“Akola is a major challenge for the BJP and NCP, which is why top leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar have held rallies here,” said Anjali Maydeo Ambedkar, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) leader and wife of the outfit’s chief Prakash Ambedkar. She said she was confident that the VBA was going to win in at least three Assembly constituencies in Akola district, where first-time VBA candidates include a college principal, a former sitting MLA and an union leader of ASHA workers.
In the Lok Sabha polls, the VBA had teamed up with the AIMIM and bagged 14 per cent of the total votes polled in the state. The Akola Assembly constituency is part of the Akola Lok Sabha constituency, along with five other Assembly segments — Akot, Akola East, Balapur and Murtizapur in Akola district, and Risod in adjoining Washim district.
Anjali Ambedkar, who is campaigning for VBA candidates, told The Indian Express that in Akola, the outfit was confident of winning at least three Assembly segments, including Murtizapur, Akola East and Balapur.
“Local factors are operating this time... the Modi wave is not as strong,” she said, adding that the VBA was also hopeful of a win in Akot segment and other constituencies like Kalamnuri and Basmat in Hingoli district, Naigaon, Nanded north and Nanded south”. Dr Dhariyavardhan Pundkar, the VBA candidate from Balapur constituency, is the principal of Dr Manorama and H S Pundkar Arts, Commerce and Science college.
“I have been connected with the Ambedkars and working in this movement since 1998. It is natural for every political worker to aspire to join politics and contest elections,” he said, adding that he was confident of a win against Shiv Sena leader Nitin Deshmukh and NCP leader Sangram Sawande.
“I have been interacting with the youth and women... focussing on issues like women’s empowerment and resolving the unemployment crisis,” said Dr Pundkar.
At Murtizapur, Pratibha Awachar, a Zilla Parishad member, leads the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers’ union. She is contesting against BJP sitting MLA Harish Pimpale and NCP leader Ravi Rathi. “I have been working for the welfare of patients since a long time and have resolved several issues faced by women. This is a constituency reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates and several communities like Teli Samaj, Mali, Dhangar and others have supported us,” she said, adding that door-to-door meetings were part of her campaign strategy.
Haridas Badhe, who won from Akola East in the 2004 and 2009 Assembly elections before losing the seat in the 2014 polls, said he was confident of a win this time. “PM Narendra Modi held a rally at Akola today but he did not touch upon burning topics like unemployment among youth and farmers’ issues,” Badhe told The Indian Express.
“Five years ago, I had listed a series of projects for the development of Akola, like setting up a PHC at Shivapur, health training centre and others. I will pursue these projects and work towards resolving the unemployment crisis among the youth,” he said.