For generations, the predominantly Muslim fishing village of Sakhari-Nate has remained a Congress stronghold for no particular reason other than the dread of a saffron sway. But the village of 10,000 has now decided to vote en masse for the Shiv Sena when the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg parliamentary constituency — currently held by Nilesh Rane, the son of Maharashtra Industries Minister Narayan Rane — goes to polls on April 17.
The day after the polls, it is planned, they will converge at the Shaheed Tabrez Sayekar chowk at the entrance to the village to mark the third death anniversary of Tabrez.
The 30-year-old was shot in 2011 in police firing during an agitation over the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, that is proposed to come up less than 3 km away. A few others from the village had a narrow escape, including a 23-year-old who still has a bullet lodged in his chest and another who survived when a bullet grazed his forehead.
“The more noise we make, the more repressive the Congress government gets. We have decided to strike back silently through the ballot box,” says local fishing leader Mansur Solkar, who too got shot in the leg. Ever since he can remember, Sakhari-Nate has voted for the Congress, if only to keep “communal forces” at bay.
There is little evidence of that loyalty paying off for the village, with its dusty, inaccessible pathways snaking up to clusters of ramshackle huts. “This time every party other than the Congress has promised to help us in our anti-nuclear plant agitation. We do not want the anti-Congress vote to be split and, therefore, will unanimously vote for the Sena,” says Solkar.
The village churns out a third of Ratnagiri district’s annual fish catch of 1.25 lakh tonnes, much of which is exported. For what is said to be the world’s largest nuclear power generating station — being built by French company Areva — the state acquired 938 hectors of land. The protests quelled over a period of time after the state hiked the compensation package for the 2,336 landholders from the five nearby villages of Madban, Karel, Niveli, Varliwada and Mithgavane.
However, the fisherfolk from Sakhari Nate were not recognised as project-affected as they own no land.
Amjad Borkar, vice-president of the Macchimar Kruti Samiti, recalls that in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the entire village had foregone a day’s catch in order to vote for Nilesh Rane.
A Congress worker himself, Borkar admits that the tide has turned. “There is a lot of seething anger against the Congress in a village that has since Independence voted for no other party. Till date there has been no word from the government on compensation for the fishermen who will be uprooted continued…