Will electoral truck between Cong and NCP and reported groupism within Shiv Sena upset Suresh Prabhu's applecart?
Will electoral truck between Congress and NCP and reported groupism within Shiv Sena upset Suresh Prabhu's applecart in Rajapur Lok Sabha seat?
This is the question widely asked in this coastal constituency in the southern-most tip of Maharashtra, where Prabhu is locked in a straight contest with Congress' Colonel Sudhir Sawant.
Nearly 8.35 lakh voters would decide outcome of this Lok Sabha seat dotted with small fishing villages and pristine beaches on April 26 in the second phase of polling in the state.
A banker-turned-politician, Prabhu, who wrested this seat from Congress in 1996, romped home victorious in the subsequent elections of 1998 and 1999 performing an hat-trick.
Interestingly, till Sena established its control in Rajapur in the 90s, it had earned a distinction of a stronghold of Socialists since 1957.
Renowned Socialist leader Barrister Nath Pai, a veteran Parliamentarian known for his oratorial skills, emerged winner three times in a row in 1957, 1962 and 1967. Following Pai's demise, Madhu Dandavate represented this seat five times, notwithstanding the Congress wave of 1971 and 1984.
But it was in 1991, riding on the sympathy wave in the backdrop of assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sawant trounced Dandavate ending socialist monopoly over this region.
With Congress failing to capitalise on its electoral success and Sena making sharp inroads in this coastal area of Maharashtra, this seat was bagged by Prabhu for the first time in 1996.
Prior to that, Sena's growth was evident with party's Wamanrao Mahadik polling more votes than Dandavate in the 1991 elections.
In the 1999 polls, Prabhu's electoral victory was made easy with Sharad Pawar breaking away from Congress and forming his own Nationalist Congress Party and ensuring a triangular contest that benefitted the saffron party.
But this time, Sawant is backed by NCP, Janata Dal-Secular and the RPI. Sawant, who was allegedly attacked by Sena activists in the court premises recently, is harping on the Sena's terror tactics.
NCP activist Satyavijay Bhise's murder last year and Kankavli riots have provided him enough ammunition to take on the Sena's strong-arm ways.
Prabhu, who was asked to step down as Energy Minister by Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray, reportedly does not enjoy good relations with former Chief Minister Narayan Rane. However, Rane has denied these reports exhorting partymen to ensure the victory of Prabhu at the hustings.
But till recently Prabhu, who headed the task force on the interlinking of rivers, Prabhu, popularly known as modern-day Bhagirath, after the mythological seer, who brought sacred Ganges river to earth, with his suave style appeals to the educated class.