Farmer suicides haunt Maharashtra polls (Election Special)
Trepidation has gripped all political parties as they prepare for the first of the three-phase Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra Thursday in the Vidarbha region. The region, comprising 10 constituencies, has been in perpetual limelight for recurring suicides by farmers steeped in debt.
This time round, there is triple tragedy on the minds of the farmers: last year's drought, followed by floods and this year's unseasonal rains and hailstorm which have played havoc with their lives.
Last month, the desperate farmers even threatened to press the NOTA (None Of The Above) button on voting machines if aid was not disbursed immediately.
In view of the election code of conduct, the Maharashtra and central governments could not rush aid to the affected areas, adding to the resentment and anger among agriculturists.
Little wonder that all political parties have gone the extra mile to woo the electorate in the region.
For instance, from the Congress, party president Sonia Gandhi shared the dais with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar to launch her maiden rally in Bhandara and Nagpur.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has already made three visits to the region, wooing the farmers and promising to improve their lot.
Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi toured the region thrice and conducted a national interaction with farmers from here.
Even leaders of the Shiv Sena, Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and others have not lagged behind to reach out to the sulking farmers for their crucial votes.
Added to the farm woe is the Maoist menace plaguing many areas, especially the dense forests of Gadchiroli and Chandrapur.
As many as 201 candidates are in the fray for the 10 seats: Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Bhandara-Gondia, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Nagpur, Ramtek, Wardha and Yavatmal-Washim.
In the outgoing Lok Sabha, the prime contenders -- the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) -- each have five seats.
While Bhandara-Gondia, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Nagpur, Ramket and Wardha seats are held by the UPA, the NDA holds Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Chandrapur and Yavatmal-Washim.
For the Congress, the key will be to retain all the five seats despite the anti-incumbency. The "Modi wave" is BJP's and NDA's sole USP.
In 2009, the UPA put up a spectacular performance snatching four of the nine seats held by the NDA in the region. Internal bickering cost it one seat.
Union minister and NCP leader Praful Patel, BJP's ex-president Nitin Gadkari, former Congress ministers Vilas Muttemwar and Mukul Wasnik, former actress Navneet Kaur-Rana, state minister Sanjay Deotale, AAP leader Anjali Damania, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and former NASA scientist Balasaheb Darade are some of the prominent candidates in the fray Thursday.
Exercising extra caution, the Congress has changed two of its four outgoing MPs by introducing new faces in Wardha and Gadchiroli-Chimur.
Unlike in 2009, the entry of AAP has ensured triangular contests in almost all the constituencies in the state, including Vidarbha, which has upset the political calculations of all other parties.
Around 16 million people are eligible to vote across 19,059 polling stations in the 10 constituencies.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 08-04-2014)