Mumbai (The Hindu): As Maharashtra readies for the first phase of the elections to 15 zilla parishads (ZP) and 165 panchayat samitis on Thursday, the Opposition is hoping to cash in on what it claims as widespread discontent among farmers due to the Centre’s demonetisation move.
With the rural belt set for voting, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) hope to gain the most from their traditional strongholds. “Farmers have suffered the most because of demonetisation. They will teach the party [BJP] a fitting lesson this time,” said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.
Districts where elections will be held on Thursday include Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Hingoli, Beed, Nanded, Osmanabad, Latur, Buldhana, Yavatmal, Wardha, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli. Counting is on February 23.
Both Opposition parties and their top leaders have been campaigning in Marathwada and Vidarbha. For Congress heavyweights like State party chief Ashok Chavan, former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Amit Deshmukh and Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil hope to maintain their dominance in their respective districts of Nanded, Latur and Ahmednagar. NCP leaders like Dhananjay Munde and Supriya Sule have been campaigning in Beed and Marathwada respectively, where ZP elections will be held.
For the BJP, which stands fourth in terms of its presence in ZPs, the elections are of major importance to achieve its dream if a Congress-free State. The party had allotted districts to a State minister for managing the campaign, and has presented Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as its star campaigner with development as its agenda. The civic polls are important to leaders like Pankaja Munde and State party chief Raosaheb Danve in their home districts of Beed and Jalna respectively.
The Shiv Sena, meanwhile, has focussed on Mumbai and Thane, leaving rest of the State to local leaders.
The NCP’s Nawab Malik said the party is aiming at big wins in the first phase, and continue the trend in the remaining phases. “We are confident due to the tremendous response we have received. We can surely claim that the party will emerge victorious.”
Demonetisation, falling prices of onion and tur daal and the government’s inability to offer minimum support price to farmers were highlighted by the Opposition during the camapign.
On election eve, a group claiming to be organisers of the silent Maratha rallies held a press conference asking people to boycott the BJP. Rajendra Kondhare, a key organiser of the silent rallies, said some people had indulged in a publicity stunt. The BJP released a statement saying it stands firmly with the Maratha community in its demand for reservation.
BJP spokesperson Shweta Shalini on Wednesday wrote to the State Election Commission (SEC) asking for a ban on the Saamana. “SEC bans newspapers from publishing material that will influence voters 48 hours prior to an election. While all parties have adhered to the stricture, the Saamana, which is the mouthpiece of the Sena, has violated it. We have requested a ban on its printing on February 16, 20 and 21,” she said.
Elections will be held for 2,567 seats and 11,989 candidates will be contesting. Of the total, 855 seats are in 15 ZPs and will be contested by 4,289 candidates. In panchayat samitis, 7,700 candidates will be contesting 1,712 seats. In all, 2.04 crore voters will be eligible to exercise their franchise, of which 1.07 crore are male, 96 lakh are women and 95 fall in the ‘others’ category.
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