He is probably the only candidate in Maharashtra who is keeping voters of his own constituency — from where he contested for three decandes and won — at arm’s length. Unlike his rivals or other candidates in the state, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde seems to be making heavy weather of his electioneering. Much to voters’ annoyance, he is moving around the constituency amid tight security, keeping the desperate crowd trying to shake his hands at a “safe distance.”
At his residence, there is heavy security and equally when he moves around the constituency. There are two escorts vehicles, one in front and one behind. According to Congress leaders, Shinde’s security has actually been cut down due to model code of conduct.
On last Tuesday, Shinde walked into the waiting room of his office attached to his bungalow in South Sadar Bazaar — a VIP area. No sooner he stepped into the room, 30-40 people with folded hands encircled him and tried to narrate their grievances. “I can’t give you anything…because of the poll code being in force. Please understand my position,” he tells them and in less than two minutes makes an exit.
“We came here around 7 in the morning and had been waiting for him. We wanted to tell him that the civic body has forcibly snatched our land from us…we are now living on the streets,” said Ajay G, a youngster. They decided to pitch tent in front of his residence, but by afternoon when there was no sign of the minister returning, the decided to walk sullen faced. “Shinde comes once or twice a month to Solapur when he busy inaugurating functions or attending meetings….Now when he is here for days, he is not accessible to us,” says S Galande, a local resident.
Before he left, Shinde refused to speak on anything related to his constituency. “Whatever I have to I will speak next week,” he told this correspondent. His daughter MLA Praniti Shinde was no better. “You speak to Congress leaders, they will tell you what development we have carried out in Solapur,” she said, pointblank. But when pressed for a reply on voters’ complaint that Solapur faced acute shortage of water and there were no jobs, Praniti said,”The NTPC project worth Rs 13,000 crore will solve many problems. It will provide jobs as well NTPC is laying a water pipeline directly from Ujani dam,” she said, while refusing to comment further.
Meanwhile, after two hours — when he disappeared to an unknown destination — Shinde emerges at the rally organised by the Congress minority cell at Heritage Lawns in Solapur. For next three hours, Shinde listens to speeches from minority leaders eulogising him on everything else but on development issues. In the end, Shinde gets up and plays an emotional card. “This is my twelfth election. I have never lost. I wanted to call it quits, but because Soniaji insisted, I am contesting…,” he says.
Shinde quickly shifts to the charges levelled against him. “Some say I have not done much for the constituency. But the fact is I have done a lot, but don’t go around marketing my achievements. This is the problem with Congress party as well. Congress lost in the past because did not highlights its achievements,” he says.
Shinde also causes a stir when he tells the minority voters,”If you vote the BJP-led government to power, they will try to change the Constitution. They had tried to do this when they were in power, but we hammered down their bid…they might again try to do it again.”
When Shinde left the Heritage Laws, Muslims youths make a beeline to shake hands, but the security personnel shoo them away. “He is first not available, then not accessible,” says A Shaikh, a young voters.
Meanwhile, Shinde’s bravado fails to find favour with rivals. Sharad Bansode, who in 2009 had lost to Shinde by over one lakh votes, is again contesting on a BJP-Shiv Sena ticket. “Shinde is completely cut off from his voters. Whatever projects he has inaugurated in Solapur have failed to see the light of day. After their bhoomi pujans, the projects have failed to even take off,” he says.