"Indira Gandhi, AB Vajpayee Lost Polls, So Can Nitin Gadkari," Says His Congress Rival In Nagpur

"Only time will tell whether I have put my hand in the lion's den or whether the lion will strike," Mr Thakre, who represents Nagpur (West) seat in the state assembly, told Press Trust of India in an interview.

'Indira Gandhi, AB Vajpayee Lost Polls, So Can Nitin Gadkari,' Says His Congress Rival In Nagpur

Indira Gandhi, AB Vajpayee lost polls, so can Nitin Gadkari, said his challenger Vikas Thakre

Nagpur, Maharashtra:

Pitted against Union minister Nitin Gadkari, former Nagpur mayor and Congress candidate Vikas Thakre is banking on his strong local connect with the voters and on the past precedents of political heavyweights biting the dust in polls.

The 57-year-old leader, who began his political innings as a corporator from the region that is home to the RSS headquarters, is brimming with confidence as opposition parties have closed ranks against the BJP, and suggests that his rival Nitin Gadkari has only catered to development projects benefiting the well-off sections of the society.

"Only time will tell whether I have put my hand in the lion's den or whether the lion will strike," Mr Thakre, who represents Nagpur (West) seat in the state assembly, told Press Trust of India in an interview.

He also dismissed the portrayal of Mr Gadkari, who is winning accolades for a turn-around in the country's highway infrastructure, as a powerful candidate and pointed out that even leaders such as Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have tasted electoral defeats.

"In a democracy, the voters are all powerful and not any particular candidate. They decide who succeeds and who bites the dust. There have been instances where stalwarts such as - Indira ji, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji have lost the elections," Mr Thakre said to a question on overcoming the challenge posed by Mr Gadkari, who is seeking a third term in office.

As Nitin Gadkari flaunts the metro rail, flyovers, and other infrastructure projects in Nagpur, the winter capital of Maharashtra, Mr Thakre points to the lack of basic necessities such as water and electricity in the several parts of the city.

"Will you sit in your house and stare at the glitzy metro rail when your taps run dry," Mr Thakre shot back when asked about Nitin Gadkari's claims on development in the city. He said the lower and middle class localities in the city receive water supply for only one hour a day and the threat of disconnection of power supply was also a reality.

He also asserted that the voters were fed up with BJP's politics of divide and rule in Maharashtra.

"If a government falls due to its own mistakes it is fine. But how fair is it to topple a government using force by splitting Shiv Sena and then creating divisions in NCP and starting fights within the family," Mr Thakre said, in a reference to Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule taking on her sister-in-law Sunetra Pawar from Baramati Lok Sabha seat.

"The people of this country are not fools. You may say Sharad Pawar is growing old, but they triggered a fight in his own home. I don't think the voters like this approach," the Congress leader said.

Mr Thakre countered Mr Gadkari's boast that he would win by a five-lakh-vote margin in the Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency, saying his party has a committed voter base in the city that had ensured the victory of a Congress candidate on 13 occasions.

"How did the Congress win every election since the last Lok Sabha polls? If people didn't like their work so much then we should have lost our deposits," he said referring to the victory of the Congress candidates from two assembly seats in the city and narrow win of the BJP in two others.

Mr Thakre said the needs of the lower class and the middle class were also important. "I understand their difficulties, and the issues they have to struggle with. I work day and night to address these very issues. This is the reason the people are with me," he claimed.

"Everyone has the right to claim that they will win by a big margin. Why only five lakh votes, let him claim a 25 lakh margin. But, the truth will be known after the results are declared," Mr Thakre said.

The Congress leader said he was confident about the Lok Sabha elections as the opposition parties are united against the BJP.

"The entire Congress is united in my support. The INDIA bloc - Shiv Sena, NCP-SCP, Samajwadi Party - are with me. The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) of Prakash Ambedkar has declared its support. AIMIM has not fielded a candidate here. So, this time there will be no division of votes," he said.

"If you look at the history of the Lok Sabha elections, Congress has lost when there is a division in votes. This time round, there will be no division of votes as everyone is aware that this is a fight to save democracy," he said.

Mr Gadkari had bagged 56 per cent of the total votes polled in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with Congress candidate Nana Patole finishing a distant second with 37 per cent votes. The BSP and VBA had polled 31,725 and 26,128 votes respectively.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)