Mumbai, April 17 (IANS) The contest seems wide open for the nine reserved Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra that are currently held by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine.
Of the 23 assembly segments under these nine constituencies, 12 are with the BJP and one with ally Shiv Sena, 8 with the Congress and on/e each with the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi and CPI-M.
Sprawling across the state's scheduled castes/scheduled tribes belts, the SC seats are Amravati, Ramtek, Shirdi, Latur and Solapur, while the ST constituencies are Nandurbar, Dindori, Palghar and Gadchiroli-Chimur.
The geographic distances nothwithstanding, the people in these constituencies suffer from near-identical socio-economic problems, top experts said.
"The SC/ST people are deprived of the promised recruitment in government services and education sector, promotions as entitled under the reserved categories and security. Funds have not been allocated for education and the money intended for students has been diverted to other purposes in the past five years," (Dr.) Nitin Raut of the Congress party's SC/ST Wing, told IANS.
He claimed that under the Dadasaheb Swabhiman Yojana introduced by former Congress Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, the state government was expected to buy land and allot it for agriculture purposes to poor, landless SC/ST people, but that scheme is in cold storage under the BJP government.
Moreover, the economically weaker sections of SCs/STs were entitled to a certain grant for housing purposes which has not been given to them, Raut said.
Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vijay Bhai Girkar disagreed, saying that e government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pursued 'all-inclusive' policies, most of which have benefitted the SC/ST even in Maharashtra.
"The schemes like Ujala, housing health cards and health insurance have largely benefited the SC/STs... The kind of work that the NDA has done since 2014 has never been done before 2014," Girkar - who is Convenor, State Committee on SC-ST-OBC-VJNT, told IANS.
The PM has pursued all-inclusive policies, most of which have benefitted the SC/STs, like ujala, housing, health cards, insurance, etc, which never was done before 2014. The BJP-Sena govt has done immense work for the SC/ST people, plus minorities.
Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) Vice President Vijay More had a different take on htis, said that there is a serious dearth of "qualitative education" in the SC/ST population areas, where mainly Ashram Schools are functioning.
"They use outdated methods not compatible with the modern era. The education standards are below par with the rest of schools in the state and hence the students who pass out are not properly equipped to enter the job market," More told IANS.
Referring to insufficient budgetary allocation, he said that the VBA plans to hike the expenditure from around 3.5 percent to at least 10 percent and implement the Delhi Government model of education in which some public and private schools are on par.
All India Kisan Sabha President Ashok Dhavale sais that the biggest concern in the ST constituencies is implementation of The Scheduled Tribes & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act.
Demanding implementation of the act, around 50,000 tribals and farmers had taken out a seven-day, 200-km, Long March from Nashik to Mumbai in March 2018 that rattled the ruling dispensation.
"However, despite the assurances made by the government, the issues concerning farmers, the tribals, the deprived sections of society and the agrarian crises in the state which will decide the election outcome," Dhavale pointed out.
The trio also listed issues of unemployment among the SC/ST youth, lack of security, etc, as the parliamentary elections progress, promising tough times for the BJP-Sena combine and the Congress-NCP front with the entry of the VBA comprising Prakash Ambedkar's Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) and Owaisi brothers' All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
Among the SC seats, Amravati has been continuously won by Shiv Sena since 1996, except for one term - 1998-1999 - when it was bagged by Republican Party of India(G). The Sena's Anandrao Adsul is the sitting MP here.
The seat has two reserved assembly components - Daryapur (SC) and Melghat (ST) - which are both currently held by the BJP legislators.
Ramtek was with the Shiv Sena from 1999-2009. Mukul Wasnik of the Congress wrested it in 2009 but lost to the Sena's Krupal Tumane in the 2014 Modi wave. Its sole reserved assembly seat - Umred (SC) - is held by the BJP
Shirdi has been held by the Shiv Sena since 2009 and its two reserved assembly segments - Shrirampur (SC) and Akole (ST) - are held by Congress legislators.
An erstwhile Congress bastion between 1962-1977, later with PWP in 1977, it came back to Congress from 1980-1999, went to BJP in 2004, was wrested by Congress in 2009 and has been held by the BJP since 2014. The sole reserved assembly seat - Udgir (SC) - is with the BJP since 2009.
The Solapur SC constituency has been a Congress stronghold and was held with the party's Sushilkumar Shinde since 1999, went to the BJP in a bypoll in 2003 and was again won by the party in 2004. It returned to Congress in 2009 and is now held by the BJP. The sole reserved assembly segment - Mohol - is held by the Congress since 1995.
Among the ST seats, Nandurbar has been a Congress bastion since 1967, but was wrested by the BJP's greenhorn Heena V. Gavit during the Modi wave in 2014. Of the six reserved assembly segments, all ST, four are held by Congress and two are with the BJP.
Dindori had elected a BJP MP twice - in 2009 and 2014 - and of the two reserved assembly segments, Dindori is with the NCP and Kalvan is with the CPI-M since 2014.
Palghar was bagged by a regional party, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi in 2009, but went to the BJP's Chintaman Vanaga in 2014. After his sudden death, it was bagged in a 2018 bypoll by the BJP's Rajendra Gavit, who is now contesting as a Shiv Sena candidate.
Since 2014, of the four reserved assembly segments, the BVA holds Boisar, Shiv Sena rules in Palghar and the BJP holds Dahanu and Vikramgad.
The Gadchiroli-Chimur seat was won by the Congress in 2009, but went to the BJP in 2014 and of the four reserved assembly segments, all - Gadchiroli, Amgaon, Armori and Aheri - are held by the BJP.
This time, retaining the nine reserved Lok Sabha seats may not be an easy task for the BJP-Sena which is fighting without a 'wave' and largely on casteist lines.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)