PUNE: With main rivals Congress and the BJP changing their 2014 candidates in Pune, a keen tussle is on the cards in the Lok Sabha constituency where local issues are dominating the campaign discourse.
Once a Congress stronghold, this seat in western Maharashtra got a saffron touch in 2014 when BJP's Anil Shirole, riding on the 'Modi wave', routed Congress opponent Vishwajeet Kadam by a margin of over three lakh votes.
But, five years later, the urban constituency is set for a different contest as Shirole has been replaced by BJP veteran and state minister Girish Bapat, while the Congress, too, has changed its candidate and fielded Mohan Joshi.
Bapat, 68, is a five-term MLA from Kasba Peth, one of the six constituencies that make up the Pune Lok Sabha seat.
After victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP went on to win all the six Assembly seats (Kasba Peth, Shivajinagar, Kothrud, Pune Cantonment, Parvati and Wadgaon Sheri) in the state elections held later that year.
The saffron sweep in the Assembly polls came as a rude jolt to the Congress and NCP.
In 2017, the BJP again decimated the NCP-Congress in the Pune Municipal Corporation polls.
Three poll victories in as many years made the party's slogan of 'shat-pratishat Bhajapa' (cent per cent BJP) a reality in the city, the cultural capital of Maharashtra.
Despite a change in the candidate, the BJP is confident of retaining the Pune Lok Sabha seat with a bigger winning margin.
BJP leaders say their confidence stems from the development work done under the party's watch in the city, once a pensioner's paradise which has now become a bustling IT and education hub.
They cite projects like the Metro rail, Smart City and approval of a new airport at Purandar, among others, to claim that voters will back the party, which is heading the ruling coalitions at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
"We are taking all initiatives (to voters) that were undertaken by the central and state governments, the Pune Municipal Corporation and the work done by me as a minister," Bapat told PTI.
"In the last five years, I have been among the people of Pune and ensured that all developmental works in the city are executed smoothly," he said.
Bapat said there has been considerable progress in the Metro rail project and other fronts like providing round-the-clock water to residents, work on the ring road, new airport and expansion of the existing one at Lohegaon in Pune.
"We are sure people of Pune will rally behind me in this election," he said, expressing confidence that the party will win by even a bigger margin than last time.
Since 1980, the BJP won from Pune only three times, 1991 (Anna Joshi), 1999 (Pradeep Rawat) and 2014 (Shirole).
However, the opposition Congress has said the BJP's entire campaign of development in Pune is based on "lies".
Congress leader Mohan Joshi, who is contesting from the seat, said despite having its own MP, six MLAs and power in the civic body, the BJP failed to address the fundamental issues plaguing the city.
"Their entire campaign is based on lies and false propaganda and I am sure the people of Pune have realised this and they will not fall prey to them," Joshi said.
The Pune Lok Sabha seat was in the past represented by Congress stalwarts like V N Gadgil and socialist leader Mohan Dharia.
Another Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi won from Pune three times and also served as a Union minister.
However, after Kalmadi's suspension over corruption charges, the party became weak in the city.
Nevertheless, the Rahul Gandhi-led party is confident of putting up an improved show this time around.
The constituency, a mix of cosmopolitan and local population, has over 20 lakh voters.
The issues currently dominating the discourse are transport and waste management.
Jayesh Kasat, a chemist from Narayan Peth area, said looking at the development works undertaken by the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves another chance.
"Even though issues of traffic and waste management are yet to be addressed, I am sure that given another chance, the BJP will work towards the development of the city and the Metro rail project will be completed soon," he said.
Ajit Shete, an IT engineer, however, said even though projects such as Metro and Smart City have started, woes of the common people are yet to end.
"They are talking about the Metro rail project, but they have failed to improve PMPML service (civic bus).
Daily commuters find it difficult to drive on the roads and they (the civic administration) have also failed to address the raging issue of garbage disposal," Shete said.
Pune will vote on April 23 in the third phase of polling in the state.