Issues galore, loyalties divided

Published : May 07, 2004 00:00 IST

VOTERS in Maharashtra do not make a distinction between Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in terms of issues. Candidates too seem to be following the same pattern, with several of them projecting achievements irrelevant to their powers as Members of Parliament (MPs). Broadly speaking, two factors come into play in the decision-making process - day-to-day matters that affect people's lives and the voter's familiarity with the candidate.

The 48 Lok Sabha seats in the State fall under the six regions - Mumbai, Konkan, Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra. In 1999, the Congress(I) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) contested separately and won nine and six seats respectively. The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance won 27 seats. In 1998, while a united Congress(I) won in 33 constituencies, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine got 10.

In 1999, the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance dominated the Mumbai region by winning five of the six seats. This time round, the ruling Congress(I)-NCP combine has fielded candidates who can make the going tough for the Shiv Sena-BJP candidates.

In Mumbai North, Hindi film actor Govinda is expected to give the BJP's five-time winner and Union Minister Ram Naik a run for his money. Govinda is using the Virar ka chokra (boy from Virar) slogan to woo voters from the area he grew up in. Moreover, the Shiv Sena's revival of its anti-North Indian propaganda may affect Naik's chances since there is a high concentration of North Indians in some pockets of the constituency. In Mumbai North-East, Mumbai Regional Congress Committee president Gurudas Kamath is taking on the BJP's sitting MP Kirit Somaiyya. Last time Kamath lost by a small margin, and this allows the Congress(I) to be optimistic. In 1999, Mumbai North-West was the only seat the Congress(I) won in the region. This time the party has fielded its sitting MP and four-time winner Sunil Dutt to take on the Shiv Sena's Sanjay Nirupam. Mumbai South-Central, the heart of the mill area, is expected to see an interesting distribution of votes. The seat has been the stronghold of the Shiv Sena's Mohan Rawale, who has won it three times. Gangster Arun Gawli is contesting from the constituency. Popularly known as "Daddy", Gawli has been working hard to raise his popularity by improving the living conditions in the chawls. The partly elite, middle class and Muslim neighbourhoods of Mumbai South will choose between BJP leader and Union Minister Jaiwantiben Mehta and first-timer Milind Deora. The 27-year-old Deora, son of Congress(I) leader Murli Deora, is among the youngsters whom the party is depending on to draw the vote of the youth. South Mumbai, the fourth smallest constituency in the country, has seven candidates, a far cry from the time when this prestigious constituency saw battles featuring more than 20 candidates.

In 1999, coastal Konkan continued with its tradition of being a Shiv Sena bastion - three of the five seats went to the party. The BJP won the Dahanu (Reserved) constituency. The Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) holds the Kulaba seat. The PWP's power has been diminishing steadily in the State and Kulaba is the only seat it has managed to retain a hold on.

Although the coastal parts of the region are relatively fertile, agriculture has never received state-sponsored benefits. The Konkan hinterland suffers the most, with poor soil being a deterrent to agriculture. For decades people here survived on a "money order economy". The absence of a railway network used to be the main complaint, but since the inauguration of the Konkan Railway this is no longer an issue.

Western Maharashtra, the sugar belt of the State, has been nurtured by and has prospered under the Congress(I). However, in 1999, while the party retained only two of the 12 seats, the NCP secured six. The failure of the government to provide adequate drought relief in parts of Sangli, Satara and Ahmednagar districts is expected to play a role in the voting pattern this time. A consistent demand of the people of this rain-shadow region has been an efficient irrigation network. Athough the region has the largest number of irrigation projects in the State, the cultivation of water-intensive sugarcane puts heavy pressure on irrigation water.

In Marathwada, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine built on the foothold it gained in 1998 and captured six of the eight seats in 1999. The Congress(I)-NCP alliance hopes to recapture at least five seats this time. The saffron combine, however, appears unwilling to relinquish its hold without putting up a tough fight. In Latur, the BJP has fielded Rupatai Nilangekar against Shivraj Patil, the Congress(I)'s seven-time winner and former Lok Sabha Speaker. Nilangekar belongs to a politically prominent family in the area and banks on its influence. Osmanabad (Reserved), which the Shiv Sena has won twice, will probably re-elect the party's candidate. The Congress(I)-NCP combine's candidate Laxman Dhobale is alleged to have said at a rally that he would not allow water from the Usni dam to flow into drought-ridden Osmanabad. More important, "he is not from this district, so he doesn't stand a chance," says Kiran Mane, a social worker in Osmanabad.

Although Marathwada is reeling under an acute drinking water shortage, the deciding factors there seem to be the candidates' origins and level of personal interaction with the constituency. In Beed, for instance, Jaisingrao Gaikwad, who won the seat for the Shiv Sena-BJP last time, is now fighting on the NCP ticket. Gaikwad is popular in the area and is known to travel the length and breath of the district, interacting with the people. Nanded is held by Bhaskarrao Khatgaonkar of the Congress(I). Although he has done little for the area, which has experienced communal problems, water pollution and drought, the voters still seem to prefer the Congress(I). Apparently, Khatgoankar enjoys a certain loyalty because he is the son-in-law of the late Congress(I) leader and Union Minister S.B. Chavan and belongs to the district. Moreover, he has the support of the numerically strong Muslim community.

Vidarbha, in northeastern Maharashtra, was traditionally a Congress(I) stronghold. Perhaps the region worst hit by the Congress(I) split, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine bagged five of the 11 Lok Sabha seats here in 1999. However, the alliance between the Congress(I) and the NCP could see the former making a comeback with six seats. Chandrapur district in the tribal belt and the cotton-producing district of Yavatmal are expected to return Congress(I) candidates. In Nagpur, Banwarilal Purohit, leader of the Vidarbha Vikas Party, may claim a part of the vote. The demand for a separate State of Vidarbha has been put on the back burner and issues such as unemployment and industrialisation in the region have gained more importance.

Northern Maharashtra, an area that has been pro-Congress(I), saw startling changes with the Shiv Sena-BJP combine taking four of the six seats - three reserved (Dhule, Nandurbar and Malegaon) and three unreserved (Jalgaon, Nasik and Erandol) - in 1999.

In the unreserved constituencies, the issues that dominate are unemployment, increasing business competition and falling profit, especially in the small-scale sector. The industrial sector, which for a brief while was seen as the hope of northern Maharashtra, has not picked up as expected. There is resentment against past and present governments for not having maximised the opportunities offered by the fertile land. In Dhule, the stamp paper scam is expected to dominate the campaign because of the alleged involvement of a Samajwadi Janata Party legislator, Anil Gote, who was arrested last year. Gote had pointed a finger at the then Deputy Chief Minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, and had demanded he be questioned in the scam.

The major issues in the reserved constituencies, especially those of Dhule and Nandurbar, are related to employment, land rights, and rights to natural resource management in conjunction with wildlife and forest conservation. In Nandurbar, an important subject of discussion is the issue of those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar project.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment