MUMBAI: All the 17 seats in Maharashtra that would go for polls on April 29 in the fourth phase of the general elections are with the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and retaining them all would be the hardest challenge for the two parties this time.
Most of the seats that are to poll in this phase are from the Mumbai-Pune-Nashik golden triangle that is home to around 40% of the state population, besides the most industrialized and urbanized area of Maharashtra. While the first two phases involved rural Maharashtra where the saffron feared a backlash, this phase features areas where it should look to open a good lead.
Shiv Sena holds a whopping 9 of these 17 seats, while the BJP holds 8. The BJP has replaced one sitting MP while one of its seats (Palghar) has been traded to Shiv Sena, along with the sitting MP, Rajendra Gavit.
Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora, actor-turned-neta Urmila Matondkar, Priya Dutt, Poonam Mahajan, Sharad Pawar’s grandson Parth Pawar and actor Dr Amol Kolhe are some of the interesting candidates in fray. Since this is the last phase of Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, all political parties are focusing their energies on intense campaigning in a last minute dash.
The urgency was in evidence in the barnstorming by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray, as each of them logged four rallies a day. A host of state and Union ministers camped and campaigned for their candidates. MPCC chief Ashok Chavan and former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, too, pulled out all stops even as Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressed rallies in party strongholds like Nandurbar and Ahmednagar. NCP’s Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar and other leaders, too, joined the fray addressing rallies, conducting road shows and focusing on door to door campaigning, specifically in Mawal, from where the third generation of the Pawar family is in fray.
In Nandurbar, BJP’s Heena Gavit is facing a tough challenge from KC Padvi of Congress, while Union minister of state for defence and sitting Dhule MP Dr Subhash Bhamre is in a tough contest with Kunal Patil of the Congress.
Three of the four tribal reserved seats (ST) are also scheduled to vote, with a tough battle in store at Shirdi, where Shiv Sena’s Sadashiv Lokhande faces Bhausaheb Kamble of the Congress, with rebel Shiv Sena candidate Bhausaheb Wakchoure spicing up the contest.
North Indian votes are likely to be crucial in the interesting fights in Mumbai North and North West Mumbai, with Gujarati votes deemed critical to Mumbai South. Congress candidates in all these three constituencies have concentrated on Marathis with a campaign around redevelopment, transport infrastructure and environment.
In Mumbai North-West constituency, which includes suburbs of Andheri-Versova-Jogeshwari-Goregaon-Dindoshi, sitting Shiv Sena MP Gajanan Kirtikar is pitted against three time MP Sanjay Nirupam, who was formerly with the Sena. Several Bollywood celebrities are voters in this constituency, while it also comprises large slums where redevelopment is a major issue. The constituency is considered to be a Congress bastion, with the likes of Sunil Dutt and Gurudas Kamat representing it for almost six terms.
Kirtikar has an advantage of having alliance MLAs in all the six assembly segments, while Nirupam is banking on his rapport with the minority and North Indian communities who are in significant numbers in pockets in Andheri, Jogeshwari and Malad. Nirupam had made it a prestige issue to contest this seat and Marathi television actors featured prominently during the canvassing phase.
Apart from slum redevelopment and transport infrastructure, displacement due to Mumbai Coastal Road project is one of the key issues in this constituency. Nirupam’s image of an aggressive politician is his advantage, but factionalism in the party can be his nemesis.
The contest in Mumbai North looked one-sided in favour of BJP’s sitting MP Gopal Shetty till the Congress fielded actor Urmila Matondkar, keeping in mind the estimated five lakh Marathi-speaking voters here. Shetty had a mammoth lead of over 4.46 lakh votes, of the total 9.46 lakh votes polled in 2014. The constituency extends from Western Mumbai suburb of Malad to Borivli on Mumbai’s Northern End. With Sanjay Gandhi National park on one side, the constituency has several issues of illegal habitation, slums which don’t have proper water and sanitation facilities or electricity etc. Suburban rail services is also a big issue in this constituency that proved to be major factor of senior BJP leader Ram Naik’s (Now Governor of Uttar Pradesh), five consecutive victories from this constituency. The constituency has shown a tendency to elect opposition leaders since 1952 when CPI leader SA Dange won the seat.
In Mumbai South, where the constituency covers city’s prime areas starting from Southern tip of Colaba to Malabar hill, Worli and Sewri, Congress’s Milind Deora has already bagged support of ace industrialists Mukesh Ambani and banker Uday Kotak. Deora is trying to woo the trading community in the constituency. However, his lack of a mass base and focus on non-Marathi voters might hand the advantage to rival Sena MP Arvind Sawant.