Nagpur LS election: It's ‘Highway Man of India’ Gadkari vs former mayor Thakre | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Nagpur LS election: It's ‘Highway Man of India’ Gadkari vs former mayor Thakre

Apr 11, 2024 09:25 AM IST

Gadkari has always said he doesn’t want to beg for votes. However, that might change during the 2024 general elections; his larger-than-life image is at stake

NAGPUR: His 5’6” frame may not seem so imposing, but make no mistake: he’s a political heavyweight from India’s geographical centre.

Nagpur: Union Minister Nitin Gadkari addresses a public rally ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha election, in Nagpur district, Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI04_10_2024_000291A) (PTI)
Nagpur: Union Minister Nitin Gadkari addresses a public rally ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha election, in Nagpur district, Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI04_10_2024_000291A) (PTI)

Nitin Jairam Gadkari, 66, has become a household name in the last decade with two successive terms as the union minister for road transport and highways. His penchant for reeling out big-money infrastructure projects and improved road connectivity since 2014 has even led to him being referred to as the “Highway Man of India”.

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A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gadkari first made a mark for himself when he became Maharashtra’s public works department (PWD) minister in 1995. His achievements during a four-year stint included the construction of 65 flyovers in Mumbai and India’s first six-lane concrete high-speed expressway connecting the island city with Pune.

A no-nonsense politician who believes in his work rather than appeasement, Gadkari has always said he doesn’t want to beg for votes. However, that might change during the 2024 general elections. With Nagpur set to vote on April 19, Gadkari’s larger-than-life image is at stake, with the orange city set to be the stage for an intriguing political contest.

Gadkari’s opponent is Vikas Thakre, the incumbent Congress MLA from Nagpur West constituency. While not quite matching Gadkari’s stature, the 57-year-old is banking on his deep ties with the people of the city, having served as a corporator, mayor and, now, MLA. He also enjoys the support of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Prakash Ambedkar, who endorsed Thakre’s candidacy despite the dissolution of his party’s alliance with the Maha Vikas Aghadi.

This has compelled Gadkari and his family members, including his wife, son, and daughter-in-law, to actively campaign under the scorching summer sun to secure votes.

That said, Gadkari did defeat prominent Congress leaders in both the 2014 and 2019 elections: former union minister Vilas Muttemwar and current state Congress chief Nana Patole, who was the first leader to dissent against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leave the BJP.

Known for his ability to deliver results, Gadkari is credited with spearheading significant development projects in Nagpur, including the metro and the country’s first multi-product special economic zone, MIHAN. He’s also credited with upgrading the city’s roads and establishing prestigious institutions such as AIIMS, IIT, IIM, and the Maharashtra National Law University.

Gadkari has also been praised for other initiatives such as increasing the blend of ethanol in gasoline, encouraging mixing plastic in asphalt-bitumen roads, launching the Bharat New Car Assessment Program, and mandating safety features such as ABS and six airbags in cars.

During his recent campaign trail, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said Gadkari was Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s “favourite minister” during his tenure as PWD minister in the 1990s. Shinde added that he was confident Gadkari would win by a record margin. Gadkari himself expressed his intent to secure a third consecutive victory with a margin exceeding 500,000 votes.

In response, Congress’ Thakre said that Gadkari’s perceived “overconfidence” could potentially work against him. Apart from leveraging his deep connections with the local community, Thakre is also hoping the Congress’ longstanding presence in the region can challenge the notion of a one-sided contest.

Thakre emphasised that the Congress has a strong voter base in Nagpur, particularly among Dalits and Muslims, which has historically led to victories for party candidates. The grand old party has won the Nagpur seat 13 times in Lok Sabha polls.

The three times the BJP won in Nagpur since independence was only via communal polarisation, Thakre claimed. He believes voters are also disillusioned with the BJP’s divisive politics and framed the 2024 elections as a battle to safeguard democracy against attempts to alter the constitution under the leadership of Modi.

Thakre further argued that Gadkari’s focus on development projects primarily benefits the affluent sections of society. He contrasted it with the lack of basic amenities such as water and electricity in certain parts of Nagpur.

Gadkari, on his part, said he is focusing on his performance over the last five years and his future plans rather than attacking his rivals. “We should tell people how we enacted changes in their lives,” he said, adding that he is not a career politician. “I believe politics is an instrument for socio-economic reforms. So, positions and posts don’t hold charm for me.”


Nitin Jairam Gadkari embarked on his political journey with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP, before moving on to the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP. He later served as the state president of the BJP in Maharashtra on two occasions.

As the cabinet minister of the Public Works Department in the Maharashtra government from 1995 to 1999, Gadkari played a pivotal role in expediting the construction of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Additionally, he assumed the position of the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra legislative council.

In 2009, Nitin Gadkari ascended to the role of BJP national chief, solidifying his presence in the national political landscape. He has been a key figure in the PM Modi-led BJP government, serving as the road transport minister since 2014, making him one of the longest-serving ministers in the administration.


SEAT: Nagpur

ELECTORS: 22,23,281

TURNOUT IN 2019: 54.94%

INCUMBENT: Nitin Jairam Gadkari


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