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How Dagdu became Sushil

April 16: He is the “boy peon” who rose to become the country’s security boss. And he apparently reminded Sonia Gandhi of Barack Obama when she read the US President’s autobiography.

Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has come a long way from amateur actor Dagdu Sambhajirao Shinde and one-time child labourer who worked in a factory for a monthly wage of Rs 10.

On Thursday, when Solapur votes, it would be yet another battle in a life of struggle and rise.

A look at Shinde’s life presents an extraordinary account: his journey from humble beginnings to vice-presidential candidate, Maharashtra chief minister, Andhra Pradesh governor, power minister and now home minister. Somewhere in between, Dagdu became Sushil Kumar.

No wonder Sonia is reported to have called Shinde after the Congress chief had finished reading Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, the memoirs of the man who went on to become the world’s most powerful man after difficult initial years.

“When I was reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, I thought of you,” Sonia reportedly told Shinde.

Shinde, who is fighting a caste certificate row along with the poll battle, changed his name when he was 24. The Maharashtra state government gazette of 1961 has a small entry that says Dagdu Sambhajirao Shinde should now be read as Sushil Kumar Shinde. The idea of changing his name occurred while Dagdu was acting in Prema Tujha Rang Kasa, a family drama, at Solapur’s Sangameshwar College.

So gripping was Dagdu’s performance as hero “Sushil Kumar” that virtually everyone, from teachers to his classmates, started calling him Sushil Kumar.

Dagdu, born Sambhajirao on July 25, 1947, worked as a part-time “boy peon” at Solapur’s district court. The term “boy peon” was part of the newspaper advertisement that drew the young Dagdu to the court.

His first government assignment fetched him a monthly salary of Rs 70. His job was to call in advocates/defendants as “Hazir hon” when the court was in session. The job also included cleaning the judge’s chambers, tracing out old records and fetching tea.

Earlier, Shinde had worked as a labourer in a rolling works factory for a monthly wage of Rs 10. He had one set of clothes that he used to wash at night and wear the next day.

Shinde’s next appointment was as a ward boy at a maternity home. Having dropped out of primary school, Shinde joined a night school and cleared matriculation. His schedule was punishing, starting from 7am and ending at 10pm when he finished night classes.

His mother Sakhubai and stepmother Krishnabai took turns to prepare tiffin — jowar bread and chutney.

According to the affidavit Shinde has submitted for the April 17 election, his movable assets are worth Rs 6.18 crore, including a tractor. His wife’s assets are valued at Rs 2.4 crore.

Shinde also worked as a police constable for a few years. In 1971, an encounter with Sharad Pawar saw him enter politics. Shinde fought his first two elections from the reserved Karmala seat in Solapur district. He later insisted on fighting from a general category seat.

In 2009, when Solapur was declared a reserved constituency meant for Scheduled Caste candidates, a case was filed seeking the validity of his caste certificate. Shinde produced a certificate saying he belonged to the Dhor community of Dalits.

Earlier, in 2002, he had lost the election for the post of Vice-President to the NDA’s B.S. Shekhawat.

Shinde was chief minister of Maharashtra when the Congress-led UPA was formed in May 2004. Led by Shinde, the Congress-NCP combine won 23 parliamentary seats, which accounted for nearly half the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

Shinde led the Congress-headed Democratic Front to victory in the October 2004 Assembly elections. But when he met Sonia at 10 Janpath, she told him: “I have plans for you. Go to Mumbai to get Vilasrao (Deshmukh) elected as leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).”

He was 57 when Sonia sent him to Andhra Pradesh as governor. It seemed the doors had shut on his return to active politics. But Shinde took it in his stride. “I had full faith in Soniaji,” he told this correspondent in an informal chat recently. “Look at me. I was a boy peon in a district court and today I am home minister of India.”

Shinde’s stay in the Raj Bhavan at Hyderabad lasted till January 2006, when he received a call from Sonia asking him to get ready for the “Delhi assignment”.

Sholapur votes on April 17