The candidates in this constituency, known as home of Shirdi Sai Baba, are wooing the voters in the name of the popular guru, assuring better infrastructure and top class facilities for devotees ahead of his death centenary in 2018.
Saibaba, who lived and preached in Shirdi and surrounding areas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, died on October 15, 1918.
Three main contenders — Bhausaheb Wakchaure of Congress, Shiv Sena’s Sadashiv Lokhande and Nitin Udamale of Aam Aadmi Party — have vouched for better infrastructure before 2018. Sitting MP Wakchaure had won in 2009 on a Shiv Sena ticket and is now fighting from Congress.
“Saibaba Samadhi will complete 100 years in 2018 and we will ask for special funds from the Centre on the lines of funds allocated to Nanded during the 300 years celebration of Khalsa,” said Lokhande.
Focusing on better infrastructure, Udamale said, “More than 5 lakh devotees come to Shirdi every week to pay their obeisance. But the holy city lacks basic infrastructure. There are about 500 hotels in the town apart from 2,000 rooms of Saibaba Sansthan’s Bhakt Niwas but half of the hotels were closed last summer due to water crisis.
“We must ensure permanent water supply to Shirdi through big dams. Devotees from all over the world come here for darshan but there is not a single public toilet for women within 2-km of the temple,” he added.
Promising top class infrastructure if he is re-elected, Wakchaure said, “My priority is better infrastructure and facilities for Shirdi and I will work hard for that.”
The Saibaba Sansthan Trust, which runs the Saibaba temple, wants that this year’s winner should bring more central funds for the centenary year events.
“The centenary functions will be held from October 2017 to November 2018 and during which over 4 crore devotees are expected in Shirdi which is three times higher than the normal rush of around 12.5 crore a year. We need better infrastructure for sure and it should be the top priority of the winner,” said Ajay More, acting executive officer of Saibaba Sansthan.
“Our many proposals regarding the centenary event are pending with the state government. We have also made a Rs 4,000 crore master plan and we need central funding for that.
There should be better roads, water supply, Bhakt Niwas and an improved queue system in place,” he said.
The last few days have seen Rahul Gandhi visiting Saibaba temple and offering prayers and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray addressing an election rally here.