With the entry of Shiv Sena turncoat Suresh alias Balu Dhanorkar into the fray from Chandrapur parliamentary constituency, Union Minister of State for Home, Hansraj Ahir, who is seeking a fourth term from the seat, may find it difficult to repeat his 2014 feat — winning with a margin of over 2.3 lakh votes.
Political observers say while Ahir is facing anti-incumbency, caste equations will also play a role in the neck-and-neck contest.
Dotted with several cement and coal plants — economies of Ballarpur and Rajura towns revolve around the industries — the constituency is home to at least 2.5 lakh registered factory workers, besides casual labourers.
Claiming that Ahir’s 15-year-long reign was “unimpressive”, a shopkeeper at Jatpura Gate, one of four gates enclosing the city, told The Indian Express: “The projects he (Ahir) has claimed credit for, like the medical college and the sickle cell treatment centre, were all planned by his predecessors.”
In the agrarian tehsil of Jiwati in Rajura town, farmers and labourers also expressed “discontent” against the ruling party. Pointing at a number of dry farm plots, a 42-year-old daily wager, Vinay Pawar, said, “All the farms here are on forest land and more than 70 per cent farmers do not own plots. Since water is scarce this year, farmers are unable to grow any jowar and are sitting idle. The government has not stepped in to help them as yet.”
In Rajura, which sees heavy traffic movement with trucks heading in and out of the factories, many people claim there was little improvement in the quality of roads and civic facilities over the past few years. “People have had enough of the promises made by the BJP government. Ahir is hardly visible here,” Pawar said.
Chandrapur, which goes to polls on April 11, was the third district in Maharashtra to impose prohibition after Gadchiroli and Wardha. The move had not only left the liquor business owners fuming, but also stretched the capabilities of law enforcement agencies. While the police have seized around Rs 50 crore worth of liquor since 2015, the state excise department, with a strength of 11 personnel, seizes between Rs 70 lakh and Rs 1 crore liquor annually.
Senior police and excise officials, who have served in the district since the BJP came to power in the state, meanwhile say that prohibition was a “total failure”.
“The police and excise manage to only catch a small proportion of the smuggled liquor. On the other hand, smugglers are using newer and more innovative means to bring liquor into the district,” said a Maharashtra police official, without wishing to be named. The murder of two policemen, allegedly by members of the liquor mafia in the last two years, has also badly affected morale among the ranks.
Since state finance minister and Chandrapur native Sudhir Mungantiwar announced the cancellation of 500 liquor licences in 2015, liquor shops have sprung in Wani, on the district’s border with Yavatmal, and in Telangana. The price of country liquor has spiked three times, sources said.
Even members of the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s ally, had expressed discontent over “daarubandi” (prohibition) earlier.