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BEED

The seat is witnessing a proxy war between Sharad Pawar and Gopinath Munde.
PTI | By Press Trust of India
PUBLISHED ON APR 17, 2004 05:12 PM IST

Chhatrapati Shivaji is sought to be used to arouse 'Maratha pride' in this backward drought-prone constituency witnessing a proxy war between two arch rivals--NCP President Sharad Pawar and state BJP chief Gopinath Munde in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

Though the constituency is witnessing an eight-cornered contest, the real tussle in the April 20 polls is between Prakash Solanke of BJP and Jaisingh Gaikwad of the NCP, a friend-turned-foe of Munde and senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.

Beed is the home district of both Munde as also Mahajan. Gaikwad represented the seat in the dissolved Lok Sabha as a BJP member but he fell out with the two leaders, his friends for over 25 years, after he was removed from the Union Ministry over two years back.

Gaikwad joined the NCP on the eve of elections and was handpicked by Pawar as his party's nominee for Beed. Solanke is BJP MLA from the district and is the son of Sunderrao Solanke, who was PWD Minister for years in the Congress Governments two decades back.

A subtle campaign is on in this constituency of Marathwada region, having an electorate of some 12 lakhs, to suggest that the BJP-Shivsena combine has been not the one to have the highest regard for the great Maratha warrior.

The controversy over objectionable writing on the Maratha icon by American Scholar James Laine in his book "Chhatrapati Shivaji: A Hindu King in Islamic India" has come in handy during the polls. The book has been banned by the state Government sometime back.

Leaders, including Ministers of the ruling combine, especially those of the NCP, have been aggressive over the James Laine issue and there have been demands that the foreign author be arrested. BJP and Shivsena, which are part of the ruling coalition at the Centre, are being accused of doing precious little to bring Laine to book.

The constituency has a sizable number of voters-around five lakhs-of the Maratha community followed by about three lakh people from Vanjari community, an OBC commnity to which Munde belongs.

BJP and NCP have three MLAs each in the district while the saffron party controls the Zilla Parishad. Pawar has made two of the MLAs- Jaidutt Khirsagar and Vimal Mundada as senior Ministers apparently to check the growing clout of Munde in the district after he became Deputy Chief Minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP Government.

Though Pawar is not campaigning so far in view of surgery on his jaw, he has ensured that the constituency is not not neglected. Several Ministers including state NCP President R R Patil and Ajit Pawar have paid visits to the district to canvass support for Gaikwad.

"Pawar is not not that worried over Baramati, but is over Beed," remarked a BJP leader wryly. The NCP had drawn a blank in the Marathwada region in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections.

With stakes high for Munde, he has scheduled as many as 14 meetings in the district in the next two days while Mahajan will also address two meetings. Rival sides are leaving nothing to chance in view of the approaching Assembly elections.

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