As the dates for the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections were announced on Sunday - Maharashtra will go to polls in four phases - the four parliamentary seats in Pune district, considered a gateway for western Maharashtra, is all set for a fierce battle between the two major alliances, the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena and the opposition Congress-NCP.
Traditionally an NCP stronghold - the party was in power in Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and Pune Zila Parishad till recently - tables in the Pune district turned in 2017, as the BJP managed to wrest power almost single-handedly in Pimpri Chinchwad and Pune municipal corporations. The NCP had managed to retain its hold over the Pune Zila Parishad that year.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw the emergence of the BJP in a big way. The party won one of the four parliamentary constituencies, while its ally Shiv Sena won two other constituencies, thus decimating the Congress and the NCP.
The Pune Lok Sabha seat was won by BJP's Anil Shirole by defeating Congress's Vishwajeet Kadam with a record margin in 2014. The seat was held by Congress's Suresh Kalmadi till 2014. In Baramati, NCP candidate Supriya Sule, managed to retain her seat that year, but had faced a stiff challenge from RSP's Mahadeo Jankar - who was supported by the BJP-Sena alliance. The Sena, meanwhile, had managed to retain Shirur and Maval - Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil won Shirur, while Shrirang Barne from Maval seat - in 2014.
In 2019, the Lok Sabha election is all set to be another tussle between the two major alliances. For the Pune seat, there has been lot of competition even within political parties. While sitting BJP MP Anil Shirole has been vying for a ticket, names of Guardian Minister Girish Bapat, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, city chief Yogesh Gogawale and party corporator Murlidhar Mohol are also making the rounds.
The Congress is also facing infighting over the Pune LS seat ticket. Senior leaders Abhay Chhajed, Mohan Joshi, Ulhas Pawar and Anant Gadgil have been claiming the party's ticket even as Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Kakade (who will join the party soon), former Sambhaji Brigade leader Pravin Gaikwad and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan are being seen as major contenders.
In Baramati, the NCP is working hard to avoid a 2014 rerun, when MP Supriya Sule managed to retain the seat by a narrow margin. She begun the preparations for the Lok Sabha elections months ago, while the BJP is yet to identify a formidable candidate against her.
In Shirur parliamentary seat, Shiv Sena leader Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil seems comfortable, having retained the seat for three consecutive terms. Upping the ante, the NCP has roped in popular Marathi actor Amol Kolhe, who recently quit the Sena to join the NCP. Known for his onscreen performances as Maratha king Shivaji and his son Sambhaji, Kolhe could prove to be a major challenge for the BJP-Sena.
The Sena, however, has been dominant in Maval parliamentary seat, spread in Pune and Raigad districts. It won the seat in 2009 and 2014. The NCP and Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) is working hard to snatch the seat. Parth Pawar, son of NCP leader Ajit Pawar, is likely to be the party's choice from seat.