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|September 2, 1999||
NCP hopes to put it across to Congress
Nationalist Congress Party treasurer Datta Meghe faces stiff challenge from the Congress and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in retaining the Wardha Lok Sabha seat.
Meghe, who was one of the first Congress members of Parliament to resign from the party with Sharad Pawar when the latter broke away from the Congress to launch the NCP, is pitted against former Maharashtra Congress president and MLA Prabha Rau and BJP candidate Suresh Waghmare.
Wardha, which is associated with Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave, is considered a stronghold of the Congress, having returned the party ten out of the 12 elections held since 1952.
In the 1998 election, Meghe defeated Vijay Mude (BJP) by 83,000 votes. The resounding victory was attributed to the Congress's alliance with the Republican Party of India and the Samajwadi Party.
Rau's campaign got a boost with party president Sonia Gandhi addressing an election rally last week. Rau represents Pulgaon in the assembly.
The Congress has accused the BJP of a secret understanding with the NCP to ensure its victory by fielding a little known candidate. Waghmare has, however, denied the allegations. His party was making all efforts for his success, he said.
Of the six assembly segments in the constituency -- Hinganghat, Aarvi, Wardha and Pulgaon in Wardha district and Tiwasa and Chandur in Amravati district -- four are represented by the Congress, and the Shiv Sena and Janata Dal (one each).
The split has weakened the Congress and one of its legislators and assembly deputy speaker Sharad Tasare has joined the NCP. The popularity of the Congress in the constituency has declined over the years. The party had polled 68.64 per cent in 1980, sliding to 48.96 in 1984, 37.83 in 1989, 35.54 in 1991 and 31.23 per cent in 1996. However, in the last election, it secured 48.46 per cent.
The Congress has embarked on an all-out campaign to unseat Meghe, who is a close associate of Pawar. There is also dissatisfaction in the farming community against the Sena-BJP government after some farmers committed suicide following loss of crop due to drought.
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