By Quaid Najmi
Nagpur (Maharashtra), April 4 (IANS) With the fiery speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his maiden poll rally in Wardha on Monday, the poll campaign has hotted up for the 10 Lok Sabha seats in eastern Maharashtra’s crucial Vidarbha region.
Two union ministers, former ministers, a film actress, a farmers widow and others are in the fray for the 10 seats – which were swept by the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance in the 2014 ‘Modi wave’.
This time, spurred by Modi’s speech on Monday in which he gave a bloody nose to the entire opposition, the BJP-Shiv Sena is wishing for a repeat performance, though it may be easier said than done.
In the fray are BJP heavyweights and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir (Chandrapur), South Indian films actress Navneet Kaur-Rana (Amravati) of the Yuva Swabhiman Party and a farmer’s widow, Vaishali S. Yede (Yavatmal-Washim), as a Prahar Janshakti Party candidate.
Yede, 28, shot to limelight on January 11, when she inaugurated the 92nd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (ABMSS), following the nationwide furore after the original chief guest, Nayantara Sehgal’s invite was abruptly dropped.
However, retaining both seats in the Orange City (Nagpur) is considered symbolically critical for BJP as the RSS is headquartered here and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis hails from here.
With no ‘wave’ to ensure victory for the BJP-Sena alliance, major issues to be highlighted include the continuing plague of farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha, with Yavatmal as the epicenter of the agro-distress and the problems of equitable development with several districts here in the grip of the Maoist terror.
Last April (2018), Gadchiroli shot into limelight when security forces gunned down around 40 Maoists in a gunbattle in the jungles, but in retaliation, the ultras abducted and killed at least 15 local villagers and farmers.
Wedded to these is the demand for a separate Vidarbha state comprising 11 districts of this region to ensure faster development; the alarming drought situation, coupled with unseasonal rains-hailstorms that regularly devastate farmlands and complicated by the problems of irrigation in the farmfields, rampant unemployment and unhappiness among the youth, though infrastructure development has seen an improvement.
The region has seen over 1,200 farmers suicides in 2018, including 18,000 in the past five years of BJP rule alone, the highest ever, according Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) Chairman Kishore Tiwari.
Tiwari, who is accorded a Minister status, had created a major political ruckus last December when he openly demanded that the BJP should replace Modi and party chief Amit Shah with Gadkari if it wanted to survive the 2019 polls.
Interestingly, Gadkari is facing Congress stalwart Nana Patole, the former BJP MP from Bhandara-Gondiya who quit the party in December 2017 after a blistering attack on Modi – becoming the first high-profile MP to revolt.
In Chandrapur, four-term MP Ahir will wrestle with Congress’ Suresh Dhanorkar, who recently changed sides from Shiv Sena, making the seat a prestige issue for state Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who hails from here.
Akola will be another key three-cornered fight between Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi chief Prakash Ambedkar and the Congress’ Hidayatullah Patel and the BJP’s sitting MP Sanjay Dhotre.
With the backing of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Ambedkar – the grandson of the architect of Indian Constitution – will be a tough challenger besides being a former two-time MP from Akola.
For the Yavatmal-Washim seat, it will be fight between former state Congress president and minister Manikrao Thakre, four time Shiv Sena MP Bhawna Gawli and farm widow Vaishali Yede.
Model-cum-actress Kaur-Rana, 33, wife of Badnera’s independent legislator Ravi Rana – the nephew of yoga guru Ramdev Baba – will lock horns with five-time Sena MP Anand Adsul.
The elections in Vidarbha will be held in two phases – April 11 for Wardha, Ramtek, Nagpur, Bhandara-Gondiya, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Chandrapur and Yavatmal-Washim; and on April 18 for Amravati, Buldhana and Akola.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])