The No Strings Attached candidates

Independent candidates contesting elections for some of the more prestigious constituency seats, have just one promise to offer: we will work for our people.

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- Parijat Joshi

Although they do not make it to the newspaper headlines like their politically established counterparts do, the independent candidates contesting elections for some of the more prestigious constituency seats, have just one promise to offer: we will work for our people.

However, when the elections are being fought and won on agendas, that hardly matter to the day-to-day lives of the people, the possibility of these candidates fighting against the big fish, without any prominent political backing is as shrink as it could get. Nevertheless, they risk their life’s savings and their hard-earned prestige to fight for the tiniest possibility of winning. As they are set to take on these big shots in the battlefield tomorrow, Indie Journal talks to a few such candidates in Pune to find out what motivates them.

“Over the years, we have received nothing but apathy from those whoever represented us. Whether the MLA is from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Congress, nobody has ever paid attention to us,” said Tausif Abbas Shaikh, an independent candidate from Kasba Peth constituency in Pune.

Resident of Mangalwar Peth, Shaikh is challenging some of the stalwarts of BJP and Congress in the area - Mukta Tilak of BJP, who is also Pune Mayor and Arvind Shinde of Congress.

“I don’t care if I win or lose. I have worked for the people of my area for over a decade, and they encouraged me to contest the elections. No matter the result of the polls, I will continue to work for the people,” Shaikh said, while fully aware of the fact that he might not gain enough votes to win over the majority of the people of the constituency.

“I try to bring about positive changes for my people through the means of discussions and protest, but it’s not always easy. A few years ago, I had to go on a hunger strike for around 10 days just to solve the issue of getting water for the people in my area. Getting involved in the legislative level often helps tackle these issues in a better way,” he added.

Shaikh is being backed by Sambhaji Brigade. “Their support helped me reach out to more people. Apart from that, family and friends helped me a lot to handle time and finances. Now I am only hoping for the best,” Shaikh sighed.

While the political parties are fighting the elections over the issues of nationalism, communal fears and promises of development, it’s the problems as small as water, healthcare, schools and roads that have encouraged the independent candidates to set out on a journey where they will probably not come out as winners. 

As for Shrikant Jagtap, who is contesting elections on his own in Shivajinagar, starting out as a small independent candidate who makes an impact helps more political momentum in the minds of the people.

“Right now, this election, my fight is for my people, the people of Bopodi. Bopodi has a unique location in Pune city. It is almost on the border of Pune Municipal Corporation and Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) borders, so there has always been a neglect of the area and the people here,” Jagtap said.

Originally a party karyakarta for Congress, he has been trying to get a government hospital in the area for the past 22 years.

“Bopodi has a large population that is socio-economically backward. So we need a government hospital for the people here, as taking critical patients on emergency to Sassoon Hospital is difficult. If we take the patients to the government hospital in Cantonment, they do not get us admitted, and ask us to go to Sassoon. I am fighting to get a hospital like Rajiv Gandhi Hospital in Yerwada to be built in or around Bopodi,” Jagtap said.

Pointing out how Bopodi has always been neglected forever in the constituency politics, he added, “The sitting MLA Vijay Kale always paid attention to that other part of Shivajinagar, the main part, or the more developed part. Nobody wants to look after the people of Bopodi. We have hardly had any candidates contesting elections from this area. Corporators don’t pay attention to us. The only way of garnering some attention for my people was to jump into the elections this time,” Jagtap said.

He also said that while he knows that he might not win, he will still be known as the leader for fights and gets things done for his people.

“I know that fighting just for the people of Bopodi will not get me the votes that I need from all over the constituency. But think about it, today if I achieve my targets for Bopodi, don’t you think the people from other areas will notice and look up to me as someone who actually works for the people, and not for a party?” Jagtap said optimistically. 

Kothrud, one of the most prominent constituencies on Pune’s map has become a fight for prestige and identity for the candidates of two main political parties contesting there. BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). However, amidst this so-called ‘battle’, it must not be forgotten that there are around 20 candidates, some independent and some backed by smaller political parties, in the area.

“I am a local candidate, and it’s time that the state politics sees some young and fresh faces as opposed to the same old ones,” said Mahesh Mhaske, an independent candidate who is contesting elections in Kothrud.

With the controversy over BJP roping in Chandrakant Patil (who is from Kolhapur) over the local candidates seems to have calmed down in Kothrud, Mhaske still has faith in the choice of the people of his area.

“I am a local candidate. I have lived and worked in Kothrud for as long as I can remember. I have worked at grassroot level as a ‘karyakarta’ for NCP and Bhim Army, and I know Kothrud as know other candidate from outside will ever know,” he stated as he talked about what encouraged him to take on the big leaders and contest polls.

Diving into the issue most candidates might refrain themselves from say out loud, Mhaske said that it is disheartening when the political parties neglect the karyakartas who have been working on field for several years and give candidacy to some ‘big name’ instead.

“We see that happening everywhere. We have seen that happening in Kothrud as well. If we karyakartas wait for the parties to give us a ticket, we will be lost and neglected forever. I know that people usually vote in the Assembly polls for the ‘Party’ rather than for the ‘Candidates’. But if we don’t challenge this ever, how would we bring about a change? It’s time people get more and better option, and I am positive that someday, they will start seeing us beyond the political parties too,” Mhaske said.