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February 19, 1998


Constituency Profile/Kolhapur

Shivaji's descendents will help Sena win

V S Srinivasan in Kolhapur

The saffron wave has swept Kolhapur completely. With Chhatrapati Shahu, a member of Kolhapur's royal family, officially joining the Shiv Sena last month and family member Vijaysinh Ghatge as the Sena candidature from Kolhapur, the city seems to be in the saffron party's hands.

What might make things even easier for the Sena is that the Congress nominee is a debutant, Sadashiv Mandlik, who replaces present MP Udaysinhrao Gaikwad.

Right from the pan vendor to the rickshaw driver, everyone seems to be pitching in with their support for Thackeray. In fact, Thackeray's meeting last week at Kolhapur was a tremendous success. "It was a mindboggling crowd in the day," says Vilas Gurav, an autorickshaw driver. "We had two functions on that day, one was a show where Karishma and Salman were dancing, and the other was Thackeray's theatrics. We got free entertainment here, but both the places were crowded," he adds.

And yes, he will certainly vote for the Sena. "Balasaheb is very funny. It is a great feeling watching him talk. He makes people laugh," Gurav recollects a joke that is too crude to repeat.

A small pocket of South Indians and Muslims reside in Kolhapur. "The Muslim votes will generally be divided," says Yusuf Mullah, an official guide at the Panhala fort, located 20 kilometres from the town. "There are a few Muslims in Panhala who are staunch Sena supporters. They are from families that have been living in Panhala from the time of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Apart from that, even the main city has a small population of Muslims who are undecided," says Mullah, adding, "Sharad Pawar has done some work for people in the city."

What work? "I do not know. But he has a good hold in certain parts of the city. Most of the educated will vote for the Congress," says Mullah. What about himself, "I am going in for the Sena. If you stay in the land of Shivaji, you better vote for the Sena," he replies.

The Sena supporters also are very helpful these days. Recently, a young barber wanted to get into the Limca Book of Records. The local Sena leader made sure that 500 people turned up at his small shop to get a haircut and ensure the barber's name in the record books! Such attitudes have helped the Sena earn the people's backing.

E Sukumaran, a Tamilian official with South Central Railway, insists he will not vote for the Sena. "But they will certainly win. They have the support of the masses. The people will certainly support the king because they are his subjects," he says,"After he joined the Sena, the chances of others have diminished here totally. So I do not think that I will vote. Even if I do, it will not be for the Sena."

Why not? "Well I have my preferences."

But Sunita Mhatre, a telephone booth owner, is quite firm about her choice. "I am voting for the Congress. Pawar has done a lot here, "she says. And lo and behold! there is a photograph of Pawar inaugurating the telephone booth. So is Pawar's influence limited to telephone booths he inaugurated?

Many people are irked with the state government has ignored them because they were Congress workers earlier. Like the case of former Marathi film actor Ganpat Patil. "I am from the bahujan samaj (masses) and was a Congress worker. So the government has sidelined me not giving me any award for my services to Marathi cinema which has been for 64 years," he claims. "That is the reason why I will not vote for the Sena.

But these minor instance apart, the Sena seems to be safely tucked in the driver's seat in Kolhapur. Most of the unions in the city have painted the town saffron. Now we await the election and the results.

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