The BJP is locked in a fierce struggle to supplant Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress in 10 key constituencies in the politically and economically influential ‘sugar belt’ region in western Maharashtra.
The BJP-Sena combine appears to be having the edge over the NCP and the Congress in eight seats, with major upset in the offing in Kolhapur, Maval and Hatkanangale, going by trends till noon.
The jewel in the crown coveted by the BJP is the Baramati Lok Sabha seat — the impregnable bastion of the Pawar clan.
Here, Mr. Pawar’s daughter, two-time NCP MP Supriya Sule has secured a massive lead over her rival Kanchan Kool, the BJP-Sena’s candidate.
After trailing to Ms. Kool in the initial rounds, Ms. Sule has now secured a lead of over 75,000 votes.
Meanwhile, the prestige of the Pawar clan — and especially that of senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar — is on the line in Maval, where his son Parth Pawar (Mr. Sharad Pawar’s grand nephew) is up against sitting Sena MP Shrirang Barne.
According to the latest trends, Mr. Barne has secured a massive lead of 1.5 lakh votes over the neophyte Parth.
A major upset in the making for the NCP appears to be the Hatkanangale and the Kolhapur seats in Kolhapur district.
Here, Swabhimani Paksha chief, two-time MP and NCP-Congress candidate Raju Shetti is trailing Shiv Sena’s Dhairyasheel Mane by nearly 40,000 votes.
Hatkanangale is considered to be Mr. Shetti’s — and the Swabhimani Paksha’s — stronghold.
In Kolhapur, Shiv Sena-BJP’s Sanjay Mandlik is in the driver’s seat, leading by more than one lakh votes over sitting NCP MP Dhananjay Mahadik.
In Satara, royalist and sitting NCP MP Udayanraje Bhosale has taken a comfortable lead of over 40,000 votes over Narendra Patil (Shiv Sena-BJP).
However, Mr. Patil — son of late Annasaheb Patil, the popular leader of Mathadi Kamgars (head loaders) — is giving a creditable fight to Mr. Bhosale who earlier won by massive margins (of more than 3 lakh votes) in both the 2009 and the 2014 parliamentary elections.
In Sangli, sitting BJP MP Sanjaykaka Patil has taken a massive lead of around 80,000 votes over his Congress rival Vishal Patil, grandson of stalwart Congressman Vasantdada Patil.
Sangli is witnessing a three-cornered contest with influential Dhangar leader Gopichand Padalkar stepping into the fray. Mr. Padalkar, expected to be a vote-splitter to the detriment of the BJP, has secured more than 65,000 votes so far.
It remains to be seen whether this will really affect the BJP in the final result.
In Ahmednagar, BJP-Sena’s candidate Dr. Sujay Vikhe-Patil, after initial hiccups, has secured a massive lead of more than 1.10 lakh votes over NCP’s Sangram Jagtap.
In Pune, BJP-Sena candidate Girish Bapat is leading by more than 50,000 votes over Congress-NCP’s Mohan Joshi.
In Solapur, BJP’s candidate and Lingayat seer Dr. Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya Swami has taken a lead over veteran Congressman Sushilkumar Shinde in the crucial Solapur Lok Sabha seat, according to vote-counting trends.
Mr. Shinde is up against two rather formidable candidates: the Lingayat seer who was cannily propped up by the BJP and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) leader Prakash Ambedkar, whose entry into the fray is proving to be a major spoiler for him.
While Dr. Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya Swami has taken a lead of more than 30,000 votes over Mr. Shinde, Mr. Ambedkar has secured a little over 30,000 votes — thus eating into the Congress’ traditional Dalit-Muslim votebank and threatening to spoil Mr. Shinde’s chances.
There appears to be some hope for the NCP in Shirur, where the combine candidate and popular TV actor Dr. Amol Kolhe has secured a lead of 18,000 votes over three-time sitting Shiv Sena MP Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil.
While Mr. Patil was trailing heavily behind Dr. Kolhe, the experienced Sena campaigner has managed to cover up lost ground in the past hour.