NATIONAL

A near-noiseless campaign ends

MUMBAI, APRIL 24 . A virtually noiseless election campaign came to a close this evening. For most people in Mumbai, with schools closed for summer, today was the beginning of a long weekend, including Monday, when the city goes to the polls.

Election meetings in the city have provoked, at most, a mild curiosity. In the rest of the State, given the heat and the drought prevailing in many of the districts, the interest levels have been even lower. In this uncharacteristic election run-up, Maharashtra prepares to vote for the remaining 24 out of 48 seats on April 26.

Out of the 202 contestants, there are many prominent candidates from the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance and the Congress-NCP. Foremost is the NCP leader and the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, who is contesting in Baramati, from where he has won virtually unchallenged for the last three years, always by a huge margin. This year, too, it appears that he does not face a serious challenge.

Another former Chief Minister in the fray, the Shiv Sena's Manohar Joshi from the Mumbai North Central appears not that certain of victory. Neither is another former Chief Minister, A.R. Antulay, of the Congress, who is contesting from Kulaba in the Konkan.

In Mumbai alone, two former Union Ministers in the outgoing NDA Government are contesting — the former Petroleum Minister, Ram Naik, and the former Minister of State for Power, Jaywantiben Mehta, both from the BJP. The former Power Minister, Suresh Prabhu, of the Shiv Sena will also face the polls on April 26 from the Rajapur constituency in the Konkan as will Anant Geete from the same party, who took over the Power Ministry from Mr. Prabhu. The latter is contesting from Ratnagiri.

The Konkan belt — Rajapur, Ratnagiri and Kulaba — has been dominated by the Shiv Sena in the previous elections. This time, the only uncertain seat appears to be Kulaba, which will witness a three-cornered fight.

Other prominent candidates include, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil from Kopergaon, who had switched from the Congress to the Shiv Sena and back to the Congress; Suresh Kalmadi, Congress candidate from Pune, and two film stars, one young and the other ageing, Govinda and Sunil Dutt, both from Mumbai and the Congress.

For the majority of the seats, it will be a contest between the BJP-Shiv Sena and the Congress-NCP, the Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded the most number of candidates in the State, 46. The BJP and the Congress are fielding 26 candidates each, the NCP 18 and the Shiv Sena 22.

The Samajwadi Party has fielded 14 candidates. Neither the BSP nor the SP has an electoral understanding with either of the two main alliances. In the more closely contested seats, their presence could upset electoral calculations.

Unlike the first phase, which included constituencies in areas affected by naxal activity, this round does not contain that many sensitive areas.

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