Chandrapur in Maharashtra may not be considered very significant in national politics but it has become a matter of pride for outgoing MP and Union Minister Hansraj Ahir as it is the hometown of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat and a part of the BJP's Vidarbha stronghold.Ahir had played a major role in unearthing the coal scam during the UPA-II regime, a major campaign issue in the 2014 general elections that swept the BJP to power. The scam also led to the Supreme Court cancelling the licenses granted to 214 coal blocks.His image as a clean and accessible leader can help him to get voters but his re-election may not be smooth-sailing. But he can be sure that RSS cadres would be working for him. Unlike the previous few elections, there will a direct contest between the BJP and Congress in Chandrapur, which means the majority of votes - up to 85-90 per cent - will go to candidates of these two parties.This spells trouble for Ahir, a four-term MP (1996, 2004, 2009, 2014). He managed to pull off a victory the last time around when the anti-BJP votes were split between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).In 2014, Ahir secured 45.77 per cent of the vote against Congress candidate Sanjay Deotale's 24.49 per cent and 18.42 per cent of the AAP's Wamanrao Chatap.In 2009, Ahir defeated the Congress' Naresh Puglia but the margin was thin - 33.59 per cent to Ahir and 29.97 per cent to Puglia. Chatap, who had contested on the Swatantra Bharat Paksh ticket, got 18.84 per cent of the votes.
Had Chatap not been in the poll fray, Ahir would not have won in 2009 while it could have been a neck-and-neck fight in 2014, political observers say.This time, the Minister faces an aggressive Suresh Dhanorkar, who defected from the Shiv Sena to the Congress days ago.Earlier, the Congress had declared Vinayak Bangade's name from Chandrapur but he was considered a weak candidate and would have paved the way for Ahir's return to the Lok Sabha.The Congress replaced Bangade with Dhanorkar at the last moment, following protests by local party workers and threat by state Congress President Ashok Chavanto resign.While Ahir, who originally belongs to Uttar Pradesh, enjoys goodwill among the local population, the sentiment for a candidate with Maharashtrian roots can work against him.Chandrapur, where teli (oil presses) and kunbi (farmer) communities are in sizable numbers, the voting is based on caste calculations if past elections are seen.However, Ahir might play up Prime Minister Narendra Modi's caste to consolidate teli votes.Despite having served as Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ahir does not seem to have struck a cord with people when it comes to development works.Political observers say BJP supporters are more inclined towards another powerful leader of the city and Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.Being close to Modi, a clean image and accessibility are some of Ahir's advantages.However, he will have to sweat it out to turn voters away from Dhanorkar, who is said to have got traction among the electorate, particularly the youth.