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February 20, 1998


Constituency Profile/Solapur

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 victory margins.

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 Dharmanna Sadul.

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 problems.

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 segments.

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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