A close fight is in the offing in the Thane Lok Sabha (LS) constituency which, in terms of the size of the electorate, is the biggest in the state with 19.91 lakh voters. Shiv Sena MLA and two-time mayor of Thane city Rajan Vichare will take on sitting MP Sanjeev Naik, son of NCP strongman Ganesh Naik. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Abhijit Panse, a former Shiv Sainik, and Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjeev Sane will also influence the election outcome here.
In addition to facing anti-incumbency, Naik is also dealing with growing dissent among his electorate against the ‘Naik supremacy’, especially in Navi Mumbai. “People are realising that the family is working more towards its interest. Voters will see through this,” said Sandip Thakur, a resident and activist in Navi Mumbai.
Naik, 41, perceived as being an accessible MP, credits himself for the completion of his ‘dream project’ — the Morbe dam — that drastically improved the water supply in Navi Mumbai and Karjat. It was proposed in mid-1990s when he was the first mayor of of Navi Mumbai. However, citizens feel that Naik has been unable to solve a number of problems in areas other than the Naik stronghold of Navi Mumbai, including Thane and Mira-Bhayander.
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Moreover, while the tainted Sena candidate Vijay Chowghule and division of Marathi votes due to MNS’s Rajan Raje made things easier for Naik in 2009, the contest is set to be a tightrope walk for him this time. Despite holding educational qualification till class 12, Naik uses the prefix Dr after the International Tamil University of Maryland conferred on him an honorary doctorate.
Before presidential delimitation of parliamentary seats in 2008, Thane comprised 13 assembly seats, making it one of the biggest Lok Sabha constituencies in the country. The constituency had been a traditional saffron stronghold with Janasangh, BJP and Sena candidates winning from here. Sena’s late Prakash Paranjpe was a four-time MP from the constituency till 2008. His son Anand defected to the NCP in 2012 and is the LS candidate from the adjoining Kalyan LS constituency this time.
After delimitation, Thane LS constituency now consists of six assembly segments — Owla-Majiwada, Kopari-Pachpakhadi, Thane, Mira-Bhayandar, Airoli and Belapur. While the first three are held by the Shiv Sena and have 9.66 lakh registered voters, the latter with 10.24 lakh voters have NCP MLAs in power. Vichare is the sitting MLA from Thane.
Three municipal corporations fall in this constituency — Navi Mumbai, Thane and Mira-Bhayander. “Thane is a Sena stronghold. Navi Mumbai is NCP turf with Ganesh Naik being the guardian minister, and Sanjeev’s brother Sandeep being the MLA. Mira-Bhayander has an NCP MLA at present. If the Sena manages to do good campaigning and ground work in its three assembly seats, and if the voter turnout here is above average, then we have a reason to worry,” said an NCP worker.
The state government’s recent decision of approving a cluster redevelopment policy for illegal and dilapidated buildings of Thane may work in Naik’s favour.
Another major problem faced by the residents of Thane is the railway station. “Thane has the highest number of travellers on suburban railway routes. Six lakh commuters travel from Thane station every day. The proposal to build a second railway station near Kopri was proposed 20 years ago, but is still on paper,” said Milind Gaikwad, a resident of Thane and an activist.
Vichare pointed out that Naik had promised to convert Thane station in to world-class station premises in 2010. “What happened to that promise? The sitting MP does not have a vision document for development of areas in his constituency. Is building an indoor sports complex and a large children’s park with his MP funds enough?” said Vichare.
Naik is, however, credited with the construction of an escalator and 12-m wide FOB at Thane railway station.
In Navi Mumbai, the issue of granting 2.5 FSI to CIDCO buildings older than 40 years is another worry for Naik. Similarly, proposed redevelopment policy for old buildings in Mira-Bhayander is also still on paper.
Naik will also have to deal with the ‘Modi wave’ in certain large pockets of his voter-base consisting of Gujarati-Marwari business community. To make matters worse, 13 Congress corporators from Navi Mumbai recently decided not to campaign for Naik. They are being supported by around 150 office bearers such as the block president, cell presidents and district officers. They are protesting that NCP-controlled NMMC is neglecting wards held by Congress corporators.
“Transport infrastructure needs urgent upgrade in Thane. Another requirement is decongestion. This has not happened. The MP has done little to bring in large infrastructure projects such as Metro,” Gaikwad added.