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Curtains down on high-pitch campaign for Maha polls

October 11, 2009 18:36 IST
The high-pitch campaign ended on Sunday in Maharashtra for the October 13 assembly elections which saw Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena fighting for the same political space and the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party aiming a hat-trick.

An electorate of 7,56,34,525 will decide the fate of 3,559 candidates, including 211 women. There are 1,820 independents, mostly rebels, in fray.

The state goes to polls on Tuesday under the shadow of the gruesome Naxal attack in Gadchiroli district where 17 policemen were killed in an ambush.

Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which polled over 12 lakh votes in the Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik, is seen as a major factor likely to influence the state politics.

Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, who toured the state highlighting suicides by farmers and the government's failures in power sector, was forced to change his campaign from development issues to the 'Marathi Manoos' agenda.

Raj Thackeray in his meetings attacked the Opposition, especially Shiv Sena saying that by and large they had failed to corner the government on its failures. The polls, being held after the Lok Sabha elections in May this year where the Congress performed impressively going past the 200 seat mark, have enthused the party in the state to go for a hat-trick.

The Congress has been ruling the state for the last ten years in alliance with the NCP. The Congress is contesting on 174 seats, leaving two for Revolutionary Party of India (Gavai) group while the NCP is contesting on 114 seats.

The Shiv Sena is fighting on 169 and the BJP on 119 seats. Though the MNS has fielded candidates in 143 assembly constituencies, Raj Thackeray has focused on Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik areas where he hopes to make a dent.

The Republican Left Democratic Front comprising 16 political parties, including the Peasant Worker Party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Samajwadi Party and spearheaded by RPI leader Ramdas Athavale, is also contesting from all the seats. The Front suffered a setback after RPI (Gavai) moved out to join the Congress-NCP bandwagon.

Generation Next of top state leaders like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Gopinath Munde are also making their debut in the election. Amit, Deshmukh's eldest son is in fray from Latur city; Pranati, Shinde's youngest daughter is the Congress candidate from Solapur city central; Munde's daughter Pankaja Palve is in fray from her father's bastion Parli while Poonam Mahajan, Munde's niece and daughter of BJP leader late Pramod Mahajan is testing political waters from Ghatkopar west in Mumbai.

But the most high-profile of all is Rajendra Shekhawat, son of President Pratibha Patil, who is contesting from Amravati, a seat represented by his parents earlier.

The campaigning saw United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi addressing election meetings across the state. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the media in Mumbai on Sunday.

While the 'Thackeray vs Thackeray' campaign focused on 'Marathi manoos' issue, both Sonia and Rahul stressed on development issues and cautioned people against voting for divisive forces.

Leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha L K Advani toured the state except for Mumbai and BJP president Rajnath Singh participated in a joint rally with Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on Saturday.

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar also campaigned aggressively for the Congress-NCP candidates but did not share stage with Sonia Gandhi for any election rally.

Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray could not actively participate in the campaigning and restricted himself to interviews and televised address to followers. The "Marathi" issue dominated the election manifesto of both Sena-BJP and Congress-NCP. Both manifestos speak of organising "Marathi week".

The Congress-NCP even said that it will set up a legislative committee to ensure that the work at government offices is carried out in Marathi. The saffron manifesto says it will set up a permanent machinery to stop migration to Mumbai and ensure 80 per cent jobs to locals.

The campaign witnessed personal attacks with Uddhav calling Raj a "rat" and the latter retorting by calling him a "snake". Chief Minister Ashok Chavan jumped the name-calling bandwagon dubbing Raj a "frog". Raj had also mimicked the Congress President at a poll rally, referring to which Chavan said Raj should quit politics and join films.

In this backdrop, glamour quotient was not to be left behind with several filmstars campaigning for the Congress-NCP candidates. Topping the list were Salman Khan, Shreyas Talpade, Sunil Shetty, Urmila Matondkar and Riteish Deshmukh. Riteish spent most of his time in Latur campaigning for elder brother Amit. All the celebrities maintained that they were campaigning for friends and not political parties.

In Mumbai, all eyes will be on popular Marathi TV host Aadesh Bandekar, who is contesting as Sena candidate from Mahim and ex-cricketer Vinod Kambli who is contesting on Lok Bharti party ticket from suburban Vikhroli.

The pre-campaign political scene saw some quick defections like former BJP MP Anna Joshi joining the NCP in Kothrud (Pune) and entering the fray as a candidate. In Mumbai, Sena MLA Sada Sarvankar from Dadar defected to the Congress and was nominated as party candidate within an hour of entering the party from the re-carved Mahim constituency, post-delimitation.

Though Maharashtra does not have a history of poll-related violence, one person died and another one was injured in a firing incident at the election rally of BJP candidate from Akkalkot Siddaramppa Patil.

BJP alleged that Patil's Congress rival Siddhram Mhetre was involved. Mhetre was booked in the case but got reprieve from Supreme court which ruled that he should not be arrested before October 19.

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