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MNS still the spoiler as saffron combine readies to unseat Congress

Thursday, 6 March 2014 - 6:00am IST Updated: Thursday, 6 March 2014 - 12:46am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Bigwigs in fight to finish in five crucial Maharashtra seats.

The Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra (48 seats) will be held on April 10,17, and 24. dna takes a look at the state’s five big electoral contests.

The ruling Congress-NCP combine faces a big challenge of retaining its existing 25 seats (Cong has 17, NCP 8).

In the prestigious Mumbai South constituency, Union minister Milind Deora, 37, will try to score a hat trick of victories. The Shiv Sena has fielded trade union leader Arvind Sawant, but the BJP is upset about it. The BJP is keen on fielding its nominee here since it has a significant presence in this sprawling constiuency.

The MNS factor too will be crucial. In 2009, MNS’ Bala Nandgaonkar had split anti-Congress votes in a big way. It is still not clear if the MNS would enter the fray this time.

The Samajwadi Party is threatening to nominate Abu Azmi’s son Farhaz. The SP is eyeing Muslim votes in the Bhendi Bazar area.

The AAP has fielded bankar Meera Sanyal who lost her deposit in the last polls as an Independent.

BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, 56, contesting from his hometown Nagpur, will try to trounce sitting MP Vilas Muttemwar (Congress), who has won eight times in the past.

This is the first time Gadkari, former BJP national president, will contest parliamentary polls. He enjoys the support of the RSS.

Though  Muttemwar, 64, is a popular politician, the strong anti-incumbency wave may make matters tough for him.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will field Anjali Damania in this important seat. Damania has in the past accused Gadkari of being hand-in-glove with NCP chief Sharad Pawar and of other corrupt deals. Gadkari had to quit the BJP presidency due to allegations levelled by Damania.  The BJP, on its part, has accused Damania of being involved in land scams.

In 1985, Gadkari lost the assembly polls from Nagpur (West) to the Congress’ Gev Avari. Gadkari polled 28,055 votes and Avari 49,607 votes.

In Nashik, PWD minister, NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal, 66, will fight Hemant Godse of the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. Bureaucrat-turned-politician Vijay Pandhare, who was the whistleblower in the irrigation scam, is trying to add a third dimension by entering the polls here.

Bhujbal’s nephew Sameer defeated Hemant Godse (MNS) in the 2009 polls. Godse later defected to the Sena.

The NCP was not sure about Sameer retaining the seat. It is a make or break election for Bhujbal Sr, who is facing several allegations of corruption. His entire political career is at stake. If he loses, he might vanish from state politics though he is a prominent OBC leader. His stand — opposing reservation for Marathas — is likely to boomerang.

Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, 64, will fight NCP’s Suresh Dhas from the sensitive Beed constituency in Marathwada. Munde belongs to the backward Vanjara community, which has a sizable presence in Beed, while Das is a Maratha. In view of this, the contest here has assumed strong casteist overtones.

Even though he is a mass leader, Munde is handicapped by the fact that out of six MLAs in this constituency, five belong to the NCP. Also, Dhananjay Munde, his nephew, who has defected from the BJP to the NCP, is opposing him.Dhananjay  was in charge of his uncle’s campaign in 2009. The lone BJP MLA from this area is  Pankaja Palwe. Gopinath Munde’s USP is he has struck an emotional chord with his voters and this might help him.

Another major battle will be fought in Kolhapur’s Hatkanangale. Currently, farmer leader Raju Shetty is holding the seat and he has a  massive following. He is bitterly opposed to Sharad Pawar and the NCP is going all out to defeat him. It is likely to field state minister Jayant Patil. It will be a straight contest in this rural constituency. Caste factors are likely to be in play. Shetty is a Jain and the NCP is likely to field a strong Maratha. Shetty has joined hands with the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance. Since the BJP is perceived to be a party of Brahmins, the NCP is likely to exploit the Marathas’ traditional dislike for upper caste people.

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