Amist tight security arrangements, polling for 10 Lok Sabha seats in Naxal-plagued Vidarbha region of Maharashtra is underway today to test the political fate of heavyweights like former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister Praful Patel, former minister of State Vilas Muttemwar and senior Congress leader Shivajirao Moghe.
Vidarbha-- the cotton belt of Maharashtra which has been infamous for large number of farmer suicides for over a decade besides the rising Maoist menace-- accounts for 10 of the total 48 Parliamentary constituencies in the state.
About 1.63 crores voters are expected to exercise their franchise towards 201 candidates in the poll fray for this backward region, which has been traditionally a Congress stronghold.
The constituencies where polling is underway since 7 AM are Nagpur, Ramtek, Bhandara-Gondia, Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Akola, Amravati, Buldana, Wardha and Yavatmal-Washim.
Political stalwarts whose fate will be shut in ballot boxes today include Union Heavy Industries Minister and NCP leader Praful Patel (Bhandara), former BJP national president Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), seven-time Congress MP and former Minister Vilas Muttemwar (Nagpur), AICC General Secretary and former minister Mukul Wasnik and two Congress Ministers Shivajirao Moghe (Yavatmal) and Sanjay Deotale (Chandrapur).
AAP veteran leader Wamanrao Chatap (Chandrapur) and Anjali Damania are also among the prominent faces in the poll run this time.
Also, Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of great Dalit leader Babasaheb Ambedkar, is contesting from Akola constituency.
BJP-Shiv Sena alliance's sitting MPs Hansraj Ahir (Chandrapur), Anandrao Adsul (Amravati), Sanjay Dhotre (Akola) and Bhawana Gawali (Yavatmal) too are testing their luck
The new faces in Congress include Namdeo Usendi (Gadchiroli) and Sagar Meghe (Wardha), Moghe and Deotale.
Navneet Kaur Rana (NCP) is also a first timer contesting from Amravati. The BSP has picked up builder Gunwant Deopare (Amravati) and academician Mohan Gaikwad (Nagpur) to better their poll prospects.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, BSP supremo Mayawati were among the national leaders who campaigned for their candidates in this politically significant region, against the backdrop of a strong anti-Congress wave.
Meanwhile, elaborate security arrangements have been made across all constituencies in over 20,000 polling booths in the region, particularly Naxal-hit Gadchiroli where all top police officials are camping in the district headquarters to oversee the arrangements.
According to Additional Director General (Law and Order) K L Bishnoi, a strategic system has been designed to avert and foil any possible disturbance during polling by Naxals in Gadchiroli, Gondhia, Bhandara, and Chandrapur, which have the most sensitive booths in the region.
Besides the armed Maharashtra Police, contingents of Central Industries Security Force, Rapid Action Force, State Reserve Police Force and Home Guards have been deployed to ensure peaceful, free and fair polling, he said.
According to polling authorities, moderate polling was registered till 9 AM in ten seats across Vidarbha.
While Buldhana recorded 7.36 percent voting, nine per cent voters cast their ballot in Akola, over five per cent voters in Amravati, seven per cent in Wardha, six percent in Ramtek, over seven per cent in Nagpur, 10 per cent in Bhandara-Gondia, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Chandrapur and 6.96 per cent cast their votes in Yavatmal-Washim.