Congress nominee and sitting MP Naresh Pugalia is aiming for a hat-trick in Chandrapur Lok Sabha constituency of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra while Hansraj Ahir of BJP has drawn strategies, including wooing tribals, to get an edge over his rival.
Lady luck failed to smile on Ahir during the last elections in 1999 as he was the only BJP nominee who had lost by a meagre 2837 votes to Pugalia. Ahir was a winner from mineral rich Chandrapur in 1996 when the saffron wave swept across the state but lost two consecutive polls.
Pugalia had defeated him in two subsequent elections --in 1998 and 1999. The victory margin in 1998 was 1,50,355 votes which drastically came down to less than three thousand in 1999. A mix of Telugu speaking people and Bangladeshi migrants accounted for two lakh voters including 55,000 Bangladeshi.
Though Congress and NCP have forged alliance in this year's poll, the Shetkari Sanghatana, that has sizeable voters in some pockets like Bhadrawati assembly segment, has extended support to the saffron combine.
Amendments in age old forest conservation act to pave way for industries and exploitation of rich mineral deposit, including good quality iron ore in Surjagarh in Gadchiroli district, were some of the priorities of Ahir.
Ahir is banking on tribal votes since BJP was hoping to swing it in their favour. As part of wooing them, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had visited a tribal area in Aheri in mid-December for a function of local Gond king Raje Vishweshrao whose son Raje Satyawan has joined BJP.
But Advani, during his speech did not mention a single word on the demands made by the Gond royal family. They had demanded a direct rail link with grand trunk route connecting Delhi-Chennai via Nagpur-Chandrapur and supported the separate statehood issue.
Since in the neighbouring Chattisgarh assembly elections the tribals have voted for BJP, the party is hoping their support in Lok Sabha election in Chandrapur. But Pugalia has ridiculed their claim, saying a BJP leader of Deputy Prime Ministerial stature has "greatly disappointed the tribals."
"BJP cannot take tribals for granted. They are the traditional Congress voters," he said. But for all said and done, tribals, which form about 20 per cent of total electorate in Chandrapur and Gadchiroli district may be decisive for either one.
Ahir also promised to motivate the Reliance Industries, that is setting up a gas plant in Godavari basin in neighbouring districts in Andhra Pradesh, to come to Chandrapur district.
Pugalia is riding on the wave of Congress-NCP-Republican Federation Alliance. He claims to have spent his entire MP's fund for the development of Chandrapur and Gadchiroli district under the special action plan for tribals. He said Chandrapur was among 100 backward districts in the country which has been allocated Rs 15 crore per annum due to his efforts.
The naxal infested Chandrapur constituency has, however, been given a "step-motherly" treatment by the NDA government, Pugalia alleged adding Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, also facing the same problem, were extended central assistence.
The Maharashtra government had sent a proposal of Rs 1668 crore special action plan to tackle terrorism where state government was to share half the financial burden. "But that proposal was not cleared by the Centre," Pugalia asserted.
The state government was earning a yearly royalty of Rs 400 crore from coal and other minerals and due to joint efforts of Congress MPs including Vilas Muttemwar (Nagpur) and himself, the state agreed to allot initially 10 per cent to Nagpur and Chandrapur district. Later it was enhanced to 20 per cent.
Taking credit for these financial assistance, Pugalia said due to his efforts, Sironcha in Gadchiroli district has been linked with Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh through a national highway.