Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Shivacharya swami holds edge over Shinde, Ambedkar in Solapur

All three Lok Sabha candidates are firmly in the running making this seat toughest to call.
Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya, a Lingayat spiritual leader is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Solapur. Based on the caste split of votes in the area, Shivacharya is emerging as an unlikely power horse.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya, a Lingayat spiritual leader is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Solapur. Based on the caste split of votes in the area, Shivacharya is emerging as an unlikely power horse.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Updated on Apr 12, 2019 03:05 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | By

The scene is reminiscent of 2014. Senior Congressman Sushilkumar Shinde, then home minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre, campaigned hard and yet lost the elections from Solapur, the constituency he dominated for decades.

Today, five years later, Shinde, (77), is campaigning even harder as he faces a tough fight from Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya, a Lingayat seer, and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s (VBA) Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

From small Ganesh mandals to mosques and community halls, Shinde is not taking any chances in his poll campaign. In between, he stops at a party worker’s house, meets his elderly parents and enquires about their health. “These are all my people. They have stood with me for decades,” he said while walking with some difficulty in the padyatra.

For the past one year, the septuagenarian Congressman was preparing to fight polls. From attending book launches to felicitation programmes, Shinde did not miss anything in Solapur. He took the 2014 defeat seriously and began afresh, said his aide, wanting to leave no stone unturned.

 

The contest is not easy for Shinde though.

Ambedkar’s entry into the fray has complicated matters for Shinde, a Dalit leader who has been Maharashtra’s chief minister and has served as leader of house in Lok Sabha. “On the one hand BJP is campaigning on religious lines while Ambedkar, who is here to cut votes, is playing caste politics. I am firm on development though,” said Shinde whose daughter Praniti, an MLA from central Solapur, is in-charge of his campaign.

With around 18 lakh voters, Lingayats accounts for around 20 per cent (3.5 lakh voters) in Solapur which is a reserved constituency for scheduled castes. The muslims here are around 2 lakh while dalits voters account for 3 lakhs. The Marathas and Dhangars number approximately 3 lakhs and one lakh respectively.

By fielding Shivacharya, who comes from the Jangam caste in the Lingayat community, the BJP has put up a formidable challenge against Shinde. The 63-year old spiritual leader runs two community mutts – one at Gaudgaon in Akkalkot and another at Kelshi – where Lingayats visit in large numbers.

What is also working to Shivacharya’s advantage is active participation of two strong BJP leaders – district guardian minister Vijay Deshmukh and Subhash Deshmukh, minister for cooperatives. The two Deshmukhs, BJP workers say, will get them Maratha votes.

Shivacharya and Ambedkar have polarized Solapur’s political terrain on caste lines and development issues have taken the backseat.

“There are several issues but nobody is talking about them. Caste considerations have completely overshadowed other issues here,” said Avinash Kulkarni, a local journalist and political observer.

Shivacharya, a doctorate in philosophy from Banaras Hindu University, denied that he was seeking votes on caste or religious lines. “I am asking for votes in the name of development that the Modi government has done. For me Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas is the only way to move forward,” said Shivacharya, as he entered into his sports utility vehicle (SUV).

Shivacharya speaks in Kannada, Marathi and Hindi while speaking at his political rallies to ensure that his message reaches all in a constituency where many speak Kannada.

Known to be a hub for the power loom and beedi industries, Solapur houses large number of workers employed in these sectors. It was hit by demonetisation. “My husband used to be employed in one such power loom but lost his job three years ago. Now I have to look after the livelihood of the family,” said Kamala Hattergi, who works in the beedi industry.

In Solapur, water scarcity is also another major issue as the city faces shortfall every summer. In most parts, water comes once in five days as the civic body struggles to meet the demand through water tankers. “Politicians come and go during elections but none have done anything for us,” said Alamma Kathari, resident of Arti nagar, while awaiting a water tanker.

These workers, VBA hope, will turn the tide in their favour this time as voters are fed up of Shinde, who could not do anything for the development of Solapur, said Sujat, son of Prakash Ambedkar.

“Based on the inputs we have received, the real contest is between Ambedkar and Shivacharya swami,” said Sujat, campaigh in-charge for his 64-year-old father Prakash Ambedkar, who is also contesting from Akola.

Ambedkar’s candidature has got the crucial backing of Narsaiyya Adam, a CPI(M) leader who enjoys a large following among beedi workers. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), which is part of VBA, is likely to help Ambedkar capture muslim votes. “If dalits and muslims vote for Ambedkar is large number, Shinde’s prospects look threatened,” said Kulkarni.

Solapur Lok Sabha Seat:

•Triangular contest between Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress), Jai Siddheshwar Swami (BJP) and Prakash Ambedkar (VBA)

Who is hoping for what?

•Shinde is banking on Dalit, OBCs, Muslims and Maratha votes.

•Jai Siddheshwar Swami hopes to get votes from Lingayats, who accounts for 30 per cent of total voters. The Padmashali community and upper caste Marathas are also likely to back the seer.

•Prakash Ambedakar has been able to regroup smaller communities. He hopes to get dalits, dhangars and muslims, thus hurting Shinde’s chances

Solapur LS seat has six assembly segments:

Solapur City North, Solapur City South, Solapur city Central, Akkalkot, Mohol and Pandharpur

Total voters:

In 2014-- 15.94 lakh

In 2019-- 18 lakh

2014 LS polls:

Winner: Sharad Bansode (BJP) got 5,17,879 votes

Nearest rival: Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress) got 3,68,205 votes

2009 LS polls:

Winner: Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress) got 3,87,591 votes

Nearest rival: Sharad Bansode (BJP) 2,87,959 votes

Issues that Matter:

•Drinking water shortage is one of the major issues citizens in Solapur city face. Distribution drinking water once in a week is a major issue of the city.

Inclusion of Solapur city in ambitious Smart City project along with Highways built around the city are the achievements projected by BJP although unemployment is major issue here

Constituency Profile:

Solapur is mix of rural and urban voters with considerable Lingayat population , which has traditionally been with Congress.

Known to be a hub for power loom and beedi industry, Solapur houses large number of workers employed in these sectors but had bitter experience during demonetisation.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Yogesh Joshi is Assistant Editor at Hindustan Times. He covers politics, security, development and human rights from Western Maharashtra.

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