In saffron stronghold, ex-Sainik has odds stacked against him

Paranjape shared the stage with Pawar and launched a diatribe against the saffron party, saying it was not “the Sena of yore”. Paranjape shared the stage with Pawar and launched a diatribe against the saffron party, saying it was not “the Sena of yore”. (Express archive)

It was an embarrassing moment for the Shiv Sena to see its elected Member of Parliament Anand Paranjape walk up to National Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar at a conference in January 2012. Paranjape shared the stage with Pawar and launched a diatribe against the saffron party, saying it was not “the Sena of yore”.

The sympathy wave after his father Prakash Paranjape’s death in 2008 helped the incumbent MP win from the Kalyan Lok Sabha constituency in 2009, although marginally with 24,000 votes. With his defection from the party to contest on an NCP ticket in a constituency traditionally considered a Sena-BJP stronghold, it might prove an uphill task for Paranjape this time around.

The Sena has pitched 26-year-old Dr Shrikant Eknath Shinde against Paranjape. Shinde, son of Sena strongman and MLA Eknath Shinde, will take on the rebel MP in the Marathi-heartland of Kalyan-Dombivali-Ambernath townships.

The constituency includes two municipal corporations, Kalyan-Dombivali and Ulhasnagar, and the Ambernath municipal council. It has a diverse voter profile of the Marathi-speaking Agri community, Brahmins, Muslims, south Indians, Sindhis and north Indians. Paranjape — popularly knows as ‘Murphy baby’ — is a favourite among the Brahmins, mostly residing in the Dombivali area.

In the erstwhile Thane Lok Sabha seat before the 2009 delimitation, Paranjape’s win was considered to be the outcome of work done by his father, who had represented Thane since 1996. “His father enjoyed a stature of a political leader, of being a social activist. Several incomplete works were handed over to Anand after his father’s death. But after five years in office, the work remains to be done,” said a senior Sena leader.

Over the past decade, this constituency has seen a dramatic mix in the voting pattern, with a large chunk of land thrown open for development and people migrating from other regions. Hundreds of new housing projects were launched in Kalyan and Dombivali, attracting buyers to invest in ‘affordable housing projects’. “However, the amenities that should have followed were not provided,” said Sandeep Chandsarkar, 53, a resident of Dombivali.

According to Chandsarkar, in a constituency as big as Kalyan, with 19 lakh registered voters, it is common that some region would be ignored. “It is a tough job for the MP to focus on micro issues. However, Kalyan-Dombivali have always got a raw deal,” he said.

For instance, this region remains parched, with 200 million litres per day (MLD) from its primary source, Barvi dam, being diverted to Navi Mumbai. “Navi Mumbai has its own water source in Morbe Dam, but water still gets diverted from Barvi. There has been no assertion from our leaders, and others have benefited out of this at the cost of residents of our constituency,” said Prathamesh Landge, a resident of Kalyan.

Aruna Deshmukh, a professor at a college and a resident of Khadakpada area in Kalyan said unlike Mumbai, this region does not have a single flyover and roads are in a bad shape. She said the law and order problems of the area never make it to the state- or national-level discourse. “Crimes against women continue unabated in this region. But unlike Mumbai, no measures have been taken to make women feel secure,” she said.

“Paranjape’s father was a stalwart, he raised futuristic issues. He demanded expansion of railways keeping in mind the population explosion in the area. But he (Anand) did not raise any of these issues at all,” said Saikat Datar from Kalyan.

Paranjape’s supporters refute these claims. “He is one of the most approachable MPs. He personally looks into matters,” said an NCP worker from Kalyan.

While Paranjape was a member of the Railway Convention Committee, he raised demands to make infrastructural provisions available in Kalyan and Dombivali for a smooth railway journey, but not much has materialised. “The crowd needs to be eased. Besides the daily local passengers, Kalyan also has several long distance trains halting here. There has been a long-pending demand to have a few long-distance trains halt at Dombivali, but there has been no progress,” said Chandsarkar.

Paranjape is, however, credited with the construction of an escalator and a foot over bridge (FOB) at Kalyan railway station.

Almost 60 per cent of the 450 companies in MIDC Phase 1 and MIDC Phase 2 in Dombivali (East), are shut owing to emission of hazardous gases. “This has directly affected employment in the region, forcing many to travel to Mumbai and Navi Mumbai in search of jobs,” said Ramesh Nalavade, an activist.

Being an engineer with an MBA degree from Pune University, the general perception was that Paranjape’s focus would be on lobbying to make his constituency an education hub. “He focused on the issues that a corporator would focus on, whereas the most neglected issues like bringing in college proposals for the city or setting up hospitals were never a part of his vision,” said Shinde.

Residents said Shinde’s educational qualifications were a factor in pitting him against an educated MP like Paranjape. Shinde, who is in the final year of Masters in Surgery (MS), could more than match Paranjape’s academic credentials in the almost entirely literate district of Kalyan-Dombivali.

sukanya.shetty@expressindia.com