If there is one region of the State that the BJP-Shiv Sena combine will count on to net a good number of MLAs in this Assembly election, it is north Maharashtra.
Though the combine won 13 seats here, against 19 by the Congress-NCP alliance, in the 2004 elections, the BJP won four in the Lok Sabha elections this year, leaving just one each for the Congress and the NCP.
“This region is influenced by the local, corporation-level politics of the Mumbai-Thane belt,” says Prashant Deshpande, a professor of politics at the HPT College of Arts, Nashik. “As the Sena-BJP alliance is strong there, its influence is felt in north Maharashtra as well. When the saffron wave originated in the 1980s and 90s, it swept through this region. Also, Chhagan Bhujbal, the most prominent State politician in this region, was in the Shiv Sena initially.”
The Congress-NCP front has, however, started to regain ground, says Mr. Deshpande. “In urban areas, namely Nashik, there will be a competition between the NCP and the Shiv Sena. In rural parts, the fight will be between the BJP and the Congress.”
Mr. Deshpande cautions against making any kind of predictions, though. “All parties have seen unprecedented levels of rebellion this year.” “That may just change the picture completely.”
Suresh Jain, contesting from Jalgaon City, epitomises rebellion in this region. Mr. Jain, who showed remarkable commitment to the people of this constituency by retaining the seat in every election since 1980, has shown much less commitment when it came to his party. He won on the Congress ticket in 1980, on the Shiv Sena ticket in 1999 and on the NCP ticket in 2004. He has now switched back to the Shiv Sena.
Another factor that could be a bookie’s nightmare is Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Mr. Thackeray paid personal attention to Nashik when he was in the Shiv Sena “to ensure that the city did not go the Mumbai-Pune way.” As a result, Nashik is considered his stronghold. In the Lok Sabha elections, Hemant Godse of the MNS polled 2,16,674 votes, coming a close second after Sameer Bhujbal, Mr. Chhagan Bhujbal’s nephew.
Post-delimitation, Nashik has been divided into three, brightening the MNS’ chances. In Nashik Central, for instance, Minister of State for Public Health Shobha Bachhav of the Congress is pitted against Vasant Gite, another MNS strongman.
Asked about the main electoral issues, Mr. Deshpande says: “The pursuit of power is the only issue. Who will win which seat is all that people are talking about. Anyway, the economic agenda of all parties is the same.” However, it is not as if the region were devoid of issues. “Grape and onion production is on the rise, but farmers don’t get as much remuneration as they should,” says Mr. Deshpande. North Maharashtra, comprising Nashik, Jalgaon, Dhule and Nandurbar districts, is predominantly rural, except Nashik city. All four seats in Nandurbar and two in Dhule are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.
“However, these issues are never raised by any of the prominent leaders during their campaign,” Mr. Deshpande says.