The contest at Kalyan, the second most high profile constituency in Thane district, is headed for a three-way battle among the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
While Sena has pitted 27-year-old Dr Shrikant Shinde, son of Thane MLA Eknath Shinde, the MNS has nominated Pramod (Raju) Patil (40), who is the brother of Kalyan (rural) MLA Ramesh Patil. But all eyes are on sitting MP Anand Paranjpe (43), who is seeking second term as the NCP nominee. Paranjpe had won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls on a Sena ticket, but shifted loyalties to the NCP in 2012.
Observers say, senior Shinde's control in the Kalyan-Dombivli pocket could upset NPC's poll calculations. While the Sena is trying to capitalise on people's anger over Paranjpe's defection and the Modi wave, insiders said NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad is trying hard to snatch the seat, a saffron stronghold since 1996. The MNS is raising the slogan of "change" highlighting Paranjpe's "underperformance".
Milind Ballal, a political observer, says, "For the Shiv Sena, this seat is a prestige issue. Three of the six Assembly seats are already with the saffron alliance and Brahmins who dominate in Kalyan-Dombivli belt could also vote in favour of them. In this scenario, Paranjpe's win mainly depends on the MNS factor."
Though Paranjpe has the unstinted support of Awhad, who brought him to the party's fold, observers say, the Vasant Davkhare group is opposed to Paranjpe.
"Paranjpe won previous polls because of three main reasons; it's a saffron stronghold, the MNS candidate polled more than one lakh votes and Eknath Shinde's aggressive campaign. This time, Shinde's own son is the fray. With a MNS candidate in fray, the Kalyan contest is between the Sena and MNS."
Residents say Paranjpe didn't meet their expectation. "Pathetic roads, water scarcity, killer train-platform gaps are long-pending issues. The proposal to build a road from Thane to Kalyan parallel to railway tracks has not materialised," said Kalyan (E) resident Rohit Sane.
The educated class is unhappy over low frequency of locals, skewed jobs opportunities and lack of public health care. With Dr Shinde, the Sena hopes to win over the urban educated class. "We have a reputation for breaking bones. Now, we have someone who knows mending the bones," joked a Sena leader.
Taunting the Sena, MNS candidate Raju Patil said, "Here the roads are so bad that people are bound to sustain fractures. That's why they have fielded an orthopaedics."