While the NCP has been insisting that it should be allowed to field its candidate from Pune Lok Sabha seat, the Congress has refused to part with it. For years, the seat had been a bastion of Congress, until the BJP won it in the last election.
“There are four parliamentary constituencies in Pune. Of these, Congress has a better presence in the Pune seat. So, we have been insisting that Pune Lok Sabha seat should remain with us,” said local Congress spokesperson, Ramesh Iyer.
The Congress said if the Pune LS seat is given to the NCP, then the party will have no presence in the entire district. “Our party symbol will disappear from the EVMs,” said Iyer.
Of the four seats in the Pune district, Congress has indeed struggled to exist as a party. In Pimpri-Chinchwad, which is a part of Maval and Shirur Lok Sabha constituencies, the Congress has been almost wiped out, with none of its candidates getting elected to the PCMC.
Congress leaders said it had an array of aspirants, who are ready to contest from the seat. The aspirants include Mohan Joshi, Abhay Chhajed, Balasaheb Shivarkar, Anant Gadgil and Suresh Kalmadi. The first four aspirants are considered to be light-weight, while Kalmadi, who has won the Pune seat in the past, is a heavy-weight leader with a pan-Pune appeal.
“A section of the party is pitching for Kalmadi,” said Iyer.
The local Congress unit said, “Kalmadi is facing allegations, but he has not been convicted in any of the cases. Therefore, we believe he is eligible to contest from the Pune seat.”
“Kalmadi had won the seat at least thrice with a comfortable margin. He is popular among all sections of the society unlike other Congress leaders,” said a Congress leader.
However, close associates of Kalmadi said he was unlikely to contest the election. “He had some health issues, so he has not been active in politics. Also, he has kept away from public functions and never made any statement that he wanted to contest the elections,” said an associate.
Senior Congress leader, Mohan Joshi, who had once contested from the Pune seat and lost, said he will contest again. “There are a few contenders in the party for LS seat. I want to contest. Last time, I had secured over 2 lakh votes and I am confident of doing better this time,” he said.
Joshi echoed Iyer. “Congress feels the seat should remain with us. NCP has other three seats to contest in Pune district, though the party is insisting that the Pune seat should be given to it,” Joshi said.
In 2014 elections, Congress candidate, Vishwajit Kadam, lost to BJP’s Anil Shirole by a margin of over 3 lakh votes. Congress leaders feel they need a strong and capable leader to wipe out the huge victory margin of Shirole. “Congress leadership made a wrong choice last time. Kadam had little to do with Pune’s politics. He had never contested even civic elections. Yet, he was fielded and Congress had to pay a heavy price,” said another leader.