Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, seeking re-election from Beed Lok Sabha constituency in Marathwada region, faces challenge from his former protege who is now a NCP minister and an actor fielded by the Aam Aami Party.
However, the real fight, according to political observers, will be between Munde and NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar who have intensified efforts to defeat BJP's biggest mass leader in Maharashtra in his citadel.
With five of the total six Assembly segments in the constituency represented by NCP, Munde may find it an uphill task to maintain his winning margin of 1.5 lakh votes, say the observers. The constituency has 17,72,189 voters and goes to polls on April 17. NCP has fielded former Munde protege Suresh Dhas, Maharashtra's minister of state for revenue, while the Aam Aami Party has nominated actor Nandu Madhav.
In 2009, Munde defeated NCP's Ramesh Adaskar, largely owing to the campaign handled by his nephew Dhananjay and daughter Pankaja. However, this time around, Dhananjay, NCP MLC, is campaigning against him. Pankaja, BJP MLA, is now steering his campaign.
As if to avenge NCP's weaning away Dhananjay, Munde has engineered a split in the local NCP camp, with several prominent NCP leaders joining the BJP recently. The six Assembly segments in the Beed Lok Sabha constituency - Georai, Majalgoan, Beed, Ashti, Kaij and Parli - are part of the Marathwada region, considered backward in terms of development. Beed district supplies most of the labour force for sugarcane harvest to western Maharashtra and Karnataka. The workforce has sizeable population of Marathas, Vanjaras, Muslims and Dalits.
The Beed constituency is considered politically sensitive and dominated by the OBCs. While Vanjaras, the community to which Munde belongs, has around four lakh votes, OBCs comprise an equal number of votes.
For voters in Beed, it has been a long wait for railway network in the area. Munde says he made concerted efforts for undertaking a survey for Ahmednagar-Beed-Parli railway line and blamed the UPA government for delay in the work. However, Dhas says Munde, his former political guru, has not fulfilled the 27 "promises" he made to voters in the 2009 polls. "Almost 80 per cent of Munde's MP local area development funds were not utilised," Dhas claimed.
Nandu Madhav says his focus will be on providing a clean administration and a platform for the common man to get their work done. The Munde campaign was in the news recently, albeit for wrong reasons, when 10 BJP workers and supporters of the senior leader were booked for allegedly thrashing a pilot of a helicopter after he refused to fly him from Beed city to Vida village in Kaij tehsil to address a rally, citing fuel shortage and other reasons.
The NCP campaign is being handled by Ajit Pawar's trusted aides Amarsinh Pandit, Prakash Solanke and Adaskar, besides Dhananjay. The BJP's star campaigners in Beed constituency included the party's national president Rajnath Singh who addresses a rally in Parli, while NCP leaders, including Sharad Pawar, have addressed rallies, seeking votes for Dhas.
Pawar, in fact, raised eyebrows in state political circles recently by remarking that "some in BJP want Munde to be defeated."