Of the four parliamentary constituencies—Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Thane and Palghar—in Thane district, Thane is the most high-profile. The fight here this time is a stiff three-way showdown among NCP, Shiv Sena and MNS.
NCP candidate Sanjeev Naik, who is seeking a second term, defeated Sena's Vijay Choughule in 2009. His victory was attributed to the MNS candidate eating into traditional Sena strongholds.
Sena has fielded MLA Rajan Vichare, 53, who has been Thane's councillor and mayor. MNS nominee is Abhijit Panse, 41, who recently defected from Sena. Panse is a local, but has never fought an election.
AAP's Sanjeev Sane, 53, is also there along with the total 26 in fray for the poll to be held on April 24.
The constituency largely includes original inhabitants—agri and kolis—Brahmins, south Indians, Muslims and other migrants.
Shiv Sena and NCP, both have equal stakes in this election. Of the six assembly seats, three are with Sena (Thane, Kopri-Paachpakhadi, Ovala-Majiwada) and three with NCP (Meera Bhayander, Airoli and Belapur).
Milind Gaikwad, a Vasant Vihar resident, says: "The key issues here are dynasty politics, corruption, illegal constructions, encroachments, water scarcity, haphazard urban planning, crumbling resources, skewed education/job opportunities and poor public health care system."
A long pending proposal for a small station between Thane and Mulund hasn't moved a bit in the past 10 years though the district's population has touched 1.12 crore.
While Sena is trying to cash in on people's anger over NCP's under-performance, NCP takes credit for the infrastructure projects. The role of MNS is unclear as of now.
Rajan Raje, the labour union leader who contested on MNS ticket in 2009 and polled 1.3 lakh votes, has since set up his own party, Dharmarajya Paksha.
Anti-incumbency factor apart, Naik is also battling charges of dynasty politics and corruption against his family. People also complain that he's inaccessible. Moreover, the infighting within NCP has also intensified with factions led by Jitendra Awhad and Vasant Davkhare not extending Naik support.
Sopan Bongane, a senior journalist, says: "This is a manifestation of a long-drawn battle among NCP factions to control Thane."
To add to Sanjeev Naik's woes, the Congress too has turned hostile with district chief Balkrishna Purnekar and its leader in Meera Bhayander, Muzaffar Hussain, hardly displaying any enthusiasm for Naik.
The Sena here has nothing much to writ home about. The saffron alliance's performance in Thane municipal corporation has been dismal and die-hard sainiks are unhappy about party's mild approach after Thackeray senior's demise.
Rajan Vichare, meanwhile, hopes to cash in on Narendra Modi's charisma.
2009 elections: Vote share
NCP: Sanjeev Naik—3,01,000
Shiv Sena: Vijay Choughule—2,5,980
MNS: Rajan Raje—1,34,840
The key issues:
Inflation, unaffordable housing despite construction boom
Inadequate infrastructure, incomplete flyovers, roads, University campus
Illegal construction, encroachments, cluster development
Closing down of industries leading to job crunch
Jam-packed railway station and roads, insufficient transport services
Proposal of building a rail station between Thane and Mulund hasn't taken off
Scarcity of drinking water
Lack of good aided schools and colleges
Skewed public health facilities
Meera Bhayander: NCP: Gilbert Mendoza
Airoli: NCP: Sandeep Naik
Belapur: NCP: Ganesh Naik
Thane City: Sena: Rajan Vichare
Kopri Panchpakhadi: Sena: Eknath Shinde
Ovala-Majiwada: Sena: Pratap Sarnaik
NCP: Sanjeev Naik, 42: HSC, businessman and MP. No criminal cases. Assets: Rs 14 crore (properties, a revolver and rifle); wife: Rs2.1cr; loan: Rs 1.3cr.
Sena: Rajan Vichare, 53: SSC, MLA. Over a dozen criminal cases of unlawful assembly, assault, damaging property where charges have been framed against him; and a dozen pending cases. Assets: Rs 5.99 crore; loan Rs1.23cr; wife: Rs 3.39cr.
MNS: Abhijeet Panse, 41: BA, film maker. One criminal case in which charges have been framed, punishable with imprisonment up to two years or more. Assets: Rs 63.03lakh, loan Rs 58lakh; wife: Rs 5.6lakh.
AAP: Sanjeev Sane, 53: SSC, social worker, no criminal cases. Assets: Rs 10.52lakh; wife: Rs1.2cr.