If Congress has any hopes of revival in the state after the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, it will have to score in Marathwada.
This drought-prone central Maharashtra region that elects 46 legislators is also key to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s aspirations of becoming chief minister.
Both these parties have their traditional strongholds in this arid zone, where caste equations, emotive issues and religion often trump development.
In 2004, the assembly polls played out in favour of the former saffron alliance in the region, while in 2009 it made Congress-NCP victorious.
With the two main alliances snapping ties, the moot question for the 2014 elections is, can Congress and Sena retain their strongholds? And, who will gain in the multi-corner contest of 2014?
The electoral pitch in Marathwada has been squared off with Congress, NCP, Sena and BJP contesting against each other in all the seats.
With the Hyderabad-based, radical All India Majlis-e-Itehadul-Muslimeen making a foray in the polls, the Marathwada electoral battle has got even more complicated.
“Sena stands to gain the most as it has substantial base in the region. The presence of MIM will further consolidate Hindu votes. The anti-incumbency against Congress and NCP will go against them. BJP doesn’t have strong local leadership after the demise of the late Gopinath Munde. But, these are early days and Modi rallies have not begun,’’ said Jaidev Dole, political analyst.
BJP had won only two seats in the 2009 polls, with Munde’s daughter Pankaja retaining her home seat of Parli; the other being Udgir seat in Latur district. Following Munde’s sudden demise, Pankaja is expected to win her seat convincingly, but whether she will be able to consolidate her party base in Beed against NCP remains to be seen.
That’s one of the reasons Modi is starting his rallies with Marathwada – Aurangabad and Beed – on Friday. The response Modi gets in the rallies could be another bellwether.
Political observers, however, feel that unlike in the Lok Sabha polls, where the Modi wave sunk local political calculations, this time, local leaders, rivalries and issues could be significant.
The Congress for one, is counting on this. Former chief minister Ashok Chavan, who managed to win his Lok Sabha seat besides pulling neighbouring Hingoli seat in the Congress’ favour, is heading the efforts for the party in Marathwada. In 2009, under his leadership, Congress had won 18 seats here, while former ally NCP had won 12 seats.
“We will be able to retain our 18 seats and may be swing in a couple more because the split in the alliances will favour us the most especially in our strongholds like Nanded, Latur, Hingoli, Osmanabad districts,’’ said Congress MLC Amar Rajurkar, an aide of Chavan.
Congress hopes that the four-cornered contest will help the party candidates as they will be able to retain their support base. In a multi-cornered contest, the candidate with 40,000 to 45,000 votes can win. Congress is counting on support from the minority community, with MIM focusing on eight to 10 seats.
The electoral trends however go against the party; just four months back in the Lok Sabha polls, Congress-NCP together had managed to get leads in only eight of the 30 seats they hold.
We will have to wait for October 19 to know whether Sena trumps, Congress make a comeback, BJP rides the Modi wave or the multi-cornered contest throws up a splintered verdict.