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Jaitapur rage is more about Sena vs Rane than nuclear fears

An indefinite curfew was clamped in Ratnagiri town after a Sena-led bandh in the district.

Written by Rakshit Sonawane | Mumbai |
April 20, 2011 12:15:20 am

The protests over a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur,which claimed one life yesterday and erupted in street clashes and stone-throwing today,appears to be driven by a local political impulse — the enduring sentiment in the Shiv Sena against Narayan Rane.

By switching loyalty to the Congress,the former Sainik and chief minister of Maharashtra undercut the Shiv Sena in its once-powerful base in the Konkan — provocation enough for the Sena to come out on the streets to denounce a project of the kind it had once championed aggressively.

An indefinite curfew was clamped in Ratnagiri town today after a Sena-led bandh in the district flared into a stoning of the local civil hospital,blocking of roads by burning tyres,an assault on a doctor and a hospital employee and,finally,a lathicharge on protesters who were demanding video-recording of the autopsy of a fisherman killed in police firing yesterday.

The fisherman,Tabrez Tehekar of Nate village close to the proposed Jaitapur plant,was hit during an alleged mob attack on the village police station. The demand for a recording of the autopsy was ultimately conceded.

As Union power minister in the NDA government,Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu had promoted the policy of setting up mega power plants,without excluding nuclear energy as a source of fuel. Some state politicians claimed yesterday that the Sena had even supported nuclear power,and that Prabhu had been instrumental in bringing the project to his Konkan bastion.

“The Sena had supported nuclear power projects and Prabhu had mooted the idea of such a project in Konkan before 2004,” NCP MLA Nawab Malik said today.

Rane,now industries minister in the Congress-NCP government,was once the Sena’s face in the Konkan. He was close to Bal Thackeray,and was made chief minister of the Sena-BJP government in 1999. He fell out with his party leadership after Thackeray’s son,Uddhav,became executive president in 2003,and was expelled from the Sena two years later.

Since then,Rane has hit his former party where it hurts,beginning with winning over 7 Sena MLAs to his side. In the 2009 assembly polls,the Sena tally in the Konkan fell to 4 seats from the 9 it had won in 2004. The enmity has worsened — the Sena has targeted Rane in the assembly and on the streets,and Rane’s son Nitesh has taken on the Sena-run BMC by raising civic issues in Mumbai city through his ‘Swabhimaan’ outfit. Elections to the BMC are due next year.

It was against this backdrop that the state government made Rane the posterboy of the Jaitapur project,asking him last year to promote it in his stronghold. On February 26,during a visit to Jaitapur by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,Rane interrupted the speech of the local Sena MLA from Rajapur,Rajan Salvi.

The Shiv Sena has vowed to oppose the project tooth and nail,while Rane has said that it would go ahead come what may.

Interestingly,the Sena has a strong following in the predominantly Muslim villages of Nate and Sakhri Nate,which are fishing villages and not among those which stand to lose land for the project. (Madban,Niveli,Karel,Mithgavane and Varliwada.) The protesters mobilised by the Sena are mainly concerned about losing their catch and possible threats to local marine life.

Reached for comments on the apparent turnaround in his party’s position on power projects,Prabhu told The Indian Express: “As the Union power minister I had supported the policy of setting up power plants to generate 15,000 to 20,000 MW. It was a matter of policy and had nothing to do with nuclear projects. The Department of Atomic Energy is with the prime minister and I,as the energy minister,had no jurisdiction.”

He said there was no talk of a nuclear power project in the Konkan when he was a Union minister. “After (the disaster in) Japan,the (Jaitapur) project has to be looked at afresh. At a time when the whole world is having a re-look at this (issue),the government should not play with fire… when a country like Japan could not cope with it,how can we?” Prabhu said.

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