In Maharashtra, the third phase of polling for the 2019 General Elections will see a neck-to-neck battle in almost every constituency. There are 14 constituencies that will vote on April 23 — seven from western Maharashtra, three from northern Maharashtra, and two each from Marathwada and Konkan.
Big leaders like Nationalist Congress Party’s chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, Bharatiya Janata Party state president Raosaheb Danave, NCP’s former state chief Sunil Tatkare and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti are in the fray this time.
The BJP is contesting on 8 Lok Sabha seats, its alliance partner contesting on six. Congress is contesting on five seats, NCP on seven seats and Raju Shetti’s SSS on two seats. (Last time, NCP could have won four seats out of these 14 seats and that was the tally of UPA. Shetti was then with BJP-SS.
Of these 14 seats, Pune is entirely an urban constituency. Eight constituencies are semi-urban. Five others have more rural parts than urban.
The issue of agricultural distress is serious in almost all of these constituencies, except Pune. This is also one of the strongest sugar belts of India. So the distress among farmers over their dues is the biggest poll issue in this second phase. Almost Rs 4,800 crore out of the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) of Rs 15,000 crore is still pending with sugar mills. Farmers are blaming state and central government for the mishandling of the sugar issue in the past three years. The stress being faced by the sugar industry has added to the already weakening rural economy of Maharashtra.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have addressed rallies in Ahmednagar, Madha and Sangli for this phase. Both have targetted Sharad Pawar, mainly in their speeches. In Baramati constituency, Pawar’s daughter Supriya is facing a strong BJP candidate Kanchan Kul, wife of Rahul Kul, who is the RSP MLA from Daund.
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Baramati constituency has been a bastion of the Pawar family for the past 50 years. After his first election in 1967, Pawar had never campaigned in Baramati beyond one day. He had just filed the nomination and addressed a rally on the last day of the campaign. But this time looking at the BJP’s aggression, Pawar himself has reached out to all the assembly constituencies of Baramati for his daughter.
The BJP is focusing on its nationalist pitch everywhere. PM Modi, Shah, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis have repeatedly sought votes in the name of armymen and the actions by the Indian Air Force at Balakot recently. But the Congress and NCP have kept their attack focussed on demonetisation, GST, farm distress, unemployment and attack on the constitutional institutions.
This phase has 84 assembly seats, out of 288. Maharashtra will go for assembly polls later this year. Congress and NCP are trying hard to win as many LS seats in this phase as possible to set the mood for the assembly elections.