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VBA makes contest tough for Sena factions in Shirdi

The entry of Rupawate has made the contest tough for both Lokhande and Wakchaure…writes Sanjay Jog

There is a triangular contest in the Shirdi reserved Lok Sabha constituency where the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena has renominated the sitting MP Sadashiv Lokhande against the former MP and Shiv Sena (UBT) candidate Bhausaheb Wakchaure and the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) nominee and former Congress leader Utkarsha Rupawate.

The entry of Rupawate has made the contest tough for both Lokhande and Wakchaure.

For these three nominees the contest is an acid test as this is likely to be the last election in the reserved constituency if the delimitation process begins in 2026.

Even though the election is slated for May 13, campaigning by the three candidates has been very lacklustre largely also because of the ongoing heatwave.

A total of 20 candidates are in the fray. There are 16,77,335 voters comprising 8,64,573 males and 8,12,684 females in the constituency.

For the Shinde faction it is a challenge to retain supremacy as the party has given yet another chance to Lokhande despite strong resentment from within the party, allies and various organisations due to his lack of connect with the people at the grassroots despite being at the helm for five years.

Lokhande, who was elected as the Shiv Sena (united) nominee during the 2014 and 2019 elections, is struggling to score a hat-trick due to the major anti-incumbency factor against him.

After the Eknath Shinde rebellion in June 2022, Lokhande switched to his side, ditching his former boss Uddhav Thackeray.

Despite these odds, Lokhande is banking on strong support from BJP stalwart and the cooperation baron Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil who is also a minister in the Mahayuti government.

This apart, Eknath Shinde has been personally engaged in charging up the party machinery for Lokhande’s victory.

Shinde’s appeal to the voters is “Vote for Lokhande means a vote for Modi to make him the Prime Minister for the third time.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently addressed a rally appealing to the voters to elect Lokhande for the speedy transformation of Shirdi constituency which houses a Sai baba temple and a functional airport that has opened up new opportunities to spur development across sectors.

In the case of Wakchaure, who was elected as the Shiv Sena (united) candidate in the 2009 elections, it is an opportunity to seek votes based on his past performance and thereby increase the presence of Shiv Sena (UBT) in the constituency.

Wakchaure is cashing in on the Shiv Sena (UBT)’s strong organisational structure up to Shakhas coupled with the active involvement of Congress veteran Balasaheb Thorat, former minister Shankarrao Gadakh and Legislator Lahu Kanade.

Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray has made the Shirdi seat a prestige issue to consolidate the party’s position, especially after the split.

Uddhav Thackeray has urged the voters to elect Wakchaure for the speedy development of the constituency.

However, the entry of VBA nominee Rupawate has made the task difficult for both Lokhande and Wakchaure as they fear that the division of votes may impact their poll prospects adversely.

Rupawate is banking on her work in the Congress and connect with the people of the constituency. She hopes to mobilise votes exploiting the discontent against Lokhande and Wakchaure.

Incidentally, the three candidates are focussing on local issues instead of national ones.

The incomplete work of the Nilwande Dam, long-pending Ahmednagar-Manmad highway, problems faced by industrial units in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation-run industrial estates, volatility in the prices of onion and other agricultural produce are some of the key issues being flagged during the campaign which will conclude on May 11.

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