Kudal (Maha): Congress is facing a tough challenge in its bid to retain the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha seat in an area where State Industries Minister Narayan Rane holds sway.
Rane’s son Nilesh represents the seat which is situated at the southernmost tip of Maharashtra. Marked by a vast, hilly terrain and a sea coast, this is an area where leaders like Madhu Dandavate and Shiv Sena’s Suresh Prabhu have fought and won Lok Sabha elections for several years.
The constituency known for Chhatrapati Shivaji’s famed sea fort at Malwan and the Tarkarli beach was earlier called Rajapur. Following delimitation in 2008, parts of Ratnagiri district were included in the new Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg constituency.
Col Sudhir Sawant, who won the erstwhile Rajapur Lok Sabha constituency in 1991 on a Congress ticket, told PTI that the group of Shiv Sainiks which came with Narayan Rane in 2005 was the Congress party in the district now.
“The original Congress members are sitting at home,” he said.
Sawant, who quit Congress a few years back, said the party could never establish itself in Konkan region because it fell short of money and muscle power and was also affected by internal bickering.
“The Sharad Pawar faction in Congress used to support Shiv Sena in the 1990s,” he charged.
Even though all villages in the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat have road connectivity and electricity supply, farmers have several grievances.
“The tourism policy is flawed. The focus is only on five star hotels and acquisition of land for it. Given the rural nature of the constituency, focus should have been on village- based and high-end tourism,” he said.
Industries have shied away from investing in the area due to law and order problems, he further charged.
Kudal MLA and former Sena-BJP Chief Minister Narayan Rane is the lone Congress legislator in the Assembly segments in this constituency.
The Sena-turned-Congress leader suffered a blow when party candidates and close associates Ganpat Kadam and Ravindra Phatak, lost from Rajapur and Kankavli, respectively, in the 2009 Assembly polls while NCP’s Uday Samant won from Ratnagiri and Deepak Kesarkar took Sawantwadi.
To boost his chances of staking a claim for the top post, Narayan Rane needs to improve Congress’s position in the Konkan belt, which has two Lok Sabha seats (Ratnagiri- Sindhudurg and Raigad).
Of the 82 zilla parishads in the constituency, 35 belong to Congress and 17 to NCP while, out of 164 panchayat samitis, 63 are with Congress and 36 are in NCP’s kitty. Out of 171 municipal council members, 66 are from NCP while Congress has 36.
Shiv Sena has fielded MLC Vinayak Raut, a close aide of party chief Uddhav Thackeray, against Nilesh.
Talking to PTI, Raut said the good work done by Shiv Sena in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg would stand him in good stead.
“The sitting MP has neglected rural development completely,” Raut alleged.
Bad roads, water scarcity, problems of cashew and mango growers and fishermen have not been addressed in the last five years, he charged.
“Konkan is rich in natural resources, but that has not been utilised because of the apathy of the central government. The MP has not utilised any of the central schemes for welfare of the people in this constituency,” he alleged.
Land was acquired for the Jaitapur nuclear power project and the proposed Chipi airport in Sindhudurg, but the plans were only been on paper, he claimed.
The rural section of this constituency is fed up with the spiralling prices and want a change, he said, adding that he stands a good chance of wresting the seat from Congress after having completed the first phase of campaigning.
“In the last seven months, I have covered 41,000-km and will now start campaigning panchayat-samiti wise,” he said.
Raut said that in 2009, the Sena-BJP candidate got 3.64 lakh votes and claimed that subsequent local body polls had seen the alliance increase its vote-share.
“In Ratnagiri, Shiv Sena won the zilla parishad polls while in Sindhudurg, the party won the Kudal and Dodamarg gram panchayats. At recent gram panchayat polls in Ratnagiri taluka, the Sena-BJP combine bagged three seats while NCP took one gram panchayat.
But Nilesh Rane told PTI that he is satisfied with his work during his five-year tenure as MP and wishes to do “much more”.
“Quadrupling of the Mumbai-Goa National Highway first phase has been completed upto Patradevi and funds have been sanctioned for the rest of the project while the laying of the second track for Konkan railway will also be done,” he said.
He said he had focused on development in the constituency, an aspect which he claimed was neglected by Shiv Sena’s Suresh Prabhu, who represented the seat for over 17 years.
“He (Prabhu) was a Union minister who held important portfolios and was close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but he did nothing for Konkan. Sindhudurg was declared a tourism district but he did not bring central funds to aid the industry here. I have spent the entire sum of my MP-LAD fund for development of the constituency.
“For the first time, the archaeological department has sanctioned Rs 10 crore for the upgrade and maintenance of forts which fall within the constituency,” Nilesh said.
According to him, Sindhudurg district and neighbouring Goa are similar in size and population, although the former is a district and the latter a state.
“Compared to Goa, tourism potential (of Sindhudurg) has not been developed fully,” he said.
He said he is opposed to the Madhav Gadgil report on the Western Ghats as, in his view, it would affect the progress and development of the Konkan region.
Speaking about the Jaitapur power project, he said that the opposition to the project has subsided and only a few outsiders were resisting it.
But “the construction of security wall has been completed and work is in progress”, he added.
Similarly, the Chipi airport in Sindhudurg will be completed in two to three years as all clearances have been obtained, he said.
Nilesh said that for local body polls, NCP has an alliance with Sena and BJP but at the Assembly and Lok Sabha level, the Congress and NCP co-ordination was good.
“In my constituency, the Sawantwadi NCP MLA, Deepak Kesarkar, is opposing me, but in Ratnagiri, NCP MLA and minister Uday Samant is co-operating,” he said.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)