Vidarbha witnessed a slight dip in overall polling percentage compared to 2014. The average voting in the seven constituencies — Nagpur, Wardha, Ramtek, Chandrapur, Yavatmal-Washim, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Bhandara-Gondia — that went to polls on April 11 was 63.28 per cent. In 2014, it was 64.15 per cent. That year, all the seats were won by the BJP-Sena. This time, the contests appear open everywhere, including Nagpur. One of the highlights was, all district headquarter cities recorded the lowest voting percentages in all seven constituencies.
In Nagpur (overall 54.67 per cent voting, down from 57.12 per cent in 2014), where Union minister Nitin Gadkari is looking to retain the seat, voting in all the Assembly segments was more or less the same — South West 52.53 per cent, South 52.58 per cent, East 54.58 per cent, Central 53.10 per cent, West 52.81 per cent and North 53.18 per cent.
Gadkari had polled more votes in all these segments in 2014 but this time, if reports of Dalit-Muslim consolidation against the BJP are anything to go by, Gadkari’s share is unlikely to remain unchanged in North Nagpur, a reserved SC Assembly constituency, where there is a large Dalit population. Also, Central Nagpur, which has a sizeable Muslim population, is likely to cause a dent in Gadkari’s share. Central Nagpur also consists of a big chunk of Halba (weaver) votes. The community, about two lakh in number, had openly campaigned against Gadkari for not fulfilling the promises made to them.
The other doubtful segments for Gadkari are South Nagpur, although BJP observers are confident it will remain at top there. Gadkari’s fortunes depend a lot on the so-called ‘DMK’ (Dalit-Muslim-Kunbi) factor.
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While Dalits and Muslims are said to be united against the BJP, Kunbi votes, which went overwhelmingly in Gadkari’s favour last time, were divided this time, according to community leaders who spoke to The Indian Express. The BJP is, however, confident Gadkari will romp home.
In Bhandara-Gondia (overall 68.27 per cent), if voting percentages are anything to go by, NCP’s Nana Panchabuddhe is likely to take a lead in at least three constituencies: Sakoli (71.65 per cent), Arjuni-Moregaon (71.41 per cent) and Tumsar (70.26 per cent), which recorded highest voting percentages. These are areas that had largely supported Nana Patole, who quit as a BJP MP to join the Congress in 2018. Bhandara and Gondia, where the BJP is strong, registered 65.76 per cent and 64.41 per cent voting, respectively. Tiroda recorded 67.08 per cent voting, likely to be evenly distributed between the two main contestants, thanks to rebellion by BJP’s Rajendra Patle, a Powar, the community that has a big chunk of voters in this part.
In Chandrapur (64.66 per cent), the Kunbi-dominated Assembly segments like Wani (71.81 per cent), Rajura (69.61 per cent) and Arni (69 per cent) saw a high turnout, said to be favorable to Congress’ Balu Dhanorkar, who switched over to the Congress from the Shiv Sena ahead of the polls and was nominated after a controversy involving an audio tape featuring state Congress chief Ashok Chavan. Dhanorkar, who is from Kunbi community, is pitted against BJP’s three-time MP and Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir.
In Yavatmal-Washim (overall 61.09 per cent), Ralegaon (ST) segment recorded the highest (69.91 per cent) voting, followed by Digras (64.69 per cent) and Pusad (62.27 per cent). These are tribal and Banjara-dominated segments, where incumbent four-time MP Bhavna Gawli isn’t as strong as she is in Washim (60.40 per cent) and Karanja (57.45 per cent). Yavatmal, which has BJP MLA Madan Yerawar, registered the lowest voting percentage at 54.12.
Incidentally, Sena’s Digras MLA Sanjay Rathod, a Banjara, was not on good terms with Gawli. Also, BJP’s P B Ade, another Banjara face, had rebelled to fight as an Independent. As regards the Kunbi factor, Congress’ Manikrao Thakre enjoyed a numerical advantage being from the dominant Tirale sub-caste against Gawli’s Ghatole sub-caste background.
In Wardha (overall 61.18 per cent), an intense Teli vs Kunbi battle had raged this election on social media, observers said. It is said to have led to polarisation of votes between incumbent BJP MP Ramdas Tadas, a Teli, and Congress’ Charulata Tokas, a Kunbi.
Arvi segment, which has an overwhelming Kunbi population, recorded highest voting at 64.55 per cent, followed by Hinganghat (63.37 per cent), which has an even spread of both communities. Deoli, with greater share of Telis, recorded 62.91 per cent, followed by Morshi (62.52 per cent), Dhamangaon (61.28 per cent) and Wardha (53.52 per cent), another segment where Telis have sizeable votes.
In the reserved (SC) constituency of Ramtek (overall 62.12 per cent voting), Umred recorded 67.15 per cent, followed by Ramtek (64.58 per cent), Katol (64.89 per cent), Saoner (62.56 per cent), Kamptee (58.60 per cent) and Hingna (58.42 per cent). Here incumbent Shiv Sena MP Krupal Tumane is fighting against bureaucrat-turned-politician Kishor Gajbhiye. Also, the Congress mood was upbeat after polling although Tumane had the advantage of being a known face compared to Gajbhiye, who is new.
Segment-wise polling numbers are not available for Gadchiroli, which recorded about 71 polling. Naxals had given a call to shun the BJP, which may have an impact on the Naxal-affected segments like Gadchiroli, Amgaon and Aheri. These constituencies usually record a very high percentage of voting.
The overall results will, however, also depend on how the BSP fares. The party, which had polled large chunks of Dalit votes, had been the third biggest gainer in Vidarbha over the past three elections. If it retains those numbers, it will mean the BJP-Sena will stand to gain. If it doesn’t, then it will be a cause of concern for the ruling alliance, experts feel.
BJP’s best bet is new voters. In Nagpur, for example, there are about 2.26 lakh new voters. Question is will their numbers be enough to stave off possible losses that the ruling alliance may suffer due to factors such as caste combination and anti-incumbency?