SOLAPUR/ OSMANABAD : The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-Shiv Sena-Republican Party of India (Athawale) alliance faces its first big test as 10 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra go to polls on Thursday in the second phase of the 2019 elections.

Of these, the BJP-Sena-RPI had won eight seats in 2014 while the rival Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) bagged two. Similar to the first round of polls on 11 April, this phase too features some big names in state and national politics, including senior Congress leader and former Union home minister and former Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and another former chief minister Ashok Chavan.

Shinde and Chavan are contesting from their hometowns Solapur in south Maharashtra and Nanded in Marathwada, respectively. In 2014, Chavan won from Nanded and became only one of two Congress candidates to win from Maharashtra besides Rajeev Satav from Hingoli in Marathwada, which also goes to polls tomorrow. Besides these two, elections will also be held on Thursday for Latur, Parbhani, Beed, and Osmanabad seats in Marathwada. The second phase also comprises three seats in Vidarbha—Amravati, Akola, and Buldhana.

Though the 10 seats are spread over a large landscape in Vidarbha, Marathwada and south Maharashtra, the issues dominating the electoral agenda are common—drought, agrarian concerns, remunerative prices for farm produce and supply of drinking water.

Pravin Bhosle, an NCP activist in Kamtigaon village in Solapur constituency, said it was Shinde, as the chief minister of Maharashtra in 2003, who took the decision to set up fodder camps for cattle during drought. “Today, there are no fodder camps in the entire constituency even amid a severe drought. This election is a fight between the farmers and this anti-farmer government," Bhosle said. Drought, lack of proper remunerative prices and anti-incumbency dominate the agenda in Akola and Buldhana too.

The second phase assumes a greater significance for the saffron alliance since the main alliance partners are relying on each other for a smooth transfer of votes as witnessed in 2014. But for the Congress-NCP combine, the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) formed by Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) poses a challenge in some constituencies including Solapur.

Speaking to Mint, Shinde blamed even the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, for supporting the VBA. “The AIMIM is a communal party and my sense is that the CPM does not believe in God or Ishwar or Allah. Then why has it sided with AIMIM? It is clearly helping the BJP," the Congress leader said.

In 2014, Chavan survived the Modi wave by winning from Nanded with a margin of 81,455 votes. Chavan has history and stature as his strong points here in a contest that has turned close with the BJP fielding a strong candidate in Pratap Chikhalikar, an ex-Shiv Sainik. Recently, Chavan has betrayed signs of desperation when he said that “efforts were being made to finish his political career," hinting at internal squabbles within the Congress.

Meanwhile, due to their public spats in the last four years, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine faces an internal problem—transfer of votes. “Transfer of votes is more important this time because the alliance was formed less than two months back unlike in 2014 when we were already in alliance. BJP needs our support in Solapur but we also need their support in Amravati, Hingoli, Osmanabad and Parbhani," said a Shiv Sena leader in Solapur who did not want to be named. Rajesh Pohrekar, a young Shiv Sena supporter in Amravati, said the BJP’s support is crucial for the Shiv Sena to retain the seat where two-time Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul faces a serious contest from independent candidate Navneet Rana, who had contested in 2014 on a NCP ticket and lost to Adsul by over 135,000 votes. “Adsul faces anti-incumbency but chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has deployed the entire BJP machinery here to work for him. If polling happens on national issues and for Modi, Adsul may just scrape through," Pohrekar said.

In Valsang village of Solapur constituency, 24-year-old Chandrakant Manjolkar, who works as a daily-wage labourer, said not much has been done to address concerns like drought but feels people will vote for a strong government. “Modiji has made the country stronger. He should be back as PM," he said even as he agreed that the constituency still faced the problem of drought and bad internal roads as it did five years ago.

Ashok Chavan (not the Congress candidate), a 52-year-old engineer in a private firm in Solapur, who calls himself a personal supporter of Shinde, said, however, that the Congress veteran would win by over 50,000 votes. In 2014, Shinde lost to BJP’s Sharad Bansode by nearly 150,000 votes. “Shinde saheb will win on his own personal appeal. Bansode did not really capitalize his chance and the developmental needs of this constituency remain unaddressed. Shinde saheb also represents diverse social groups," Chavan said as he campaigned for the Congress leader.

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