SOLAPUR: For the first time, Solapur — the south-western Maharashtra town famous for bed sheets, towels and beedies — is seeing a triangular contest. This time there are two prominent contestants — former Union minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar, leader of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).
The SC reserved constituency has a sizeable population of beedi workers, hailing from Telangana and Karnataka, and are controlled by the CPI(M). The other prominent social groups are Dalits and Muslims — both engaged in the now dying textile business and form the Congress support base.
Shinde, who won 1998 and 1999 elections, returned to the state in 2003 as the chief minister and again won in 2009. In 2004 and 2014, the BJP won the seat. “I’ve been winning the seat for a long time and I’m going to the people with the work I’ve done. The BJP didn’t even dare to repeat its sitting MP,” Shinde said adding that the election is being fought primarily on the issue of unemployment.
He accused the VBA and BJP of trying to divide society on caste lines and stressed that the main contest is between him and the BJP candidate Dr Jayasiddheshwar Shivacharya Mahaswami.
Mahaswami is a Lingayat seer who has his mutt at Akkalkot and has a large following amongst the community in Maharashtra and Karnataka. “PM Modiji held a rally in Solapur last month. He inaugurated several schemes related to water supply, sewage disposal, housing for beedi workers etc. I’ve set my goals. We shall have a skill development centre and develop the area into a garment manufacturing hub,” Dr Mahaswami said.
He has switched over to speaking in Hindi during his daily meeting with electorates after his failed attempt to crack a joke in Marathi gave rise to a controversy.
Ambedkar is focusing on Solapur even as his regular constituency Akola in Vidarbha will be voting on the same day. “Ambedkar’s presence in the contest has united all the groups in the Dalit community. Dalits united are a great force,” said Raja Saravde, an entrepreneur from the Dalit community and leader of RPI (A) which is with the BJP.
The VBA constituents make up for over 30 per cent of the electorate in the constituency of over 18 lakh electorate. A Congress leader confided that the election is going to be difficult due to the “consolidation of Dalit votes”. Ambedkar was more open in saying that the contest “is with the BJP than with the Congress”.