For a change, in the Solapur Lok Sabha constituency, traditional rivals - Sushilkumar Shinde (Congress) and Mahaswami Jaisiddheshwar Shivacharya (Bharatiya Janata Party) - are worried about an unexpected common political enemy in Prakash Ambedkar, the common candidate of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and the AIMIM.
Shinde, a former Union Home Minister and Maharashtra Chief Minister, is making his fourth bid for the Lok Sabha from his home turf, while the BJP's Mahaswami Siddheshwar is hoping to sail on the huge chunk of around 3.60 lakh Lingayat votes.
But, this time the going promises to be a Clash of Titans with the going tough for both with the entry of the formidable Ambedkar - who's eyeing the three lakh Dhangar, three lakhs Muslim and 2.50 lakhs Dalit votes, besides over 3.50 lakh Marathas.
For Shinde, the challenge is to retain the traditional Congress voters, plus ensure that the Dalit, Muslim, Dhangar votes don't sway too much in favour of Ambedkar or the Lingayats vote en masse for Mahaswami Siddheshwar.
The sole consolation for Shinde would be that the BJP dropped its sitting candidate Sharad Bansode, who had vanquished Shinde by a margin of 1.50 lakh votes at the height of the Modi wave in 2014, and the goodwill enjoyed by his legislator daughter, Praniti Shinde, MLA from Solapur City Central.
The BJP opted for Mahaswami Siddheshwar in place of Bansode - whose chances for a repeat performance were now considered bleak in the changed circumstances.
While Bansode's supporters playing spoilsport are not entirely ruled out, the entry of Ambedkar - who is also contesting from Akola - has made existing calculations go haywire for the two major parties ahead of the voting in Solapur on April 18 (Phase II), along with nine other constituencies in the state.
Ambedkar has the backing of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh-All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, but Shinde boasts of the support of the 56-party Mahagathbandhan in the state, and Mahaswami Siddheshwar banks on his own Lingayat support base plus the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine.
Though Shinde - who belongs to a Scheduled Caste - may lose out in the urban centres which comprise Lingayats-Muslims-Dalits population - he is expected to score big among the rural folk with a large dollop of Maratha votes who are likely to side with Congress this time.
Among the major issues, local VBA-Congress leaders say that a drought leading to severe shortage of water for drinking and agriculture, the never-ending farmland crises, the growing unemployment among rural-urban youth, an anti-incumbency factor coupled with disenchantment towards the Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi's government post-demonetisation and GST, and more, would be prominently exploited during the campaign for Solapur.
The Solapur Lok Sabha constituency comprises six assembly segments with sitting party legislators: Solapur South (BJP), Solapur City North (BJP), Solapur City Central (Congress), Pandharpur (Congress), Mohol (NCP) and Akkalkot (Congress).
(Quaid Najmi can be contated at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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