All eyes on Nagpur, a former Cong bastion, due to ‘development man’ Gadkari


PTI, Apr 14, 2024, 3:40 PM IST

The battle for Nagpur Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra is among the most watched in the country due to the presence of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, a hardcore RSS loyalist who has a legion of admirers for his development work as well as the penchant for talking straight.

In 2014, he had defeated seven time MP Vilas Muttemwar by a margin of 2.84 lakh votes and retained the seat in 2019 by defeating current Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole by 2.16 lakh votes.

Nagpur, with 22,18,259 voters comprising 11,10,840 males, 11,07,197 females and 222 third gender persons, is Vidarbha’s largest city and has connection to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP, as well as Ambedkarism on the other end of the spectrum, since the legendary social reformer converted to Buddhism here.

The seat was a bastion of the Congress, which has won it 13 out of 17 times.

”Gadkari is part of the RSS ecosystem and is very close to the organisation. He is widely seen as an alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the BJP. These two aspects make Nagpur a very important seat,” senior journalist and political analyst Vivek Deshpande told PTI.

Gadkari won in 2014 due to the Modi wave and in 2019 for his reputation as a taskmaster who set several infrastructure projects rolling in Nagpur as well as the country, he said.

His ability to talk straight has given him a reputation as the only challenger to Modi, Deshpande claimed.

”Factors like Pulwama which helped BJP in 2019 are missing. Its induction of allegedly tainted leaders has seen BJP getting attacked with washing machine jibes. The opposition, unlike last time, is united. The reputation of Rahul Gandhi as a serious politician has improved after his Bharat Jodo and Nyay Yatras,” Deshpande said.

Moreover, unemployment and inflation are talking points, he said, adding the deciding factor in Nagpur will be Gadkari’s work and his larger-than-life image among voters.

Some 12 lakh voters in Nagpur belong to the Dalit, Kunbi, Halba and Muslim communities and these could upset caste equations in Gadkari’s pursuit for a third straight win, he claimed.

Patole got 4.5 lakh votes in 2019 despite being from outside Nagpur, whereas the Congress’ 2024 candidate Vikas Thakre is a local leader, which too will play a role, Deshpande said.

Former MP and senior Congress leader Vilas Muttemwar punched holes in the BJP’s claims that it had brought about all round development in Nagpur.

The BJP’s development works are not those that bring relief to people, he said, adding that it had not brought down prices of gas and fuel even when international rates of these items were low.

He said Comptroller and Auditor General reports cited cost overruns in Dwarka Expressway project, which is being helmed by Gadkari’s ministry of road transport and highways.

Muttemwar also said Gadkari’s reported statement that he will not come to seek votes but would still win by a margin of over five lakh would also be factors in the Lok Sabha polls in the city.

”Nagpur is a Congress bastion. The Bharatiya Janata Party won in 2014 and 2019 due to false promises and fake allegations against the UPA government under Dr Manmohan Singh. People are fully aware now. The wave is against the BJP as people are distressed,” he claimed.

Vikas Thakre will win against Gadkari by more than one lakh votes, he asserted.

He was countered by MLC Pravin Datke, former BJP city chief and cluster in charge of four Lok Sabha seats, who said Gadkari’s victory margin would increase.

The voting percentage will increase by 5 per cent, Gadkari will get 62-64 per cent of votes polled, up from 59 per cent in 2019, and he will win with a margin of 5 lakh votes, Datke claimed.

”Nagpur is among the most developed cities under the leadership of Gadkari and (Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and local MLA) Devendra Fadnavis. Everyone, irrespective of caste and religion, loves Gadkari. He has made Nagpur famous with his development works,” Datke said.

Moreover, Gadkari has immense ground connect since he meets some 5000 people in his constituency every 15 days, all of which will ensure a handsome victory, he added.

Meanwhile, CPI Nagpur district joint secretary Dr Yugal Rayalu said inflation, unemployment and use of probe agencies to attack the opposition, resulting in the arrests of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, will harm the BJP.

The CPI is supporting Congress’ Vikas Thakre, he added.

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