Solapur could be anybody's game

Solapur could be anybody's game

Solapur: AIMIM chief and Hyderabad MP, Asaduddin Owaisi carries Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar during an election campaign rally for the Lok Sabha elections, in Solapur, Maharashtra, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (PTI Photo)

It could be anybody's game in Solapur.

This Lok Sabha seat in Western Maharashtra is witnessing a fierce triangular contest between Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist and veteran law-maker Sushilkumar Shinde, BJP's surprise new entrant Jai  Siddheshwar Shivacharya Swami, a Lingayat seer and Prakash Ambedkar,  who had floated the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).

In this clash of the titans in the Solapur (SC) seat along the Maharashtra-Karnataka border much depends on the caste and religion politics.

The severe drought-prone  Solapur district is known for beedis,  Solapuri chaddars, cotton mills,  power looms,  spinning mills,  towels and school uniforms.

The combination of Dalit,  Muslim, Dhangar is what will swing the balance. Solapur has a mixed population of Marathi and Kannada speaking people and also has a significant Lingayat population. There is a sizable Telegu speaking population as well.

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The VBA is founded by Ambedkar,  the president of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and comprises of various Dalit,  tribals and Dhangar groups and the chief ally is Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM.

The VBA is giving sleepless nights to BJP and Shinde,  a veteran Congressman,  who had been union home minister,  chief minister of Maharashtra and governor of Andhra Pradesh.

"Solapur's economy revolves around towels,  beedis and garments. Plus there are pilgrimage centres. Solapur wants a big boost," said Amit Kumar Jain,  the joint secretary of Solapur Garments' Manufacturers Association.

Shinde may have some issues in urban areas which comprise or Lingayat-Dalit--Muslim population but in rural areas he will bag a large chunk of Maratha votes. In fact,  NCP supremo Sharad Pawar,  whom Shinde considers his political guru,  has thrown his weight behind Shinde. "This is my last election," the 77-year-old Shinde says in his meetings. His daughter,  Pranati Shinde,  is an MLA from Solapur.

On the other hand Ambedkar is making all efforts to get votes of Dalit-Muslim-Dhanhar,   the Swami is banking on Lingayat-Dalit votes.

Among the issues here are — a severe shortage of drinking water,  unavailability of water for irrigation,  agrarian distress,  unemployment,  fast-growing rural-urban divide. 

The 63-year-old seer of Gaudgaon mutt,  who is being considered a wildcard entry,  says he believes in politics of inclusion and there is nothing wrong for a swami to be in politics and serve people.

Ambedkar,  the grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar,  says that he has main competition from BJP and not Congress.

SOLAPUR  Maharashtra  2014 Lok Sabha results

Winner: Sharad Bansode (BJP) 

Runner-up: Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress)

Margin: 1,49,674 votes

2019  Contenders 

Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress)

Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya Swami (BJP)

Prakash Ambedkar (VBA)

Total voters: 17, 02, 755 

Polling on: 18 April