Pune: Though the Solapur Lok Sabha constituency will be a triangular fight among Congress senior leader Sushilkumar Shinde, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate and spiritual leader Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya Swami and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), the actual contest will be between Shinde and Ambedkar. It is one of the interesting electoral battles that will take place.
The two Dalits and the Lingayat spiritual leader are in the fray, which will result in a clear-cut division of votes on caste lines in Solapur.
The Lok Sabha constituency consists of the Mohol, North Solapur City, Central Solapur City, Akkalkot, Solapur South and Pandharpur assembly constituencies. It is reserved for the Scheduled Castes. The constituency has sizable Dalit and Muslim populations, who had voted for Shinde in good numbers last time. Solapur has mostly been a Congress stronghold. In 2009, when it was first reserved for the Scheduled Castes, Shinde won the seat defeating the BJP candidate. In 2014, he lost the seat to BJP’s Sharad Bansode by around 1,50,000 votes, mainly due to the Modi wave.
Now, Shinde wants to bounce back. His daughter Praniti is the sitting MLA from the Solapur Central Assembly Constituency and is working hard to ensure her father’s win.
The BJP decided not to field sitting MP Bansode. It instead preferred the spiritual leader to cash in on the votes of the Lingayat, which is a dominant community in Solapur. However, not all from the community support Shivacharya Swami’s candidature. Swami was in the news for making a controversial statement. The intellectuals from the community are not in favour of Siddheshwar Shivacharya entering politics.
VBA leader Prakash Ambedkar is getting a huge response in Solapur. He wants to capitalise, along with OBCs, on a major chunk of votes from Dalits and Muslims.
In 2014, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), which is a part of VBA, candidate Sheikh Tauf was the runner-up in the Central Solapur City Assembly seat, where Sushilkumar Shinde’s daughter Praniti won.
Solapur has around 1.7 million voters, where Lingayats have around 4,00,000 voters. The Muslims and Dalits together account for around 4,50,000 votes while nearly 4,00,000 voters are from the Padmashali (weavers) and Dhangar communities. Among the remaining are the Marathas, Telugus and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Namdev Khandare, a political observer from Solapur, said, “Shinde is a soft-spoken leader and has a mass appeal not only among the Dalits but also the Lingayat community. Prakash Ambedkar’s decision to contest from Solapur has changed the equation. He is campaigning aggressively among the Dalits, Dhangars and Muslims, who are spontaneously supporting him. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Republican Party of India (RPI-Athavale) have also openly supported Ambedkar. Ambedkar’s emotional appeals are finding an echo among these voters.”
“The BJP is concentrating on the Madha constituency. The party is not focusing on Solapur. Moreover, Swami is making controversial statements. He is not a strong contender. Hence, the real fight is between Shinde and Ambedkar. The result will be interesting,” he added.