What are the odds stacked against a candidate locked in a fight against a veteran who is also talked about as a probable prime ministerial candidate? A lot, one would think. Yet in Nagpur, there is more to it than what meets the eye, with undercurrents of disenchantment reeling under the weight of the city’s ‘developments’.

In what is one of the most closely watched constituencies in Maharashtra, Congress’ Nana Patole, ostensibly an underdog, is locking locked horns with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari from BJP, the party’s and RSS’ poster boy.

“In a democracy, I don’t consider any politician majboot (powerful),” he says, on his chances against someone like Gadkari, as BusinessLine caught up with him during his campaign. Patole is no stranger to fights against celebrated political figures. In 2014, he defeated Praful Patel, former Civil Aviation Minister, from the Bhandara-Gondiya constituency.

“We fight for the public, not for the chair, but Gadkari is fighting for the chair. This is the difference between the both of us. It is on the basis of this that we will fight this election,” he declares.

Gadkari told BusinessLine that he and the party have done “at least four times more work” than what he had promised during the 2014 elections, in Nagpur, citing the Mihan project as an example, which involves developing an international passenger and cargo hub airport, along with a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

The Mahal area in Nagpur, the home turf of both the RSS headquarters and Gadkari’s house, is abuzz with mentions of vikas (development) and BJP when you ask them about the elections. A cohort of retired, old men squatting in front of a shop at a market here all say BJP in unison. “Gadkari did all the vikas. Bas (Period). Because, in all these years, no one developed Nagpur so much,” Mohan Joshi, 60, says with conviction, echoing the voices of many. A few yards away, Harihar, 45, who sells coconuts, says enthusiastically, “You should also vote for BJP.”

Asha, 52, whose fingers work furiously in stringing together garlands in another part of the market, says stonily that Gadkari has done nothing for the people of Nagpur, adding that her shop is going to be removed because of a new complex coming up. Vishnu, 32, who is a hawker in the nearby Badkas Chowk, echoes similar views. Vijay Dhoble, 42, a driver, likes the fact that Patole has stood up for farmers in the past. Though he feels that Gadkari did a good job with the metros, he says it failed to bring about employment, adding that there is no advantage for ordinary people. All three of them say they are voting for Congress.

Anand Mangnale, an independent media professional and co-founder of Our Democracy, conducted an independent survey of over 2,000 people in Nagpur, which found that 80-85 per cent of the respondents aren’t content with Gadkari’s work in the city. Among other things, their discontentment is directed at the cement roads, the metro and the lack of jobs despite talks of vikas and development, he says.

Jammu Anand, a trade union leader, says that the city’s trade union leaders are appealing to the unorganised and informal sector workers in Nagpur to vote against BJP. “Gadkari has been established as an icon of developmental politics. One has to question the model of Gadkari. Gadkari’s total design of development is rampant privatisation and major projects which are economically not viable and non-sustainable,” he says. “Today, the entire city has been handed over to companies and contractors,” he laments. In Nagpur, the fight is for labour laws, re-municipalisation of various public services and against privatisation, he says.

While both Gadkari and Patole talk about Mihan, with the former talking about its virtues and the latter about how it should have been developed properly, the people of Shivangaon, an obscure little village tucked away in the outskirts of the city, have a different story to say.

In their litany of woes, they talk about how their lands and houses have been taken away from them in the name of Mihan without proper compensation. “Tell them to have mercy on us and provide us with homes,” a woman says. Another decries the lack of jobs.

However, political loyalties aren’t sacrosanct here. Most people have no faith in BJP or Congress, and their ire isn’t directed at either of the parties. They say they will vote for the party that will give them their houses and lands back.

Nalini, one of them, says after a while, that she will vote for BJP. “BJP has power which Congress doesn’t have,” she notes.

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