Will religious polarisation override local issues, a farm crisis and anti-incumbency? Or will a new caste arithmetic emerge from the western Maharashtra town?These are the questions animating the Akola Lok Sabha constituency, a part of the parched and backward Vidarbha region that has seen a number of farmer suicides and is facing a jobs crisis. The three prominent candidates are -- Sanjay Dhotre of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Hidayat Patel of the Congress and Prakash Ambedkar of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), a new formation seeking to unite Dalit and backward castes. Dhotre is a three-term MP from the constituency and defeated Patel in 2014 by more than 200, 000 votes.Ram Kharode, 41, the village chief of Talegaon Bazaar said a large number of people had voted in the name of religion. “However, Dhotre will have to face discontent of the rural population that is not happy with the ruling regime.”Another village chief, 33-year-old Jyoti Zhatale of Donwada village, said nationalism had trumped all other election issues. “Farmers have forgotten all the issues — demonetisation, minimum support price (MSP), better prices for crops, loan waiver when it came to pride of the country. After the Balakot air strike, things really changed and people voted for PM (Narendra) Modi.”But Shaikh Jameel, a 37-year-old flower vendor in the city said he voted for the Congress as Dhotre did no development in the last 15 years. “Akola has nothing that makes a good city. Neither roads, nor bridges, nothing. Employment is also a big problem we all are facing here,” he said.Experts believe that results may depend on the mindset of voters.“Voters in Akola got split on religious backgrounds between BJP, Congress and VBA. Initially, there was a notion that Muslims may turn to Ambedkar considering Patel’s grim chances to defeat Dhotre but the community remained intact with Congress. On the other hand, Dhotre was facing strong anti-incumbency but BJP and Shiv Sena’s core voters voted for him,” said Ravi Tale, editor of Lokmat newspaper.Traditionally, Akola was a Congress bastion that the BJP stormed in 1989 and has dominated since. The BJP holds four of the six assembly segments that make up the Lok Sabha seat. Congress and Ambedkar led Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh have one seat each. Ambedkar is two-term MP who won 1998 and 1999 but with Congress support.