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'We Will Be Voting For Gadkari, Not BJP'

By Aditi Phadnis
April 17, 2024 11:06 IST
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'We don't believe in the BJP. But the Congress has no main leader who is credible.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Nitin Gadkari releases a manifesto for Nagpur, April 16, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

At this time of year, the temperature in Chandrapur should be 40°C. Instead, darkness falls at noon.

Unseasonal rain in Vidarbha has wiped out crops in nearly 38,000 hectares in this arid region of Maharashtra, which goes to the polls on April 19 and 26.

"It is either too much rain or not enough rain," sighs Vijay Gode, a 24-year-old local who travelled to the town to listen to Narendra Modi on April 8. Days later, hail carpeted several areas of Vidarbha.

Nagpur, the biggest city in Vidarbha, saw its coolest day in April in 55 years on April 11 because of almost incessant rain.

That's the way with Vidarbha. It doesn't do anything by halves.

Brutal contrasts are manifest everywhere.

Nagpur is among the 15 fastest-growing cities in the world. It has a super-efficient metro that has come up in less than 10 years.

Stamp duty collections in the financial year ended March 2024 grew 40 per cent over the previous year, suggesting real estate transactions amounting to Rs 21,000 crore (Rs 210 billion) in one year.

The Multi-Modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur -- Special Economic Zone has seen HCLTech and Infosys launch information technology centres, and of the Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 40 billion) exports from here in 2023-2024, 50 per cent was contributed by the IT sector.

Yet, less than 100 kilometres from there, lies Amravati. In July last year, the government admitted in the Maharashtra assembly that between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2022, around 4,000 farmers had committed suicide in the Vidarbha region, 3,452 in Amravati division alone.

However, as the Vidarbha region that sends 10 seats to the Lok Sabha of 48 from Maharashtra prepares to vote, a commitment to end farmer suicides forever is not top of the mind for candidates in the fray.

Neither the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Chandrapur and Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar nor the Congress candidate Pratibha Dhanorkar has flagged the crisis in agriculture in Vidarbha.

Pratibha is the widow of the only Congress member of Parliament from Maharashtra in the outgoing Lok Sabha, Suresh Dhanorkar. Mungantiwar asserts that 'pro-incumbency factors and Modi's popularity will help him seal the election.

IMAGE: Congress candidate Pratibha Dhanorkar campaigns in Madheli in the Warora taluka of Chandrapur. Photograph: PSDhanorkar/X

Next door in Nagpur, the campaign of BJP candidate Nitin Gadkari who is contesting a third term and Vikas Thakre of the Congress is chalk and cheese.

Gadkari's outreach is via roadshows that are massive and raucous but meticulously planned.

Thakre, a former mayor of Nagpur and highly respected in the city, is relying on smaller public meetings.

Thakre's references to his rival are almost incidental: His main target is Modi and the BJP's 'arrogance' and 'pretensions to greatness'.

Sanjay Fanje, secretary in the BJP's Vidarbha region unit, says Gadkari is poised to get a 70 per cent vote share.

"I don't say this idly. Our office has made 12,500 phone calls to constituents. Of them, 8,500 said we don't need to contact them: they would vote for us. There were a few who called us names, said there are no jobs, but said they would vote for us because it was for Gadkari."

"His popularity lies in the fact that he has worked tirelessly and this shows," says Fanje. "It is not just roads. He has built sports facilities, improved temples, and helped thousands of families during the pandemic."

IMAGE: BJP leader Narendra D Modi campaigns for Sudhir Mungantiwar in Chandrapur, April 8, 2024, as Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde looks on. Photograph: ANI Photo

In 2019, the BJP won five seats -- Wardha, Nagpur, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Bhandara-Gondiya and Akola.

The undivided Shiv Sena, which was an alliance partner, bagged three -- Ramtek, Buldana, and Yavatmal-Washim. In terms of assembly segments, of 62, the BJP won 29, the Shiv Sena 4, the Nationalist Congress Party 6, the Congress 15, and others 8.

But the equations in Vidarbha have changed.

Marathi newspaper Loksatta resident editor Devendra Gawande says there is disquiet among Other Backward Classes about Marathas being accorded reservations: The assembly has taken the decision but it faces legal challenges.

If and when it happens, OBCs fear being swamped. In Chandrapur, for instance, Pratibha is tapping into this apprehension among her kinsmen, the Kunbi community.

Besides, Dalit communities which are strong and vocal in this part of Maharashtra, believe that the BJP's victory will mean amendments in the Constitution and a drawdown in affirmative action: A fear Modi emphatically addressed during his public meetings in Maharashtra and Rajasthan when he said: 'The Constitution of the country is everything for the (BJP) government and even if Babasaheb Ambedkar himself comes, he cannot abolish the Constitution.'

Manoj Dhargave belongs to the Scheduled Caste and runs a tiny grocery store in Nagpur's Samta Layout.

"Frankly, we don't believe in the BJP. But the Congress has no main leader who is credible. So we will be voting for Gadkari, not the BJP," he says.

Pran pratishtha flags suggesting allegiance to the Ram temple do not flutter from every rooftop. After the initial rush, it is now easy to get a seat on the Nagpur-Ayodhya Astha Express, suggesting fewer passengers, says Gawande.

And in Vidarbha, if there is a wave for the BJP, it is yet to manifest itself.

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Aditi Phadnis in Chandrapur
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024