Even as Devendra Fadnavis eyes a second term as chief minister, his fifth-in-a-row victory is being seen as a foregone conclusion by many, even some Congress workers.
Twice winner from Nagpur (West) seat, in 1999 and 2004, Fadnavis had romped home from Nagpur (South West) — a new seat added in 2009 delimitation exercise — in 2009 and 2014. His victory margins, too, consistently went up from around 9,000 in 1999 to over 58,000 in 2014. And if Sandip Joshi, his election in-charge from the constituency, is to be believed, the margin would cross one lakh this time.
However, barring two public meetings on October 12 and 16, and a roadshow on October 19, Fadnavis, for the first time, would be unable to focus on his own constituency as he is lined up to hold more than 60 rallies for party candidates across the state.
Campaigning in the constituency, Joshi says, has been kept a low-key affair. “…We have no hoardings, no banners and no loudspeakers. We are banking on a decentralised system of campaigning — all the 22 BJP corporators from the constituency are campaigning in their respective areas with all the party workers under their command. We have already reached each of the households once and distributed literature on Fadnavis’s achievements and works done. We hope to reach all again at least once more,” he says.
“The development works done by Fadnavis and his overall clean image are by themselves his default campaign,” Joshi adds.
The booklets distributed among people mention how Fadnavis has fast-tracked the Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport (MIHAN) project by bringing in companies from six different sectors, like aviation, information technology, pharma, food processing, logistics and education. It also lists other works on drainage, road works, jogging track, bridges, libraries, sport facilities, gardens, water supply, health camps, samadhan shibirs among others.
Dismissing BJP’s claim, Ashish Deshmukh, Congress candidate from the seat, said: “What changes has he brought about in the lives of the people here? The claim about MIHAN is false. All the companies they claim to have brought have come previously… They are selling (abrogation of) Article 370 (in Jammu & Kashmir) to the people, instead of giving jobs to the youth. Congress CMs have brought in economic prosperity to Baramati, Latur and Nanded. What has Fadnavis brought to Nagpur?” he asks.
Deshmukh had joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election and won from Katol constituency in the district in the subsequent Assembly election. However, he quit the party over “the issue of farmers distress” and returned to the Congress fold last year.
A Maratha himself, Deshmukh, however, doesn’t quite enjoy the caste benefit in the constituency where Brahmins are on par with Kunbis, considered a part of a larger Maratha clan. The Kunbis, so far, have not been voting as per caste equation, including the recent 2019 Lok Sabha election, where BJP’s Nitin Gadkari polled over 1.2 lakh votes in Nagpur South West constituency against Congress’s Nana Patole — a Kunbi — who got 65,000 votes.
A senior Congress leader says the Kunbi or other caste cards don’t much cut ice with urban voters these days. Deshmukh, however, says, “If they (the BJP) are talking of (abrogation of) Article 370 and Balakot (air strikes) instead of issues of bread and butter, then the caste factor may actually come into play.”
Another Congress leader says it will be very difficult to defeat a chief minister in his constituency, “especially when he hasn’t been seen doing anything drastically wrong”. However, Deshmukh cuts in: “You will see, as I am seeing during my campaigns, how people have geared up to usher in a change. What hasn’t happened till now, will now happen.”