Sushilkumar Shinde has to redeem Solapur for Congress
Mauled in the last election, the Congress
returns to its traditional bastion to wrest from the Bharatiya Janata
Party the seat it has won eight times since 1952.
The onus of redeeming its lost pride has fallen on the shoulders
of former Congress general secretary Sushilkumar Shinde
who takes on the member of the dissolved Lok Sabha, Lingaraj Baliraya
Valyal of the BJP. Besides these two, among the five
candidates is the Janata Dal nominee whose fate will be decided by
1,007,347-strong electorate on Sunday.
Shinde, a Rajya Sabha member whose term is due to end
shortly, said he was reluctant to contest the election, but had bowed to the
directives of the party high command. He attributed the
humiliating defeat of 1996, when the party was relegated to
third place, to the infighting within its rank and file. He claimed
that the differences this time had been patched up and the support
extended by the Veershaiv community has given him a big boost in the
constituency the Congress has been winning continuously since 1962,
even at the height of the Janata Dal wave in 1977.
The alliance with the Republican Party of India and
Sonia Gandhi's visit are said to have favoured the Congress,
which this time appears to have gone into electioneering
realistically without making promises or hazarding guesses about
In the nearly 39 years of Congress hegemony the constituency
was represented once by Appasaheb Kadaki, thrice by Surakratan
Damani and two times each by Kuchan Gangadhar Sidramappa and
The BJP broke through the Congress monopoly in 1996 by bagging
the seat in a triangular contest in which the Janata Dal played a
vital role in splitting votes. For the Congress it was the most
humiliating defeat. In a total turn-around from the 1991 result,
when it amassed 262,623 votes against the BJP's 182,533
votes, the Congress could muster only 162,978
votes against 184,075 of the BJP. The Janata Dal's Ravi Patil polled 1,66,988 votes.
Although the BJP won there was not much improvement
in its votebank. It could muster just about 1,500 more votes than
what it secured in 1991 despite the increase of 50,000 voters in the constituency.
Valyal claims his popularity has now increased due to the
initiatives taken to hold lok darbars to solve the problems of
the local people. Also propounded was the concept of an 'MP at your
doorstep', both of which, he claims, led to the resolution of 75 per cent of the locals's
Earlier described as Girangav for its cotton mills, Solapur is
chiefly inhabited by bidi and powerloom workers. This Maharashtra
district borders Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and so has a generous
mix of Marathi, Kannada and Telugu-speaking people. Lingayats,
Marathas, Dhangars, Muslims and Dalits have a decisive role to play
in the politics of the constituency that is divided into six assembly
While the Congress has desisted from making tall claims, the
BJP has propounded a 21-point programme for the uplift of Solapur,
which includes establishment of a technical university, an export
service centre and industrial complexes.
While drinking water is a perennial problem in Solapur, another
nagging problem is that of sick mills. Valyal had spearheaded an
agitiation in 1993-94 for the revival of a sick mill, but the issue
still remains unresolved even after the saffron alliance assumed
power in the state. Shinde is quick to point this out.
Valyal brushes aside any competition from the Janata Dal this time,
saying the contest is a straight one between Shinde and himself.
Locals speculate about an understanding between Shinde and the Janata Dal
candidate of 1996, Ravi Patil, following which the JD politician has chosen to
contest from Bijapur, leaving Solapur to be contested by his wife
under the JD banner. Shinde brushes aside the allegation, saying if there was such an understanding, Ravi Patil's wife would not be in the fray.
UNI in Solapur
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