MUMBAI: A comparatively low-profile assembly segment, Ausa in central Maharashtra shot into limelight when Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis's former PA Abhimanyu Pawar jumped into the fray as the BJP candidate and all eyes will be on how he fares in his maiden poll foray.
The Ausa Assembly seat in Latur district in the arid Marathwada region will see Pawar locking horns with two-time Congress MLA Basavraj Patil.
Traditionally a Shiv Sena seat, the BJP convinced its ally to part with the segment and gave nomination to Pawar, Fadnavis's former personal assistant (PA).
Overnight, Ausa became one of the most talked about Assembly seats of this election and Fadnavis's shadow looms large over the constituency given that he handpicked his close aide Pawar as the BJP candidate.
However, Pawar is unlikely to have a cakewalk as he is pitted against a strong candidate, sitting Congress MLA Patil, who had not only won in the 2009 assembly election, but managed to sail through in 2014 when the Congress and NCP had contested against each other just like the BJP and Sena.
Another reason that made the BJP 's claim for the seat easier was that in the 2014 state elections, its candidate Pasha Patel had secured third place.
A political observer from Latur said Ausa has three main communities - Marathas, Muslims and Lingayats.
"While Patil represents the Lingayat community, Pawar is a Maratha. The most important thing is that Pawar has been consistently visiting Ausa for the last three years and he has developed a rapport with the locals. His presence was visible," he said.
Patil, however, said Pawar would not prove to be a hindrance in his bid to score a hat-trick.
"I have been working with these people for the last 10 years. I am the one who has always followed up on several issues and have a good connect with the locals," the Congress MLA said.
But Pawar claimed Patil has "failed" on all fronts.
"He has done nothing for this constituency. The development work that has happened here is chiefly because of CM Fadnavis and his cabinet colleagues, who helped me through their ministries to address issues faced by the people of Ausa," he added.
Pawar is a third generation RSS worker, whose grandparents and parents had been dedicated workers of the Hindutva outfit.
Pawar himself worked for the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) for some years and met Fadnavis in 2003.
After Fadnavis took over as the CM in 2014, Pawar joined him as his PA.
Although Patil poses a formidable challenge to Pawar in making inroads in Latur district, once known as former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's bastion, the BJP nominee is facing an internal challenge as well.
Latur district guardian minister and labour minister Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar is apparently not happy with Pawar's candidature.
Nilangekar hails from neighbouring Nilanga tehsil of Latur district.
His brother Arvind Patil had expressed interest in contesting election from Ausa.
Hence, 68 villages in Nilanga tehsil, which are part of the Ausa segment, might prove to be a headache for Pawar.
"Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar is trying to avoid creation of any parallel power centre in the district, just like late Vilasrao Deshmukh. There is a chance that Nilangekar might play a spoilsport for Pawar and the 68 villages from his tehsil may not vote for the BJP," the political observer said.
In 2014, Congress's Patil had secured 64,237 votes followed by Mane (55,319).
BJP's Pasha Patel had bagged 37,414 votes.
The 2014 assembly election outcome saw the BJP coming to power and Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar emerging as a confidant of Fadnavis.
Nilangekar used his new stature to make his presence felt in several local elections and institutions in Latur district.
Nilangekar is the grandson of the late Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar.
BJP rebel Bajarang Jadhav, chairman of zilla parishad agriculture department, who is contesting the election as an independent, has added to Pawar's worries.
Shiv Sena rebel Dinkar Mane, who had filed his nomination, later withdrew from the race and extended support to Pawar.