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September 3, 1999


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Constituency/ Solapur

NCP may end up digging Sushilkumar Shinde's grave

The Nationalist Congress Party's foray into the electoral field in Solapur could cause some hiccups for the Congress nominee Sushil Kumar Shinde in his easy run to the Lok Sabha. It has nominated Mukesh Abdulpurkar, a medico by profession, to take on Shinde in this Congress bastion.

But the major battle will still be between the Congressman and Lingaraj Balirayya Valyal (BJP).

At the last elections too, the two were pitted against each other, and the latter was defeated by a margin of more than one lakh votes. Though Dr Abdulpurkar is not viewed as a winning candidate, he is expected to gnaw into Shinde's votebank and no one else is more happier than Valyal who gushes that he will win by a margin of one lakh votes this time.

Shinde, however, puts up a show of nonchalance saying that his social and political work spanning 25 years will see him through comfortably. As is his wont, he refuses to specify the margin of his victory while quipping, ''Let the voters decide''.

Shinde's residence has been transformed virtually into a party office with an overwhelming stream of activists and locals besieging the place round-the-clock. The constituency which goes to polls this Sunday, has a total of five candidates in the fray.

Solapur, which has been a traditional Congress bastion, has sent the party's nominees to Parliament nine times out of 12. Beginning its innings on a poor note, the Congress had lost the seat to the Peasants and Workers Party in the very first general elections in 1952 and then to Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti in 1957. It won the seat in 1962 and retained it till the 1996 elections. The BJP bagged the seat that year, relegating the Congress to third place, after the Janata Dal. Valyal secured the seat for his party by a hefty margin of 104,372 votes.

The last time round, Sharad Pawar had been responsible for rallying the Muslim and Dalit voters in favour of the Congress which led to the defeat of the BJP, he says. But now that Pawar has broken away from the Congress, the division of votes will augur well for the BJP, observes Valyal, who has bounced back with a gusto after having been in political hibernation since his defeat last year.

Politically-aware locals, however, claim that Valyal was not very keen on contesting the Lok Sabha elections this time, as he did not want to take on the might of Shinde. Valyal acknowledges his initial reluctance to contest but offers no reasons. He says he had decided to contest bowing to party directives.

Enthused by the prospects of a division in the Congress votes, Valyal has been undertaking rigorous padyatras to woo the voters. The Solapur streets are witness to one padyatra or the other every day, accompanied by endless bursting of crackers, reminding an otherwise impervious electorate of the coming elections.

The mood is slightly more upbeat than last time because this time round more candidates are seen on the streets owing to the simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Although a political novice, Dr Abdulpurkar considers himself capable of upsetting Shinde's applecart.

Caste and community factors could play a role in the elections here. Solapur district borders the two states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and has, therefore, a fair share of Telugu and Kannada-speaking populace coexisting with the Marathi-speaking people. Being a Lingayat, Dr Abdulpurkar is hopeful of garnering the votes of the Kannada-speaking people, who number about 2.50 lakh in the constituency.

Pooh-poohing the relevance of the caste and community factors, Shinde says the people of his own caste constitute only a miniscule of the total population in Solapur, yet the electorate has always extended its support to him. Referring to the Lingayat factor, Shinde points out that in the 1998 elections the Janata Dal candidate, despite being a Lingayat, could muster up only 26,838 votes.

Dr Abdulpurkar tells his voters that the district has remained neglected and poverty-stricken because of the apathetic attitude of its earlier elected representatives, referring to Shinde who, however, lays claims to many a development project in the district including the completion of the Ujani dam -- which has always formed a politically contentious issue.

Work on the Ujani dam was started way back in 1964 but its progress was halted till 1981-82 for lack of funds. The project could be completed, so claims a newspaper advertisement issued on behalf of Shinde, because of funds made available for the project after Shinde became finance minister of Maharashtra.

Shinde has been accused of using ''money power'' in the present elections by his detractors and this would ensure his re-election, they allege. But Shinde brushes aside these allegations as baseless saying, ''Let them point this out citing definite examples.''

The Solapur Lok Sabha constituency which comprises six assembly segments, has an electorate of 10,25,475, which includes 5,25,634 males and 5,01,841 female voters. The district is famous for cotton textiles, especially for the manufacture of bedsheets or 'chaddars' and the agricultural crops of Jowar, wheat and raw cotton. The saffron alliance has come out with a manifesto for the area and one of the promises held out is that an independent centre for import of 'chaddars'' and towels. The manifesto also claims credit for the completion of the Ujani dam, saying that the Congress governments in the state had provided Rs 4.25 billion till 1994 for the project which was started in 1964. The alliance government, on the other hand, had made available Rs 3.87 billion for the project in just four-and-half years of its rule in the state, claims the manifesto.

Notwithstanding the claims and counter-claims and allegations and counter-allegations, one thing is certain -- the involvement of the NCP in the present elections is sure to cause some division in the votes which is bound to result in a keen fare in the Solapur Lok Sabha constituency.



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