Lok Sabha elections 2019: Marathwada’s heat wave will strike which party in Lok Sabha polls?
As the poll battle heats up, there’s only one issue that takes centrestage in parched Marathwada – drought.
Here’s why. After three droughts in four years from 2011-12 to 2014-15, the state has declared most villages in the region drought-hit. In 2018, central Maharashtra recorded satisfactory rainfall in June and August, but July and September saw acute shortfall (54.2% and 13.4% of its average, respectively). Consequently, the water stock in the 964 dams has now reached an alarming low of 5.84%, posing a huge challenge for the administration for the next two-and-a-half months as the summer advances. For the eight districts, this is a reality every two-three years. The region has 1,900 tankers (of the 3,369 across the state) deployed for water supply in 1,392 villages and 482 hamlets in eight districts. The region’s key city, Aurangabad, gets tap water every four days.
Citizens feel the region has been lacking in holistic development, as they don’t have a strong leader. “The region lost its two stalwarts – Vilasrao Deshmukh and Gopinath Munde – in the past eight years. After them, there is no leader who you can look up to,” said a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Beed.
Pannalal Surana, a socialist leader who works in Marathwada, said the Dandekar committee, appointed in 1983-84 to study the imbalance among various regions, had pointed at a huge backlog of irrigation schemes and technical education in Vidarbha and Marathwada. “The governments failed to get funds over three decades to tackle it. The BJP-led government concentrated on Vidarbha and diverted development projects meant for Marathwada there. Our wait for the Beed-Parli-Nagar and Solapur-Jalgaon railway routes seems never ending,” he said.
Central Maharashtra is largely dependent on the water released from the dams in western Maharashtra, which also leads to disputes between the two regions every monsoon. “With poor canal systems, drinking and irrigation water don’t reach the people it is meant for. Delay in the completion of the Krishna-Marathwada irrigation project has deprived the region of 5 TMC water,” said Pradeep Purandare, irrigation expert and former professor, Water And Land Management Institute. In a special cabinet held in Aurangabad in October 2016, projects worth more than Rs 49,000-crore were announced for the region, but they never took off, say residents. “The slow pace of the implementation of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor at Sindra-Bidkin halted the potential industrial growth,” say claim.
Central Maharashtra is a mixed bag for political parties, with all four prominent parties having some presence. In the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, however, the region voted in favour of the saffron alliance. The Shiv Sena and BJP have three sitting MPs in the region each, while the Congress got its only two MPs in the state from central Maharashtra. In Assembly, the ruling alliance has 26 MLAs from the region against the 17 from the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Maratha is the dominant caste here, although Other Backward Castes (OBCs) have a significant presence. Most of the districts in the region have a sizable population of Dalits and minorities. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) are expected to eat into these votes in three constituencies, namely Aurangabad, Parbhani and Beed.
While the BJP and Shiv Sena look to retain their seats, the Congress and NCP are eyeing more seats. The victory for the NCP in Osmanabad is relatively easy, as its sitting MLA Rana Jagjitsinh Patil enjoys control over local bodies and cooperative bodies, and five of the six sitting MLAs in the constituency are from the Congress and NCP. Winning the other two constituencies (Parbhani and Beed) where the NCP is contesting, however, may not be easy. Apart from retaining its two incumbent seats – Nanded and Hingoli – the Congress is aiming for at least one of the total five seats it is contesting in the region. However, it may not be easy to counter the BJP in Latur, Jalna and Aurangabad owing to various factors, including rebellion.
In Aurangabad, Congress’ sitting MLA Abdul Sattar has openly opposed party candidate Subhash Zambad and announced his decision to contest independently. His revolt is expected to hurt the party’s prospects badly. To worsen the situation for the Congress candidate, VBA-AIMIM candidate Imtiyaaz Jaleel may eat into the traditional Congress votes. Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire, however, may not find it difficult to make it to Parliament for the fifth time.
“Nowadays, elections are mainly fought on emotive issues rather than development plank. Caste and religion play a key role in most constituencies in Marathwada. For instance, in the backdrop of the two communal riots in Aurangabad last year, there will be a polarisation of Hindu votes in the constituency,” said Prashant Amrutkar, head, political science department, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University.
For state BJP chief Raosaheb Danve, state Congress chief Ashok Chavan, rural development minister Pankaja Munde and leader of Opposition in legislative council Dhananjay Munde, the elections are a matter of prestige. The first two are in the fray from Jalna and Nanded respectively, while the Munde cousins are pitted against each other, even though they are not directly in the fray.
Pritam Munde, Pankaja’s younger sister, is vying to win the Beed seat for the second time, while Dhananjay is opposing it tooth and nail. Once a stronghold of the NCP, Beed has been taken over by the BJP by orchestrating the defection of key leaders from the party. Former NCP leaders Vinayak Mete and Suresh Dhas have joined the BJP, while another key leader is likely to join the saffron party in future. This has made it easier for Pritam to win the polls.
Like Beed, Osmanabad and Latur, too, will see family fights. Rana Jagjitsinh Patil (NCP) and Omraje Nimbalkar (Shiv Sena), cousins who are political rivals, are pitted against each other in Osmanabad. Rana’s father and former NCP MP Padmasinh is facing charges of the murder of Pawanraje Nimbalkar, Omraje’s father, a decade ago. In Latur, labour minister Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar is spearheading the campaign for BJP candidate Sudhakar Shrungare, while his uncle Ashok and grandfather and former chief minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar are putting their weight behind Congress candidate Machhindra Kamath.
Amit Deshmukh, scion of another heavyweight family and sitting MLA, is a key Congress leader from the constituency. Amit’s father Vilasrao Deshmukh was a former chief minister, while uncle Diliprao Deshmukh has served as an MLC.
Just like in case of development, there is a sense of social inequality among communities. The Maratha agitation for reservation originated from Aurangabad in August 2016 and later spread across the state, leading to 58 massive silent rallies demanding reservation. Although Marathas have been given reservation, there is still uncertainty, as it has been challenged in the court. Similar protests for separate quotas such as Dhangar have been taking place in parts of Marathwada at regular intervals.