On Thursday, when Lok Sabha election results are declared, many political analysts in the state will be watching the outcome in Pune district, which has the four Lok Sabha seats of Pune, Baramati, Maval and Shirur. While all the four major political parties in the state are in the fray, which party finally manages to assert its dominance over the entry point to western Maharashtra is anybody s guess.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Shiv Sena won the Shirur and Maval Lok Sabha seats, while the BJP won Pune and NCP won in its stronghold Baramati.
On polling day this year, April 23, Pune witnessed a low turnout as only 49.84 per cent voters exercised their voting rights, but due to increased number of voters, the number of votes polled was 40,188 more than the 2014 elections. A total of 10,34,154 votes were polled in Pune. The Baramati seat, which went to polls on the same day, saw a higher turnout, 61.54 per cent, than the 2014 polls. As many as 12,99,792 votes were polled in Baramati, 2.47 lakhs more than the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the 2014 elections, BJP leader Anil Shirole won the Pune seat with a record margin of over 3.15 lakh votes by defeating Congress candidate Vishwajeet Kadam. This year will again see a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP in Pune, and their candidates Mohan Joshi and Girish Bapat. The two leaders from opposite ends of the political spectrum have something in common: they have both contested the Lok Sabha elections in the past, and lost.
The city unit of the BJP has been upbeat about the party s chances, as a few months after winning the Pune Lok Sabha seat, the party won all the eight assembly seats in Pune in the 2014 state elections, as well as the majority of seats in the 2017 Pune Municipal Corporation elections. For the parliamentary polls, the BJP started its preparations before its rivals and also relied more on state leaders and party workers, rather than national leaders, to campaign for its candidate.
The Congress, meanwhile, suffered one electoral reversal after the other in the last few years. The party cadre finally received a much-needed boost to their morale when a party loyalist, Joshi, was given the ticket for the prestigious Pune seat.
Both BJP and Congress candidates have said they are confident of winning the seat.
The most-watched contest in the district is, however, in the constituency of Baramati, the hometown of NCP chief and arguably the most prominent leader from Maharashtra currently in national politics, Sharad Pawar.
The BJP has made no secret of its intention of wresting the seat away from the Pawar family, which has won it for decades, with BJP chief Amit Shah himself leading the campaign for party candidate Kanchan Kul, wife of Rashtriya Samaj Paksha legislator Rahul Kul and daughter-in-law of former NCP legislator Ranjana Kul.
Even Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and other state ministers focussed on Baramati, where NCP leader and two-term MP Supriya Sule faces a tough fight to retain the seat for a third term. Sule had won in 2014 by only 70,000 votes a low figure for a senior NCP leader and the daughter of Sharad Pawar by defeating Mahadeo Jankar of RSP, an alliance partner of BJP.
This time, the NCP took no chances and began the election campaign for Sule months before election dates were declared. The NCP chief, along with his nephew and senior party leader Ajit Pawar, spent quite a bit of time campaigning in Baramati, while many state and local party leaders also swung into action to campaign for Sule.