‘Sacrifice Nitin Gadkari To Stop Modi’: Why Nagpur’s Favourite Politician is Fighting a Tough Battle on Home Turf
The prevalent Anti-Modi sentiment sheds new light on why Gadkari has made several remarks seen to be targeting Modi in the recent past.
“You ask anyone in Nagpur and they will say that they are not unhappy with Gadkari. The rate of unemployment hit a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent (NSSO data). We are disappointed with the Union government. I am a Civil Engineer and there aren’t jobs for people like me in Nagpur. The job scenario is really bad across the country,” says Shantanu Raj Deshmukh, a first-time voter.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari won the 2014 election against Congress Party’s sitting MP at the time, Vilas Muttemwar, by a margin of 284,828 votes in the Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency. He is fighting a tough battle this election season as people are unhappy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union government. However, the voters point out that the minister has tried to bring “development” in the city.
For some Nagpur residents, unemployment is the biggest worry, others underline that infrastructure woes, GST, demonetisation and Modi’s focus on jaat ki rajneeti (politics of religion, caste) have immensely harmed the economy and the country. They believe that the Modi government has created a mess and has failed to fulfil its promises. Many Nagpur voters have made up their mind to not vote for Gadkari because they don’t want to give Modi another chance. Additionally, Congress candidate Nana Patole’s clean image is also making the fight more difficult for the Union Minister. A former BJP MP, Patole had voiced his opinion against Modi even when he was with the saffron party.
Where Are The Jobs?
“Jobs are a major factor here. Irrespective of caste, youth are disappointed because they don’t have jobs,” senior Congress leader Nanda Parate told NewsCentral24x7.
No major development has taken place with respect to the MIHAN (Multi-modal International Hub Airport of Nagpur) project in the last five years even after land was allocated to several companies like Patanjali, Tech Mahindra and Infosys. People were hopeful that employment opportunities would open up if the project was successful.
BJP leaders including Gadkari and CM Devendra Fadnavis claim to have provided 25,000 jobs through MIHAN which, according to the locals, is a “laughable assertion”. There are around 50 engineering colleges in the city and the students who graduate from these have to migrate to Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, among other places looking for jobs.
“There are only haunted houses in MIHAN now. The companies aren’t functional there. Nagpur has two-three IT companies like Infocepts where engineering students can work. No other options exist for us. Nothing has been done to generate employment opportunities,” Ameya Thosar, who will vote for the first time, says.
BJP Nagpur North MLA Milind Mane calls MIHAN a “work in progress”. “When more companies including Baba Ramdev’s unit are fully-functional in MIHAN, more jobs will be generated. There are already a few factories, but they aren’t fully-functional yet. The work is taking place, things take time to happen. The Nagpur Metro, once fully functional, will also open up employment opportunities,” he says.
Job seekers point out that the recruitment process in Nagpur Metro is not very transparent. “They (Nagpur Metro) conduct exams for namesake. Only people with political and other high-level contacts are recruited. So, this option is also not really open for us,” an engineering graduate Himanshu Kondewar says.
First-time voter Thosar highlights that the Modi government has not put enough efforts to develop the manufacturing sector which would have generated jobs.
There are reportedly around 4.8 lakh scheduled caste voters, which include 3.6 lakh Neo–Buddhists or Mahars. Employment issues are the main concerns for the educated young individuals of the SC community. Aditya Wankhede says, “I am 25 years old. If I don’t get employed now, when will I work? There are no jobs. Earlier, at least there were more opportunities. Even for government jobs advertisements came out regularly. During the last election, we voted for kamal (Lotus – the BJP symbol). But, this time we will go with the Congress.” Wankhede wants to be a police official.
GST, Demonetisation Hurt Businesses
The real estate market in Nagpur was severely affected due to demonetisation. Moreover, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 was also a major blow for the industry. “Our sales are down. We don’t have investors and buyers. All the businesses are hit very hard. This is not just here, even in Gurgaon and Noida real estate industry is crippling. GST was another big flop. We are all asking the same question: ‘What did the government do?’ Our hands are tied. Rahul Gandhi is not mature yet. Businessmen are fed up. Businesses are not running and banks are at a loss due to this factor,” Shashank Pande, owner of Prayag Developers, says.
“Nitin Gadkari built cement roads and the metro. But, people are feeling burdened. If you talk about the business community, 90 per cent will vote for Congress. Last time, we had voted for the BJP because they made big promises and there was a wave. Today people don’t have food to eat, what will they do with the metro,” Sanjay Gupta, owner of the popular Sujal Saoji restaurant says.
“If you talk about the metro, it was initiated by the Congress. The BJP didn’t start any new project. They have only made sure that we earn less. Only 10-15 businessmen benefited in this country,” he adds
The Halba community, which is now chiefly engaged in in businesses of making masala, papad and sonpapdi have also been hurt by the GST. “Our businesses fall under 18 per cent GST bracket. We are not making any profit,” Meeta Devghare, whose family is in the papad-making business, says.
Sagiruddin who has a wholesale battery business quips, “Modi killed all the businesses since he came to power. I bought Rs 10 lakh worth battery material. Now, I’m struggling to sell even Rs 40,000 worth stuff.”
Issues of SC, ST communities
The Halba community, classified as a Scheduled Tribe, has a sizeable population in the Nagpur constituency. Decades ago, many Halba community members started using Koshti in their names, Koshti being a Special Backward Class (SBC) group traditionally engaged in bunkari (weaving).
However, the descendants of the Halba-Koshtis, who identify themselves as Halbas, are now denied ST status. In the last few year, many Halbas who had availed reservation in government jobs were sacked as they could not produce ST certificates.
Before 2014 elections, Gadkari had promised them that he will raise the issue in Parliament and solve it.
“The Congress party has never misguided us. They have tried to help us. The people of Halba community, who are in the government jobs, are asked to give verification certificates now. Those who availed the ST benefits are getting termination notices in case they don’t produce the certificates. Our basic question is —does the BJP government want to finish the Halba community?” Halba Kranti Sena vice-president Kamlesh Bhagatkar says.
“I was on a fast last year. Gadkariji even told me that in the last session of the Parliament, the issue will be resolved. Now, we got a clear message that the BJP is not with the Halbas. 95 per cent of the Halbas are going to vote against the BJP,” he adds. A major section of the community falls under the BPL category. They have also been hit hard by the looming unemployment crisis.
The SC community members —Kunbis, Telis, Jadhavs — point out that they don’t even get water regularly in their colonies despite the fact that Nagpur is “Union Minister and Chief Minister’s (Devendra Fadnavis’) city”. The slums are not redeveloped while the metro has been introduced, which they suggest wasn’t required.
“Everything has become expensive. The BJP had spoken about 24×7 water supply. The tanker lobby is very active here. The BJP is in the local municipality also, they are not doing anything to solve the water problems,” Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Mahendra Bhange says.
Similarly, Nagpur resident Hemant Lanjewar argues, “It is true that Gadkari has worked, funds have been rather over-utilised. But, instead of focusing on the metro and wasting funds there, he should have used it more productively. They should have focused on building infrastructure and solving the water and electricity problems. The BJP could have even given this huge amount to farmers.”
Local BJP leaders defend the move of introducing metros as “urban planning”.
“First, they should make parking spaces available in the city. The metro just covers roughly 10 kilometres. It is of no use right now,” Lanjewar adds.
Will “Outsider” Patole Stop Gadkari?
Nagpur resident Suresh Abhichandani says he doesn’t know Patole well enough to vote for him. “When we have a local, why will we opt for an outsider?” he asks.
People also suggest that Patole, being from another district, won’t be able to hamper Gadkari’s prospects. Congress leader Parate, however, points out that just like Modi contested from Varanasi and Hema Malini has again been fielded from Mathura, a majority of the voters in Nagpur don’t have an issue with Patole being from Bhandara-Gondiya.
“He is a big leader in Maharashtra. He stood up for the farmers even against the ruling BJP and Modi when he was in the party. Most people are aware that he is here to work and won’t vanish,” Parate says. Local BJP leaders suggest that Patole has become popular for raising farmer-related issues, but Nagpur is an urban constituency and hence, his past work won’t have any impact on voters.
“He takes people along and works for the poor and downtrodden. The local residents have seen his simplicity during the campaign. Unlike Gadkari, he doesn’t move in jets and will be easily accessible to people,” Riyaz Khan, who recently joined the Congress after leaving the RSS Muslim Wing, argues.
Patole belongs to the Kunbi community. Out of the total number of voters, the Nagpur constituency reportedly has 40 per cent Dalits, Muslims and Kunbis. The local BJP leaders are worried that this will work positively for the Congress party.
While the BJP has failed to fulfil many poll promises even after five years, the Congress party has waived off farm loans within weeks after coming to power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Several voters feel that the grand old party is good at keeping promises, unlike the BJP.
Both the contenders — Gadkari and Patole — have different issues working against and in favour of them. The RSS and local BJP members are actively campaigning for Gadkari. The Congress contender has attempted to reach out to as many voters as possible. A majority of Kunbis, Halbas, Dalits and Muslims — which forms the major chunk of voters — are tilting towards the Congress party in the constituency.
Gadkari to pay for Modi’s sins?
Local BJP leader Mangesh Vijre agreed that the anger against Modi might impact Gadkari’s vote share, however, he adds that the minister will emerge as a winner. “It is a possibility. People are not happy due to certain issues and they might not vote for Gadkari. However, some might also vote for him because media reports suggested that he might become the prime minister if the BJP doesn’t get a clear majority.” When informed that the local Nagpur people might not really be aware of the prospects, Vijre says, “This is probably because they don’t read newspapers or watch TV. It was highlighted by several media channels and papers. This factor should work in Gadkari’s favour here.”
BJP MLA Mane says, “Narendra Modi is our leader. But, Nitin Gadkari is like a part of our family. Usually, a family member is more respected. The outsider is always kept at No. 2. If Modi were from Nagpur, people would have adored him in this manner. Gadkari is simple and straightforward. He is not trying to maintain any distance. This is a media-created hype that they are competitors. When we meet him at a personal level, he mentions that he has regards for Modi.”
Nitin Gadkari has mostly Modi and his policies to blame for the challenges he is facing in his constituency. Perhaps this is the reason why he has made statements critical of Modi and Amit Shah in the recent past. He realises that the anti-Modi sentiment is working against him in his home turf and is attempting to distance himself from the prime minister to change that perception.
Against BJP’s hate politics
“This country is built with the blood and sweat of people who practice different religions and speak different languages. The media doesn’t show the correct picture. Like us, others in the country are also disgusted with Modi because he is trying to divide people,” says Mohammed Issar, who owns a bakery in the Muslim-dominated Mominpura area. He added, “Gadkariji is different. He is a good person, unlike Modi.”
As per estimates, out of 22 lakh voters in Nagpur, around 2.87 lakh are Muslim. They had rallied behind Gadkari in the previous election but this time they indicate that they will support the Congress party. Neither Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) candidate Sagar Dabrase nor Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate and local corporator Mohd Jamal are likely to get any major vote share, though Mayawati had addressed a rally in the city on April 5. In 2014, BSP candidate Mohan Ramrao Gaikwad had polled 96,433 votes.
‘Sacrifice Gadkari to stop Modi’
When asked if Gadkari has worked for Muslims, they reply in the negative. “There was a plan to build a mall in Mominpura. But, no work has taken place in the last five years even after the Congress party had initiated the project,” a tea-seller, Mohammed Khaleel, says.
Maqbool, who owns a stationery shop, adds, “I had voted for BJP last time. Gadkariji came and gave a speech right in front of my shop before the previous elections. There isn’t even a single public toilet in the entire Mominpura even though we have repeatedly requested for one.”
They are, however, quick to add, “Gadkiriji ek number ka aadmi hai. Lekin party galat hai, log galat hai (Gadkari is a very good person but, his party and the people in the party aren’t good). We will work for him even if he calls us in the middle of the night. Although there hasn’t been any change in our area, a lot of work has taken place in Nagpur.”
“We will have to sacrifice Gadkari to stop Modi. We have to stop him,” says Rafat Alam, who works as a driver.