It is past 1.30 pm on Sunday as scores of BJP workers, carrying party flags and banners and shouting slogans, walk behind party candidate Girish Bapat through Laxmi Road. It is the last day of campaigning and Bapat seems to be no mood to waste any time. He waves at children, greets local residents and stops occasionally to speak to some before the padyatra comes to a halt outside his election office near Kasba Ganpati where any other party workers are already waiting to hear the five-time party MLA.
As he takes the stage, Bagpat is greeted with a thunderous applause. The audience keeps cheering his name even as Bapat thanks them for such a huge support. “Someone once asked me about how much money do I have. I answered them that who cares about money? I have the wealth of my people. My people are you, the party workers. Along with my family, all of you are my biggest support system, what else can I possibly need,” he says to another round of cheering from the crowd.
The BJP had dropped sitting Pune MP Anil Shirole in favour of Bapat to take on Congress-NCP combine candidate Mohan Joshi from Pune parliamentary constituency. Emphasising on his deep connect with the city, Bapat claims that deep down he is “still a man who loves Puneri Misal Pav”. “I trust the people of my city and I am confident that they know who to choose. I am just here to help them in whatever way I can.”
A Cabinet minister for food, civil supplies and consumer protection, food and drugs administration, and parliamentary affairs in the Government of Maharashtra, Bapat is also Pune’s guardian minister. Calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “visionary” leader, the 68-year-old BJP leader said that it was under Modi’s leadership that the country had grown by leaps and bounds.
“He (Modi) is a leader we have always deserved. Modi has brought such great initiatives for the people of the country, unlike any other puppet leaders. Congress is stuck in ‘Garibi Hatao’ for ages. Under Modi’s leadership we not only tackled it, but made the nation prosper,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Bapat had begun the campaign along with alliance leaders from Shiv Sena, Republican Party of India (RPI-A), Shivsangram and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha by paying respects at Mahatma Phule Wada. Sena leaders, who also addressed the crowd at Kasba Ganpati, said Bapat was the “right choice” as the candidate from the seat and claimed that he would secure more than 4 lakh votes to win by a huge margin.
Pune city Mayor Mukta Tilak and former minister Laxmanrao Dhoble also urged voters to choose Pune’s “true son” as their representative in Delhi. Bapat, a veteran Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member, has is a five-time MLA. Besides his stronghold in the constituency, the party is also riding on the support of all the six MLAs from the city.