Solapur, the beating heart of Maharashtra’s textile industry, simmers under a relentless 40-degree heat, its streets choked with dust and its alleys cloaked in grime. A menacing cloud of smoke billows from a nearby garbage dump, a grim scene that has become all too familiar to weary passersby. Despite being earmarked for the Smart City Mission by the Centre Solapur’s reality paints a starkly different picture — a city struggling to sustain itself amidst neglect and decay.

In the shadows of this urban decay, citizens lament the conspicuous absence of both the Smart City Mission’s transformative touch and their elected representative in parliament. Frustration and disillusionment hang heavy in the air as promises remain unfulfilled and hope dwindles.

Amidst this desolation, the BJP and its allies persist with a simplistic yet potent message: a vote for BJP candidate is a direct vote to Narendra Modi. Modi himself has been appealing to voters on the same line. But even those who support Modi and BJP don’t know what to do with the MPs who get elected in the name of the PM and then go missing for five years.

“City elected BJP’s Sharad Bansode in 2014 because of Modi, but he vanished without a trace. Then in 2019, the BJP introduced a new candidate, spiritual guru Jai Sidheshwar Shivacharya Mahaswamiji. Despite winning in the Modi wave, he too disappeared. Now, another face is seeking votes in Modi’s name,” say women workers in Duttnagar slum.

This time, the BJP has nominated its MLA Ram Satpute to take on Congress candidate Praniti Shinde, daughter of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde. The people of Solapur are watching closely, hoping that this time their elected representative will stay connected after the elections.

Development at Standstill

“ The city’s development is at standstill. The textile industry is suffering heavily because of political apathy,” says Jaya Honumal, a worker in a textile unit.

Solapur is renowned for its vibrant handloom and powerloom weaving industry, which provides livelihoods to around 50,000 workers through its 12,000 powerlooms. The city’s Jackard powerlooms produce a range of high-quality products such as chadders, towels, and napkins, contributing to an impressive annual turnover exceeding ₹1,600 crore. These products are exported to various countries, making Solapur a significant player in the global market, says Raju Rathi, President of Solapur Chamber of Commerce.

Rathi emphasises the need for basic infrastructure in the city, including improved roads, water supply, drainage systems, public toilets, CNG stations, a well-equipped government hospital, an international airport, and mini textile and technological parks. He believes that Solapur deserves these facilities to support its growing industries and population.

Banking on Bidi
Approximately 65,000 women in Solapur engage in bidi rolling, a manual process that requires delicate handling at every stage

Approximately 65,000 women in Solapur engage in bidi rolling, a manual process that requires delicate handling at every stage | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Apart from textiles, Solapur is also renowned for bidi production, with about 65,000 women involved in bidi rolling across approximately 200 branded bidi factories. This industry, which has been a part of Solapur’s heritage for over a century, involves the transfer of skills from older women to young girls, highlighting a unique aspect of the city’s cultural and economic landscape. Women here bank on bidi to earn livelihood.

Renuka Bingundi, a bidi worker, voices the struggles faced by many women in the industry, highlighting that not all are officially registered and a majority live in poverty. She emphasises the lack of access to quality healthcare for bidi workers. Despite facing regular campaigns against bidi rolling, Renuka and others in the industry express a willingness to switch to alternative work if given the opportunity.

Shinde’s Solapur

Solapur is a reserved seat for SC candidates, comprising six assembly segments. Former Home Minister and senior Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde represented Solapur constituency for three terms. BJP’s Subhash Deshmukh defeated his wife Ujwala in the 2004 elections. But Sushilkumar retained the seat in 2009, defeating the BJP’s Sharad Bansode. However, Bansode defeated Shinde in 2014 elections. In 2019, the BJP’s Jai Sidheshwar Shivacharya Mahaswamiji defeated Shinde once again. The sitting MP has issued a list of the work he has done as an MP but has not commented on why he was denied the party’s nomination.