PUNE: Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, who is fighting his maiden Assembly election, is up against a united opposition from Pune's Kothrud seat, and it will be interesting to see how he takes up the challenge.
The state minister, who is considered no.2 in the Devendra Fadnavis Cabinet, is also facing the tag of being an "outsider", since he hails from Kolhapur.
He is pitted against Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) candidate Kishor Shinde, who also has the backing of the opposition Congress and NCP.
Patil's candidature from Kothrud, a BJP stronghold as considered as one of most upmarket residential and commercial areas in the city, earlier saw dissensions in the party ranks with some calling him an "outsider".
Some Brahmin outfits also claimed that denial of ticket to sitting MLA Medha Kulkarni was a slight to the community.
However, the 60-year-old Maratha MLC dismissed such concerns, claiming his meetings with various sections of people in the constituency indicate that the wind is blowing in his favour.
"I am not an outsider for Pune, and for Kothrud. I've been associated with Pune as a guardian minister and have been active in the city since my days in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (BJP's student's wing). The people of the constituency will not consider me an outsider," Patil said.
But, with the city-based Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasangh speaking in different voices over support to Patil in Kothrud, which has a sizable population of the community, there have been speculations that a possible Maratha-Brahmin rift may queer Patil's poll pitch.
Patil, however, has dismissed all such rumours, claiming he is getting wholehearted support from BJP workers as well as citizens during all his meetings with them.
The BJP has also been highlighting its developmental projects taken up in the area, including Metro rail and construction of some flyovers to ease the traffic snarls being faced by locals.
On the other hand, MNS candidate Kishor Shinde, who has the backing of the Congress and NCP, is equally confident of a win, saying he would emerge as a "giant killer".
Claiming that he would send Patil packing to hometown Kolhapur, Shinde said the state BJP chief's candidature from Kothrud is injustice to sitting MLA Kulkarni and BJP leaders like Murlidhar Mohol, who nurtured the seat for five years.
The "outsider" tag would prove heavy for Patil to bear, he said.
"There is a common sentiment among people in Kothrud that their MLA should be someone from amidst them," he said.
Shinde also said that the developmental works, as claimed by the BJP, like setting up of flyovers and Metro rail in the area, were nowhere near completion.
However, brushing aside any impact of the united opposition to thwart Patil's poll bid, Maharashtra BJP vice president Yogesh Gogawale said his party would have a "thumping victory" in the seat.
"The Congress and NCP giving support to the MNS looks good on paper but on the ground, their workers are not energetic and will not get the support of the public," said Gogawale, who was earlier BJP's Pune city chief.
Kothrud senior citizens' forum president and local BJP worker Sriram Bedkihal said Medha Kulkarni did a good job in her five-year tenure as MLA, but now Patil's candidature meant he would win comfortably.
Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said the fight between the BJP and the 'Congress-NCP-MNS combine' would be interesting as there would be no division of anti-ruling party votes, "but looking at the present scenario, Patil will win the seat".
The Kothrud suburb, considered as a preferred second home destination for many living in the heart of the city, has nearly four lakh voters.
In the 2014 state polls, BJP's Medha Kulkarni defeated Shiv Sena's Chandrakant Mokate by over 64,000 votes, while Kishore Shinde stood on the fourth position.
The state polls will be held in a single phase on October 21 and counting of votes will take place on October 24.