Unsavoury controversy over Shivaji, drought
An Unsavoury controversy over Chhatrapati Shivaji with ruling DF partners Congress-NCP and Saffron combine slugging over legacy of the warrior king with an eye over dominant Maratha community votes, drought and multi-crore fake stamp paper racket dominated the campaign in the second phase of Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra in 24 constituencies.
Clearly keeping an eye over the one-third Maratha community votes, the Congress-NCP and the saffron parties indulged into trading charges against each other over Shivaji. The reported objectionable references in a book penned by US-based author James Laine and another by Satyendra Nath Sen provided fodder to these political parties.
But drought in the 11 districts of Western Maharashtra, majority of which would be going for polls in the second phase, featured prominently in the electioneering.
While the issue of drought was politicised, charges flew thick and high on the multi-crore fake stamp-paper racket.
But the Congress-NCP camp heaved a sigh of relieve when NCP president and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar resumed campaigning on April 16, exactly 13 days after he was admitted to Breach Candy hospital for a surgery on his left jaw.
The return of Pawar, the star campaigner of the ruling coalition for his uncanny knowledge of caste politics in each constituency and state-wide appeal, provided boost to the morale of the Congress-NCP workers.
The campaigning reached its crescendo with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing two rallies in Vidarbha on April 17.
Not to be left behind, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed three public meetings two days later covering Marathwada, Western Maharashtra and Thane.
Instead of giving a fractured mandate, the electorate should give BJP a decisive victory, Vajpayee appealed at a rally in Nagpur.
In Vasai, campaigning for film star Govinda, contesting on a Congress ticket from North Mumbai, Sonia Gandhi launched an offensive against Vajpayee accusing him of "changing his views" and "keeping mum" on Lucknow saree stampede and the Supreme Court verdict on Best Bakery case.
Sena supremo Bal Thackeray continued to draw huge crowds during his election rallies in various parts of the state.
Union Ministers Shatrughan Sinha, Sushma Swaraj, Vinod Khanna, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh were among those prominent who canvassed during this period.
Electoral fortunes of Speaker in the dissolved Lok Sabha Manohar Joshi (Mumbai north-central), Union Ministers Anant Geete (Ratnagiri), Ram Naik (Mumbai north) Jaiwantiben Mehta (Mumbai south), film stars Govinda (Mumbai north) and Sunil Dutt (Mumbai north-west), former union ministers Suresh Prabhu (Rajapur), Balasaheb Vikhe Patil (Kopargaon) and Suresh Kalmadi (Pune) and NCP president Sharad Pawar would be decided on April 26.
Riding on his popularity, Govinda is giving sleepless nights to union Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, who is seeking election for the sixth time in a row from Mumbai north seat.
In Kopargaon, a giant of the co-operative movement and seven time MP Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil is tasting the electoral waters this time on a Congress ticket. He switched loyalties from Sena to Congress on the eve of the polls.
The Maratha strongman is facing his one time associate Prithviraj Jachak, pitted by the BJP.
Interestingly, three former Chief Ministers Joshi, Pawar and A R Antulay (Kulaba) are in the fray.
The constituencies going to polls on April 26 are Rajapur, Ratnagiri, Kulaba, Thane, Dahanu (all Konkan), Nashik and Malegaon (north Maharashtra), Jalna and Aurangabad (Marathwada), Kopargaon, Khed, Ahmednagar, Pune, Baramati, Satara, Karad, Ichalkaranji and Kolhapur (Western Maharashtra) and six constituencies of Mumbai--South Mumbai, South Central Mumbai, North Central Mumbai, Northeast Mumbai, Northwest Mumbai, North Mumbai.
Out of these 24, eight consitutuencies are with the Sena while its ally BJP has seven in its kitty.
The NCP has six seats in the sugar belt of Western Maharashtra while the Congress, Peasants and Workers Party and Janata Dal-Secualr has one nominee each.
Altogether 21 sitting MPs are in the fray and the prominent one missing in the list include former union minister Dilip Gandhi of BJP from Ahmednagar.
Nearly 3.36 crore electorate would cast their franchise on April 26 in the second phase of polling to 24 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra.
Nearly, 3018 polling stations have been declared sensitive while 21 are hyper-sensitive and elaborate security arrangement have been made to ensure free and fair elections, the state Election Office sources said.
Suburban Mumbai with 820 accounts for maximum number of sensitive polling stations followed by Mumbai city's 540.