It was a huge earthquake which put this nondescript town in Marathwada region on the news map. Sixteen years later, Latur is again in the news as it will decide the political fortune of Amit Deshmukh, son of Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, in the October 13 Maharashtra assembly elections.
Amit, Congress candidate from Latur (urban) constituency, is locked in a quadrangular contest with Annarao Patil of the Third Front, Pappu Kulkarni of Shiv Sena and Qayum Khan of the Bahujan Samaj Party. 'Latur's Family Number 1' was present in full strength when Amit filed his nomination papers.
Vilasrao, his actor son Riteish, Amit's TV model wife Aditi and Vilasrao's brother and state minister Diliprao are actively participating in his campaign in the constituency with 2.91 lakh voters.
Refuting charges of nepotism, Deshmukh claimed that it was necessary to put up young candidates in the elections considering the 'changing voters' profile'.
In 1995, two years after the devastating earthquake, a political tremor rocked Vilasrao Deshmukh as he lost to a relatively unknown Janata Dal nominee Shivajirao Patil Kavhekar, in the assembly election.
In 1999, Deshmukh avenged his defeat by winning back Latur with a margin of nearly 80,000 votes, inflicting a humiliating defeat on Kavhekar who had to forfeit his deposit.
Kavhekar then joined the Nationalist Congress Party, which he quit in 2003 to join the Bharatiya Janata Party. Not wanting to take any chances, Deshmukh has wooed Kavhekar back into the Congress and persuaded him to withdraw his candidature against Amit.
Deshmukh, one of the tallest Maratha leaders in the Congress, also won the seat in 2004, but quit it this year after being elected to the Rajya Sabha. Post-delimitation, the Latur seat was bifurcated into Latur urban and rural seats, incorporating parts of the Renapur seat, earlier represented by Deshmukh's personal friend and political rival, BJP general secretary Gopinath Munde.
Latur town, which gained fame for the 'Latur pattern', producing merit list toppers in SSC and HSC exams of the state board for years in a row, is witness to rapidly developing infrastructure, including a state-of-the-art flyover and an expanding industrial belt.
Contrary to what one would expect a fortnight before polls, the normal hustle and bustle of an election is missing. There is no usual talk around bus stand or tea stalls of who will win and who will bite the dust.