At least three Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, including the one which NCP chief Sharad Pawar will contest despite his earlier decision of withdrawing from electoral politics, will be keenly watched in the upcoming general polls. Besides Madha Lok Sabha seat from where 78-year-old Pawar is likely to contest, the other constituencies such as Nagpur and Solapur will also be in the limelight.
Pawar, currently a Rajya Sabha member, had earlier announced he will not contest the Lok Sabha polls, but recently changed his decision. He said some of his party colleagues were insisting he contest the Lok Sabha poll from Solapur's Madha seat, currently represented by party leader Vijaysinh Mohite Patil.
According to a political observer, prime ministerial ambitions have always been associated with Pawar, but the veteran politician earlier said he was not eyeing the top post.
"Pawar may still win from Madha, but it may not be a cake-walk," the observer said. The former Union minister, whose party is in talks with the Congress for seat-sharing, earlier said there will be state-specific alliances and not a national tie-up against the BJP and he will try to bring all like-minded parties on one platform to take on the saffron outfit.
Besides, former Union minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who faced defeat for the first time in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, was also being persuaded by the Congress leadership to contest from Solapur again, a party source said.
Another source said that Nagpur, from where Union Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari is likely to contest, will also be keenly watched by political observers. Former BJP MP Nana Patole is likely to contest on Congress' ticket against Gadkari.
Patole, who quit the BJP last year, had defeated NCP stalwart Praful Patel from Bhandara-Gondia seat in 2014. State Congress chief Ashok Chavan, the sitting MP from Nanded, may also contest the Lok Sabha poll, though his supporters want him to contest the Assembly election due in the second half of 2019, a source said.
Maharashtra, which has around eight crore voters, sends 48 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh which has 80 seats.
The BJP, riding on the 'Modi wave', surged ahead in the state in 2014 by winning 23 seats while its ally Shiv Sena bagged 18. The Congress, which ruled the state in alliance with the NCP for 15 years, managed to win just two seats while Pawar's party bagged four.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena, despite internal bickerings, have already finalised their alliance to contest 25 and 23 Lok Sabha seats, respectively. The Congress and NCP have so far not announced their seat-sharing details and are trying to woo Dalit Leader Prakash Ambedkar to be a part of their alliance.
Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said there has been a 5 per cent increase in his party's vote share since 2014 due to its electoral success in the urban and rural local bodies elections. Admitting that farm issues were critical, he claimed cultivators have faith and trust that the BJP was "genuinely working for them".
"Since 2014, the Congress and NCP have done nothing that people should trust them again. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal popularity and the performance of the BJP-led government's performance in the state and at the Centre will ensure overall support to us," he said.