Of all the constituencies that went to poll today in Maharashtra, the most interesting and piquant one is between Nitin Gadkari of the BJP and his former protègè Nana Patole of the Congress.
Amid reports that it is unlikely to be a cakewalk for Gadkari, the Congress and BJP have traded charges against each other of fixing the media, fixing the meetings against each other, spending beyond specified limits and influencing the voters.
Well, that have mostly been Patole's charges against Gadkari who began the election by blessing his rival but since theñ he has had to face the ignominy of talking to empty chairs at both his meetings and those of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis (Narendra Modi skipped the constituency).
"Do not embarrass Gadkari by fixing his meetings," Patole shot back at Fadnavis. "We know he is losing but you don't have to go to such extremes to humiliate him (by not mobilising people."
The constituency, as cosmopolitan as it could get in India, despite being the headquarters of the RSS, has rarely voted for the BJP and this time the Congress is gung ho about pulling off a formidable caste mobilisation in its favour.
There are large peri-urban and semi rural portions of the constituency where this will matter. Kunbis, a sub-caste of Marathas, nearly 25 per cent of the voters, are troubled by both the reservation and farmers' issues and Patole is a Kunbi who quit the BJP as an MP in 2017 on the inability of the Modi government to address rural distress. He now heads the Kisan Sabha of the Congress.
There are weavers too who are sorely disappointed by the Union government's policies and then, of course, there are substantial number of Dalits (nearly 30 percent) for whom the RSS was never a favourite and voting for an upper caste Brahmin is a strict no-no. Muslims too could make a substantial difference to the fortunes of the two candidates despite the presence of the Prakash Ambedkar led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi which is in alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM.
As against these, Gadkari has his development work to show case. Particularly the building of metro lines as union roads and transport minister. But there is much discontent about these metros- in a city which has the maximum number of two wheelers people are beginning to question why the beautiful, wide roads lined with ample trees were cut down when no one can afford the cost of a metro ticket.
The more wealthy use it for joyrides and despite the completion of a couple of lines, the infrastructure has not generated industries and jobs, including at the infamous factory proposed to be set up by industrialist Anil Ambani to manufacture the Rafale aircraft. Despite Baba Ramdev's better functioning agro enterprise farmers continue to commit suicide and are facing a severe drought this year.
On the flip side Patole is being accused of being a candidate imported from the neighbouring Bhandara-Gondia constituency belonging to the NCP and inability to understand urban concerns.
The advantage Gadkari has is in the perception that in the case of a hung parliament, he could be the compromise candidate for the job of prime minister. That is an issue that weighs with the voters in the city though those with bread and butter issues in the villages might still be left unmoved.