six years since they were afraid people would ask why then the party chose to replace him,” said a Sole supporter.
Mundhe’s supporters, too, mostly youths, are believed to have played a role in Joshi’s defeat. “The Mundhe factor did play out to dent Joshi’s prospects as, despite Mundhe ‘s obstinate conduct, people respected him for his honesty,” said Congress corporator Prafulla Gudadhe.
Another factor that made BJP weak was the poor voter registration. This time around, the constituency saw over 80,000 voters less than in 2014. “BJP is known for its deft ground work among voters. This time we failed to build it up to a critical level due to Covid-19 pandemic,” said a BJP leader.
Gudadhe, however, credits the victory to unprecedented unity among Congress factions. “Unlike in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, there was no competitor to Wanjari in the party. So, all worked hard to get him elected,” Gudadhe said.
He also stressed on the change of electorate profile. “Earlier, there were a few graduates among non-Brahmins. Today, majority of graduates are from Bahujan samaj (OBCs). Joshi’s defeat also signifies the shift of OBCs away from the BJP,” Gudadhe said, virtually confirming caste as one of the deciding factors in the poll.
A senior BJP leader said, “Ego and hysteria are at the highest level in the party at present. So, I have decided to keep off it.”
No other leader from the BJP was available for a comment.
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