2019 Lok Sabha polls: In Nagpur, Nitin Gadkari takes on colleague-turned-rival Patole
Ahead of the polls in this Vidarbha constituency on April 11, observers feel that sitting MP Nitin Gadkari has a slight edge over his former party colleague Nana Patole who is contesting for the Congress. The contest is considered to be one of the big election fights in Maharashtra.
Patole – a former MP and MLA from the neighbouring Bhandara district– has been trying to brush aside his “outsider” tag. He also doesn’t wish to talk about the internecine schisms and factionalism in the Congress as he was pitted – as per his wish – against Gadkari.
Gadkari had already left his imprint in the national political picture when he contested his maiden Lok Sabha election in 2014. But a lot has changed in the past five years and Gadkari has gained widespread recognition with the performance of the ministry he headed — the ministry of surface transport and shipping. He was seen as one of the better performers in PM Modi’s cabinet. His supporters are using this reputation to make an appeal, calling him the “the pride of Nagpur”. The Congress which used to dominate this constituency, which also houses the RSS headquarters, is trying to keep the narrative to the basic issues of jobs and agrarian crises among others.
This time, the election battle in Nagpur has assumed casteist overtones. Patole, a powerful leader from the Kunbi community, is banking heavily on Dalit, Muslim and Kunbi voters in his fight against Gadkari, a Bramhin, which is relatively a micro-minority in his constituency.
Patole supporters claim Kunbi voters, who along with Dalits and Muslims, are traditionally inclined towards the Congress.
Patole apparently had made up his mind to contest from Nagpur and perhaps anticipated taking on Gadkari despite knowing that he would not be able to do so on a BJP ticket. He had been preparing the ground for over the past two years, organised several rallies and meetings with the OBC community. Patole, who, as a BJP MP from Bhandara-Gondia constituency, presented himself as the face of the community and would even take on Modi, demanding a separate ministry for OBC welfare. He resigned from the LS membership and the BJP after accusing Modi and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for their failure to solve farmers’ problems and other issues.
The Congress candidate had earned the tag of ‘giant killer’ in 2014 when he defeated NCP stalwart Praful Patel and Congress supporters claim that he will retain that tag as he takes on Gadkari in Nagpur. The Congress agreed and preferred him over its seven-time Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar (who won the seat for four consecutive terms from 1998 to 2014).
“With no ‘Modi wave’ like last time, we are confident that our traditional voters— Dalits, Muslims and Kunbis— would back us,” said state Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe.
The RSS, which is headquartered at Nagpur, put up a huge show of strength as Gadkari went to the collectorate to file his nomination papers earlier last week. “My victory margin in this election would be not less than five lakhs as my development works are visible in the city,” a confident Gadkari claimed.
Meanwhile , Patole pointed out that infrastructure development (considered Gadkari’s strength) is not the only development. “Gadkari being a senior cabinet minister did nothing for the unemployed youth. I will bring a white-paper on Gadkari’s misdeeds and false promises, soon,” Patole said.
With the contest with Patole being described as a “neck-and-neck” race, it’s more than that for Gadkari – whose prestige is at stake in the city that saw him climb up the ranks of the saffron outfit and national political stage. Gadkari is also banking on the support from some Congress and NCP workers, part of the anti-Ashok Chavan faction in the city.