Fourteen Lok Sabha constituencies, mostly in the state's 'sugar belt', went to polls in Maharashtra on Tuesday in the third phase, recording an average voting percentage of 61.3 per cent till 6 pm, according to officials in the Chief Electoral Officer's office. The officials, however, said the percentage was likely to increase as the final figures were yet to come.
Earlier, Dilip Shinde, additional Chief Electoral Officer, said, "The average voting percentage in these 14 constituencies was 62.88 per cent in 2014. Voting is still going on in some places… There is enthusiasm among women and senior citizens." According to him, there was no untoward incident.
Three key battlegrounds which voted in the third phase are Madha, Baramati and Ahmednagar in the Western Maharashtra belt where the NCP and Congress are seeking to regain a toehold.
In the fray were several high-profile candidates: NCP's sitting MP Supriya Sule, state BJP chief Raosaheb Danve Patil, Swabhimani Paksha's Raju Shetti, Shiv Sena MP Anant Geete and NCP's Sunil Tatkare, among others. Tuesday's polls will also decide the fate of Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil's son Sujay, who is contesting on a BJP ticket.
The highest voting percentage was recorded in Kolhapur (69 per cent), while Pune recorded the lowest (53 per cent). Voting percentages in the other seats, according to Election Commission data, were as follows: Jalgaon (58 per cent), Raver (58 per cent), Jalna (63 per cent), Aurangabad (61.87 per cent), Raigad (58.06 per cent), Baramati (59.50 per cent), Ahmednagar (63 per cent), Madha (63 per cent), Sangli (64 per cent), Satara (57.06 per cent), Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg (62.26 per cent) and Hatkanangle (68.50 per cent). Of the 12 Western Maharashtra seats, eight went to polls on Tuesday, recording a slight dip in voting percentage.
In the run-up to the polls, the candidature for Madha had swung wildly with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who had earlier bowed out of electoral politics, announcing in February that he would succumb to party workers' pressure and throw his hat in the ring once again, only to back out weeks later. The contest is now between NCP's Sanjay Shinde, Solapur zilla parishad president and a sugar baron himself, and BJP's Ranjitsinh Naik-Nimbalkar, who recently defected from the Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself held a rally in Madha, signalling the significance of this seat for the BJP.
In Baramati, Pawar's home turf, daughter Sule is seeking re-election in a contest marked by acrimony and intense campaigning by senior state BJP leaders and BJP president Amit Shah. The BJP candidate in the seat is Kanchan Kul, wife of MLA Rahul Kul of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP).
In Pune, the BJP has favoured Maharashtra minister Girish Bapat over sitting MP Anil Shirole. Bapat is squared against Congress old-timer Mohan Joshi.
Voting started on a brisk note in both Pune and Baramati but dipped as the day wore on. During the 2014 elections, Pune recorded 54.14 per cent voting and Baramati 58.83 per cent. In Pune, the Assembly constituencies of Vadgaonsheri and Parvati recorded the highest turnout at 50.41 per cent and 62 per cent, respectively. Shivajinagar and Kothrud recorded around 47 per cent voting. Kasba, the home constituency of Bapat, recorded the lowest voting percentage of 46.35 per cent.
For the Congress-NCP, Ahmednagar is a battle of prestige, where Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil couldn't be prevailed over to stop his son Sujay from contesting on a BJP ticket. Sujay was miffed after the NCP refused to hand over the seat to the Congress in seat-sharing talks. He is pitted against NCP's Sangram Jagtap.
In Satara, NCP's candidate is Udayanraje Bhosale, who is seeking a third term, contesting against Shiv Sena's Narendra Patil, a former NCP leader.
Raju Shetti has held the Hatkanangle seat since 2009. Having supported the NDA in 2014, the sitting MP, who was earlier among the loudest critics of Pawar, is now part of the Congress-NCP alliance. He faces Sena's Dhairyasheel Mane.
In Jalna, Raosaheb Danve is seeking a fifth term and, having overcome an earlier threat of rebellion by a Sena MLA keen to contest from Jalna, is now facing his 2014 opponent Vilas Autade of the Congress, who Danve defeated by over two lakh votes.
Union minister and Sena MP Anant Geete is contesting against NCP's Sunil Tatkare, while in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, the Sena will be fighting to keep Konkan heavyweight Narayan Rane at bay. Here, sitting MP Vinayak Raut takes on Nilesh Rane, son of the Rajya Sabha BJP MP who is contesting as a Swabhimani Paksha candidate.