For SushilKumar Shinde, fourth term likely to be a cakewalk

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Solapur(Mah), Apr 8: Even though controversy dogged him since he took over as Union Home Minister for making some questionable statements, SushilKumar Shinde looks well set to romp home to a fourth Lok Sabha term from this traditional Congress bastion where the BJP challenge appears insipid despite the perceived "Modi wave".

Shinde, 73, not particularly known for verbal discretion -- who made a recent statement on "crushing" media, the one on Saffron terror camps, the banter that people will forget "coalgate" just as the "Bofors" got erased from their memory and his provocative jibe at Jaya Bachchan reminding her that she was in Parliament and should desist from Bollywood histrionics--does not seem to carry his Delhi baggage when he lands in his home constituency in Western Maharashtra.

An avowed Congress high command loyalist, who never fought shy of playing the Dalit card for climbing up the political ladder with an ever smiling face, Shinde's meteoric rise from a courtroom peon to the highest corridors of power has been truly remarkable for his journey from Maharashtra Chief Minister to the Union Home Ministry.

This time, Shinde who has just returned to his home turf to up the ante of his campaign, is being promoted in his absence by his MLA daughter Praniti and wife Ujwala. BJP has fielded Sharad Bansode (50), who fought and lost against Shinde in the last 2009 Lok Sabha poll. Solapur constituency, comprising urban and rural segments, goes to polls on April 17.

Bansode, considered popular among youths with his creation of a patriotic platform in the city for propagation of thoughts of freedom fighter Veer Savarkar, is however, not expected to penetrate the grass root vote bank of Congress that has formed the support base of Shinde.

Confident about Shinde's victory, Congress supporters of the Home minister say, "he has contributed a lot to Solapur's development by upgrading MIDC facilities and establishing NPTC power grid to spur industrial growth in various sectors as well as improving connectivity by implementing various highway construction projects for a better access to the city."

However, questioning Shinde's work as MP, Bansode says, "Despite holding high office in Delhi, the Congress leader has failed to fulfil his promises of Solapur's development and acute water supply problem."

While the BJP is focusing on Shinde's alleged failure to complete some of the irrigation and water supply projects in this arid and rain deficient region as well as the job crunch, the party has suffered a setback with the resignation of one of its prominent local leaders Subhash Deshmukh, who had defeated Shinde's wife Ujwala in 2004 Lok Sabha election for the Solapur seat.

Deshmukh, seen as a formidable campaigner, is said to have left the party over denial of ticket to his son who wanted to contest on BJP ticket from Osmanabad.

The absence of Deshmukh from the BJP fold has come as shot in the arm for Shinde's campaign. Shinde, who humbled Bansode in the 2009 election by a convincing margin of over one lakh votes, has taken care to rope in NCP, the coalition partner of Congress in the state and at the Centre, to boost his campaign.

The presence of NCP chief Sharad Pawar along with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan during Shinde's filing of nomination was significant as it demonstrated solidarity between the otherwise squabbling allies. Notably, Shinde has publicly called Pawar his "political guru".

Optimistic about electoral prospects of Congress, Shinde, during recent poll rally, said, "People have faith in secular tradition of Congress which is working for inclusive growth under the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi." Dismissing the Modi wave, he said "it will prove to be another fiasco for BJP as it happened with its 'India Shining' campaign in 2004."

"If Modi is elected the nation will be divided. Congress will ensure inclusive growth and development panning all communities and protect secular character of the country," Shinde told his voters during a campaign. Meanwhile, Bansode is banking on the "Modi wave" but the local unit of Shiv Sena, the BJP's saffron alliance partner, is not whole heartedly participating in his campaign owing to internal bickering, party sources said.

The campaign heat in Solapur, which is still picking up, is expected to reach a feverish pitch when star campaigners for both the parties including Narendra Modi - slated to address a rally here on April 9 - start converging on this textile town.

PTI

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