The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rustling up Solapur for Shinde, like a crab dish

Ujjwala Shinde wants to put Solapur on husband Sushil Kumar Shinde’s table just like she would serve him his favourite crab dish.

“He laps it up whenever he gets a chance to savour it,” she says of the crab dish whose preparation is a favourite household chore of hers.

But that’s the end of any similarity people may draw between Ujjwala and that other housewife who became a politician to keep the seat warm for her husband — Rabri Devi.

Unlike the Bihar chief minister who made a reluctant debut, Ujjwala is spoiling for a fight to wrest her husband’s former seat back for the Congress.

Ujjwala may have come forward for the contest only recently but she has been quietly nurturing Solapur all along in Shinde’s absence.

No rhetoric, no overpowering feminism, no kowtowing to husband; just a steely but understated resolve marks the way she goes about her business.

“She has a clear notion of purpose and a touching conviction,” says a senior politician who belongs to the rival Shiv Sena. He is a friend of Shinde.

“One has to know what one is doing,” says Ujjwala, adding that she was friends with the late Meenatai, the wife of Sena chief Bal Thackeray, but “no one had a problem”.

“Even the two men (Shinde and the Sena leader) are good friends and leave politics aside from the personal,” she clarifies.

The personal angle to the fightback for Solapur almost didn’t materialise as Congress leaders squabbled among themselves, blaming each other for the debacle.

The Congress grave was dug in Solapur when Shinde vacated it last year after becoming chief minister. Anandrao Deokate lost badly, trailing BJP’s Pratapsinh Mohite by almost 122,000 votes in the September 26 bypoll.

The defeat stung more because the Lok Sabha seat was Shinde’s home borough. Worse, Pratapsinh was the brother of deputy chief minister Vijaysinh Mohite Patil of the Nationalist Congress Party, the ally of the Congress in Maharashtra.

For months, the Congress nursed the hurt while a “very upset” Sonia Gandhi hunted for a candidate who would wrest the seat back. But no one was willing as the stakes were too high.

Then, Ujjwala stepped up to play saviour for both husband and party. And coincidentally Pratapsinh gave up the seat, a development that embarrassed the BJP as much as the loss had the Congress. There were allegations that his brother had talked him out of the contest. But Pratapsinh would not talk. He simply said it was his “personal choice not to fight”.

Vijaysinh, too, had little to say. “My brother is from a different party and it will not be right to comment on his decision,” he said.

Ujjwala will now face off with BJP’s Subhash Deshmukh, a former MLA who is considered a lightweight compared with both his adversary and predecessor.

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