Among the four paddy-growing districts east of Nagpur, the BJP is strong in terms of cadre base and victory tradition in Bhandara, Gondia and Chandrapur, where the Shiv Sena is way behind. The BJP took root here back in the 1960s as the Jana Sangh won its first seat from Sakoli-Lakhni area.
The Congress is strong only in parts of its erstwhile bastion, particularly Chandrapur where it has three seats, but has been slowly yielding space to the BJP. The NCP is identified with former Gondia-Bhandara MP Praful Patel. Of the 16 assembly seats here, the BJP has six, the Congress eight, the Sena one and the NCP none. Combined with Nagpur, the respective tallies of BJP, Congress, Sena and NCP for east Vidarbha are 13, 11, 2 and 1.
The BJP hopes to maintain its lead and even improve if a Modi wave works. The split with the Sena affects the BJP less than the split with the NCP does the Congress, because the NCP is stronger compared to the Sena thanks to Praful Patel’s influence in Bhandara-Gondia, which has seven segments.
It is a battle for survival for Praful Patel, who is helping party nominees in Gondia. This predominantly tribal region has a number of reserved constituencies. Even if a particular caste is traditionally aligned to a particular party, it is not guaranteed to stick to that party if it hasn’t fielded a candidate from that caste. And there is a rush of OBC candidates in open constituencies.
Bhandara (SC): It’s BJP vs Sena here. In a seat currently held by Sena, the BJP has won thrice in the past five polls and is expected to give Sena MLA Narendra Bhondekar a tough fight as both are Hindu Dalits, something that matters in the post-Khairlanji times. In 2009, Bhondekar is said to have won votes even from Congress and NCP voters. The BJP has fielded a young newcomer, Ramchandra Avsare. A division of votes among Congress’s Yuvraj Wasnik and NCP’s Sacchidanand Fulekar, who are Bouddha Dalits, is expected to help the BJP. The BSP, which has fielded Devangana Gadhve, too has a strong base among Bouddha Dalits.
Tumsar (Bhandara): The BJP has won thrice until 2004. Three-time winner Madhukar Kukde is now fighting on an NCP ticket. The BJP’s Chanran Waghmare is a Teli and is expected to gain Teli votes on behalf of Anil Bawankar, who was denied a ticket by the Congress that has fielded a Kunbi. Titarmare and Kukde will split Kunbi votes, which is expected to help Waghmare, whose real fight will then be against the Sena’s Rajendra Patle, an influential local leader from the powerful Powar community that has traditionally backed the BJP. The Patle factor is being countered by former BJP MP Shishupal Patle, seen as backing Waghmare.
Arjuni Morgaon (SC, Gondia): The seat is a BJP bastion with the party winning the last four times. Sitting MLA Rajkumar Badole is pitted mainly against NCP rival Manohar Chandrikapure, backed by Praful Patel. Sena has fielded BJP rebel Kiran Kamble. Congress nominee Rajesh Nandagawli has party rebel Ratnadeep Dahiwale to worry about.
Ballarpur (Chandrapur): The BJP has won this seat all five times since 1990. And with sitting MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar contesting, the BJP is confident.
Brahmapuri (Chandrapur): Sitting MLA Atul Deshkar, a three-time winner, is buoyed by a big Narendra Modi rally a few days ago. Pitted against former minister Vijay Wadettiwar, Deshkar carries an anti-incumbency risk. Wadettiwar also faces the prospect of vote split with the NCP fielding Sandip Gaddamwar, who had polled 44,000 votes last time as an independent and finished second. With Wadettiwar reckoned as a man given to strong-arm tactics, Deshkar hopes to romp home a fourth time in a row.
Chandrapur (SC): Sitting BJP MLA Nana Shamkule, never totally accepted by locals as he is originally from Nagpur, faces a stiff challenge from Sena’s Kishor Dorgewar, who left the BJP after being denied ticket. Considered a close aide of Mungantiwar, Dorgewar has a majority of municipal council members behind him. Congress’s Mahesh Mendhe is a novice and NCP’s Ashok Nagapure is considered former Congress MP Naresh Pugalia’s protégé, which dims the prospects of both Congress and NCP. Shamkule’s future clearly depends on the Modi wave.
Gondia: Won by the Congress thrice. Sitting MLA Gopal Agrawal is up against the BJP’s young Vinod Agrawal and the NCP’s Ashok Gupta. The Sena has fielded Rajkumar Kuthe and is telling voters to choose Kuthe since all three major parties have fielded Marwari candidates. Kuthe may eventually gain an impressive share of Kunbi votes. The BSP’s Yogesh Bansod may get a major chunk of Dalit votes, affecting both the Congress and the NCP. No clear signs are visible, except the huge response to Modi’s October 5 rally. Sonia Gandhi too addressed a rally here but it was no match in terms of response.
Gadchiroli (ST): Its traditional bastion elected Congress nominees thrice in the past five elections. But in the recent Lok Sabha polls, BJP candidate Ashok Nete won with a huge margin. Nete’s popularity could boost the chances of party nominee Deorao Holi. The Congress has fielded Saguna Taladi, a leader from Sironcha, while the NCP has chosen former minister Dharmarao Baba Atram’s daughter Bhagyashree, currently zilla parishad president. Sena’s Kesari Usendi is a former Congressman from Marotrao Kowase section of the party and is likely to rock the Congress boat. The BJP appears the best placed.
Chimur (Chandrapur): Held thrice by the Congress, Chimur may see a possible change since sitting Congress MLA Vijay Wadettiwar has shifted to Brahmapuri. The party has fielded old-timer Avinash Warjukar. The BJP’s Kirtikumar Bhangadiya is a staunch Wadettiwar rival. The Sena with little presence has Gajanan Butke while the NCP has a much better choice in Govind Bhendarkar, who has worked among Gosikhurd evacuees.