The power centre of Maharashtra politics has surely shifted from western Maharashtra; Vidarbha, the new power centre in Maharashtra politics, will give a hint which way the political wind is blowing.
Comprising 11 districts and 10 Lok Sabha seats and of 20 per cent of Maharashtra population, seven seats from Vidharbha — Nagpur, Chandrapur, Bhandara-Gondia, Gadchiroli, Wardha, Ramtek and Yavatmal Washimis — will go to polls on April 11, in the first phase. This is also the land of perennial drought.
Beyond Nagpur and Chandrapur, where the development work is concentrated, the other nine districts have always been deprived of the same.
BJP stalwart Nitin Gadkari did not leave Nagpur for the past 10 days despite winning the Nagpur seat by around three lakh votes in 2014, for which he campaigned door to door. Interestingly in all his ‘nukkad’ (neighbourhood) rallies, the only thing Nitin Gadkari spoke about was development.
When asked why he doesn’t speak about nationalism or Hindutva, which is a common trend among his colleagues, he said that he is a nationalist but these are elections and what people want to hear is what he had done about the promises he made in 2014.
Nitin Gadkari knows it very well that in Vidarbha, Congress has the edge. Dalit and Muslim votes had helped Congress candidate in Nagpur to cross three lakh votes even in 2014, when the Modi wave was at its peak. By fielding Kunbi leader Nana Patole in Nagpur, Congress is trying to add Kunbi (OBC) votes to its bank. Patole, a former BJP MLA from Bhandara, is now a bitter critic of the saffron party.
This election is a clash of two ideologies, Patole said when asked about the campaign.
A janmabhoomi’ of RSS, Nagpur has a strong network of RSS swayamsewaks who propagate Hindutva to the grassroots. And on the other hand it is also a place where on the auspicious occasion of Dussehra, Baba Saheb Ambedkar had quit Hinduism to accept Buddhism along with his six lakh followers, giving birth to ‘dikshabhoomi’.
Inaugurated in a hurry just before the announcement of elections, Nagpur Metro connects just three stations, making it of no use to commuters. But Gadkari uses this to get the non-BJP floating votes.
Irrespective of which party comes to power, the issues of farmers from these areas have always remained unsolved. This may be the reason why the widow of a farmer who committed suicide in Yavatmal is contesting against Shivsena-BJP as well as Congress-NCP in Yavatmal; even those who have been critical of Congress and NCP government for farm crisis in Vidarbha said that the situation has not changed even today especially with respect to the implementation of various schemes.
However, the campaign by the Prime Minister in the region spoke more about the Hindu nationalism than the farmers. In 2014, Modi spoke for 18 minutes on farmers at his first rally in Vidarbha Wardha, in 2019 he spent only three and a half minutes.
On the other hand, the reunited Congress-NCP alliance is heavily banking on the caste and community combinations like Kunbis (OBC), Dalits and Muslims to regain its past position in Vidarbha. Rahul Gandhi in his three rallies in Vidarbha tried to push its flagship ’NYAY’ scheme to the voters.
Even though the presence of BSP and Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Aghadi remain a matter of concern for the Congress-NCP alliance, the number of seats such as Chandrapur, Amravati, Bhandara, Gondia, Wardha, Yewatmal – Washim are facing a close fight between BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP alliances.