Insiders vs outsider

Dissidents might prove to be state BJP president Chandrakant Patil's nemeses

24-Chandrakant-Patil The pacifier: Chandrakant Patil during his campaign | Amey Mansabdar

Doorcha nako, gharcha pahije. Aamcha aamdar Kothrudcha pahije [Not an outsider, but from home. Our MLA should be from Kothrud],” say banners that have sprung up in Kothrud in Pune. The constituency has a sizeable number of BJP supporters, and many of them felt disappointed when incumbent MLA Medha Kulkarni was sidelined and state BJP president Chandrakant Patil was fielded.

This election is about karyakarta vs big neta. The karyakartas worked hard for five years, and now a neta is coming here to reap the rewards. - Kishore Shinde, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena candidate

Patil, who is close to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, has emerged as the most powerful minister in the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet. He has never contested an assembly or parliamentary election. So, when the BJP decided to field him this time, several seats were considered, including Kolhapur, his hometown.

The party eventually picked Kothrud, which is dominated by middle- and upper-class Marathi voters. Of nearly four lakh voters, around 1.5 lakh are Brahmins, who have traditionally supported saffron parties. Kulkarni won in 2014; Chandrakant Mokate of the Shiv Sena won in 2009.

Kothrud is, in a way, a safe seat for Patil. But many people are unhappy that Kulkarni was ignored. “She has always been there to help us,” said Ganga Sherkhane, who runs a shoe repair stall in Kothrud. “Chandrakant dada is a newcomer and doesn’t have her reach.”

To cash in on the sentiment, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party are backing Kishore Shinde of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Shinde had stood fourth in 2014, but he remains confident. “This election is about karyakarta vs big neta,” Shinde told THE WEEK. “The karyakartas (workers) worked hard for five years, and now a neta is coming here to reap the rewards. The karyakartas are demoralised.”

Shinde said his grasp of issues and the support of the Congress and the NCP will help him win. “In 2009, I finished second and lost by just 3,500 votes. So the MNS, too, has a strong base here,” said Shinde.

Once a quiet neighbourhood, Kothrud has grown to become a sought-after residential area outside Pune. The ongoing metro rail project has added to the traffic woes, even as garbage and water-related problems are on the rise. There is great expectation that elected representatives will solve the issues.

“An MLA is a representative who understands all the problems,” Shinde said. “This year, many places were waterlogged. [The government’s] planning has totally failed—their water management has failed, waste management has failed and, therefore, Chandrakant Patil is also going to fail.”

Patil does not consider himself as an outsider, as he has been the guardian minister of Pune for the past few months. He also represents the Pune Division Graduates in the legislative council, and says he has been active in Kothrud since his days in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student wing.

A Brahmin organisation had protested when Patil was chosen instead of Kulkarni. But, since then, Patil seems to have been able to pacify dissenters and rally forces. Kulkarni, too, has been campaigning with Patil, and she recently tweeted: “Responding to my call, 17 Brahmin institutions in Pune are now supporting Chandrakant Patil.”