The tepid economy has hit most sectors, from automobile and pharmaceutical industries in the district to its tourist footfall, reports Archis Mohan
This industrial hub, and tourist destination, of the Marathwada region hit international headlines nine years back when Mercedes-Benz handed over keys to 150 of its cars to local businesspersons in a single day. That event -- local entrepreneurs had planned to buy the cars over a morning jog -- generated a never-before buzz about the city and helped attract some investors.
On the last day of campaigning for the assembly polls on Saturday -- and with Diwali less than 10 days away -- the festive spirit local businesses had hoped for is absent from Aurangabad’s bazaars. The widespread economic slowdown has hit most sectors here too, from automobile and pharmaceutical industries to tourism.
If entrepreneurs reminisce about the sale of 150 Mercedes cars in mid-October of 2010 as an example of how the animal spirits drove the city’s economy then, the slowdown is not an election plank for any of the principal political parties in the fray.
Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance workers nod in agreement when asked about the economic slowdown, but take the conversation towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and the scrapping of provisions of Article 370.
“The government has proposed several measures to help the economy,” says Manish Jain, a BJP booth in-charge, who is a businessman himself. He, instead, talks about the efficient delivery of social welfare schemes of the Modi government at the Centre, and the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state, and his role in last-mile delivery of these schemes.
The BJP, however, is the junior partner to the Sena in Aurangabad.
Sena’s workers counter any inconvenient questions on the economy by pointing out that the Fadnavis government has got only five years as against the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party’s 15 years, while Modi has served merely five years at the Centre compared to the Congress’s 60-year rule.
The Sena has gradually built its sway not just in urban but also rural areas in Marathwada, cashing in on the resentment towards the dynastic hold of the Congress-NCP on sugar co-operatives and district co-operative banks. In two of the urban Aurangabad’s three constituencies, the Congress-NCP is largely inconsequential, with the Sena-BJP candidates facing the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has stationed himself in Aurangabad for the past couple of days. He is meeting people in his unique style, where he speaks into a cordless microphone even while campaigning door to door. The effort is to consolidate the AIMIM’s recent successes in urban Aurangabad. The AIMIM currently has 25 corporators in the municipal corporation, and its candidate Imtiaz Jaleel won the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat in 2019 polls. He had won an assembly seat in 2014.
While Jaleel says how the slowdown has hit Bajaj Auto and Wockhardt, both of which have factories in the district, and hundreds of ancillary industries, the state of the economy is not a major election plank for the party. Something that AIMIM leaders point out with some pride is how they have made urban Aurangabad “Congress-mukt”, with not a single Congress candidate in the fray here, an area that was once its stronghold.
The AIMIM’s 2019 success rested also on its alliance with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi. The VBA has not only parted ways with the AIMIM, but is also trying to ensure that Owaisi’s party loses. “Our support base voted for AIMIM candidates, but Owaisi failed to get Muslims to vote for our candidates,” Bhagwan Khillare, district vice-president of the VBA in Aurangabad, says. An argument that has echoes to that of the Sena workers, VBA workers also bring up the dynastic rule of “169 families” of Maharashtra as a reason to weaken the Congress-NCP. “When was the last time you saw them fight for our cause? Did Rahul Gandhi hit the streets on the question of Bhima-Koregaon,” Khillare asks.