All arrangements have been made for the first phase of polling on Thursday in Maharashtra covering seven Lok Sabha seats, which will see a direct fight between the BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP-led alliances. Polling will begin at 7 AM amid tight security and end at 6 PM, officials said.
Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur) and his Cabinet colleague Hansraj Ahir (Chandrapur) — both from the BJP — are among prominent candidates in the fray in the first phase that covers seven out of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the Vidarbha region in Eastern Maharashtra.
The constituencies going to the polls on Thursday are Nagpur, Ramtek (SC), Wardha, Bhandara-Gondiya, Yavatmal-Washim, Gadchiroli-Chimur (ST) and Chandrapur.
The remaining three parliamentary seats in the region – Akola, Buldhana and Amravati – will vote in the second phase on April 18.
Maharashtra, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, will vote in four phases.
The BJP-Sena combine had won all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Vidarbha in 2014.
A total of 116 candidates are in the fray in these seven seats, which were once a Congress bastion.
In Nagpur, Gadkari, the sitting BJP MP, is pitted against Congress candidate Nana Patole, while in Chandrapur, Ahir’s main rival is Suresh Dhanorkar of the Congress.
In Ramtek, sitting Shiv Sena MP Krupal Tumane is facing former bureaucrat Kishore Gajbhiye of the Congress.
Yavatmal is witnessing a fight between Shiv Sena MP Bhavana Gawali and Congress leader Manikrao Thakre, while in Wardha, sitting BJP MP Ramdas Tadas is up against Charulata Tokas of the Congress.
In Bhandara-Gondiya, Nana Panchbuddhe of the NCP is taking on BJP’s Sunil Mendhe.
In Gadchiroli-Chimur, sitting BJP MP Ashok Nete is locking horns with Congress candidate Namdeo Usendi.
Gadchiroli is a Naxal-affected district.
Polling teams will reach their respective booths by Wednesday evening.
Mock polling will be conducted at 6.15 AM in the presence of representatives of the candidates in the fray before actual voting begins, the officials said.
Gadkari, along with his family members, is expected to cast his vote at a polling booth in the Mahal area at around 9.30 AM.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat is expected to exercise his franchise at the polling booth at Bhauji Daftari School, Mahal, at around 7 AM.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is also expected to cast his vote in the early hours of polling in the Vanamati area of the city.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi were among star campaigners who addressed rallies in Vidarbha.