The campaign trail of Praful Patel | india | Hindustan Times
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The campaign trail of Praful Patel

It is breakfast time. India’s high-flying Aviation Minister Praful Patel is at home—not in Lutyen’s Delhi but deep in the heart of India—Gondia, a Maharashtra town close to the border of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2009 13:51 IST

It is breakfast time. India’s high-flying Aviation Minister Praful Patel is at home—not in Lutyen’s Delhi but deep in the heart of India—Gondia, a Maharashtra town close to the border of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

But breakfast is not the relaxed ritual that he is usually used to in Delhi. Here it is just a matter of sustenance because once he leaves home in the morning and hits the campaign trail in the widely spread out Gondia-Bhandara Lok Sabha constituency that he is contesting from, there is no telling when he will be back.

But even as he is gobbling down a few morsels, he is busy giving instructions to his trusted aid and legislator Raju Jain for the next day programme. Usually his wife Varshaben plays a perfect host when Praful and any of his friends and colleagues come calling.

But she is nowhere to be seen. She has been up in the wee hours of the morning and is already headed for the far-off northern parts of the constituency on a campaign trail. She has virtually donned mantle of her husband’s local campaign chief and believes in leading from the front.

“My wife has set up her own team and she has been independently campaigning with her team-mates every day. She has already completed one round of electioneering in the huge constituency that has two districts--- Gondia and Bhandara. She usually returns home at midnight and hits the campaign trail again next morning by by 7 when I am still in bed. These days we hardly meet. The only we keep in touch is through mobile,” Patel laughs as he is getting ready on a typical campaign day.

Patel and his wife hit the campaign trail early, as they were aware that the scorching summer is ahead, which makes it necessary to meet people in the villages and towns on the way while the climate is relatively cooler.

With his wife taking care of the remoter areas in the constituency, Patel is focusing on electioneering in Lakhandur area in the immediate neighborhood. This is because it is the home-turf of one of his rivals-- disgruntled Congressman-turned rebel Nana Padole, who has entered the electoral fray, posing Patel a serious threat.

After giving some last minute instructions to the Congress workers waiting in the compound of his bungalow, Patel leaves by car for a brief stopover at Goregaon town on the way. He then switches over to an open jeep there and proceeds to Lakhandur.

A convoy of jeeps and cars carrying his campaign workers and supporters follows him. The convoy later passes through Lakhandur town’s bustling market places, bringing all activity to a standstill. Women and children crowed into the balconies of their homes, many of them blowing conch shells to herald Patel’s grand arrival.

Shopkeepers and customers stop to take a look at the man they often see on television news channels rubbing shoulders with high and mighty. Most in the local crowd have never been near an airport much less boarded an aircraft. But they seem to know that he is a VIP who could represent them in the Lok Sabha.

Occasionally you hear murmurs protests from supporters from the rival Padole camp who mingle with the crowd to gauge public response to Patel’s electioneering in town. “What has Patel done for the people of Bhandara and Gondia?”

Ashok Thakre, a petulant Padole supporter asks this journalist. But you meet others in the crowd who feel Patel could change the twin districts of Gondia-Bhandara for the better if he gets elected from this constituency.

Vikas Lodhi, a young man his late twenties thinks Patel could work the same charm for this relatively backward constituency that he has worked in the aviation sector.

“There have been so many aviation ministers in the past whose names you just cannot recall. And Patel lifted the aviation sector and made it possible for middleclass people to travel by air. We feel proud that this man hails from our region. Patel has the talent and clout to make things happen. People here should elect him if the change they want is to be brought about,” he asserts.

But despite the potential threat posed by Padole, the Congress nominee is wary of the BJP candidate in the fray, Shishupal Patle, who represented the Gondia- Bhandara constituency in the last Lok Sabha. And he was the man who had defeated Patel in the 2004 Lok Sabha battle by a narrow margin of 3,000 votes.

At every stopover, Patel portrays his BJP rival as an abject failure. He then goes to list his own accomplishments in putting the Gondia-Bhandara region on the development map.

He cites an aviation training school near Gondia, a power plant at Tiroda and an international cargo hub project in Nagpur as some of his achievements that he says have been appreciated in India and abroad.

The three main rivals battling it out in the Gondia- Bhandara constituency may however confuse some uninformed voters because their names rhyme oddly with each other. Patel (Congress), Patle (BJP) and Padole (Ind.).

Being aware that the three-corner fight could damage his electoral prospects, Praful is believed to be wooing rebel BJP leader from Chimur, Mahadev Shivankar to throw his hat in the ring so that he could neutralize a significant votebank of the BJP.

Patel seem to think that his own standing in the national politics and his resources would be enough to tackle the threat posed by Padole, who is contesting as an independent after he was expelled from the Congress for rebelling against the party’s decision to nominate Patel.