WITH THE denotification of the Nanar oil refinery in the Konkan region’s Raigad district earlier this month, the Shiv Sena is upbeat about its prospects in the Lok Sabha polls and is hopeful of retaining its conventional stronghold. Ironically, the Sena’s toughest challenge in the region won’t come from the Opposition ranks, but from NDA’s own — the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha led by former Maharashtra CM and sitting BJP Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane.
Riding the Narendra Modi wave, the Sena had swept the polls the last time, winning four of the six Lok Sabha seats in the region, with the BJP wresting the remaining two.
Besides Rane, the NCP, which claims to have struck a political understanding with the local outfit Peasants and Workers Party, is also upbeat about its chances in Raigad. Also, with the BJP succumbing to the Sena’s demand of scrapping the refinery project and offering the Uddhav Thackeray-led party an additional seat in the region, the Sena is also having to contend with some dissent from within the local ranks in the BJP.
The region bordering Mumbai is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of the country and has seen a large influx of migrants, who have set up bases due to the increasing prices of land in the financial capital.
Comprising the districts of Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, the region traditionally had been a stronghold of the Shiv Sena. However, the party had in the last decade seen Rane rebelling and joining the Congress in 2005.
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But the loss of support for Rane over the years and Sena’s decision to make peace with BJP has put the party on a strong footing in the region.
During the last two years, the Nanar oil refinery in the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg constituency had been one of the flashpoints between Shiv Sena and BJP after Sena extended its support to the locals opposing the project on the ground that the refinery effluent would lead to sea pollution, robbing them of their livelihood. It was also one of the conditions put forth by Sena for a pre-poll alliance with BJP last month. The project was formally denotified in the first week of March.
The Sena’s opposition to the oil refinery has angered local BJP supporters, who are in favour of the project, claiming that it would generate employment. Attempts are being made to pacify these leaders, said a Sena leader.
“We did not oppose the project with an eye on votes. We stood behind the locals who opposed the project and kept our word of getting the project cancelled. We are sure that all the people from the region would stand behind the Sena-BJP alliance,” said Vinayak Raut, Shiv Sena MP from Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg constituency.
To pose a challenge before the Sena, Rane is set to field his son Dr Nilesh Rane, who had won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls on a Congress ticket. Of the six Assembly constituencies in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, while five are with Sena, one is with Congress — represented by Nitesh Rane.
Besides the Rane factor, Sena is also set to face a challenge from the NCP in Raigad and Thane Lok Sabha constituencies.
In Raigad, the NCP has fielded its former state president Sunil Tatkare, who had lost to Sena’s Aanant Geete by over 2,000 votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Geete is Sena’s sole minister in the Union government with the portfolio of heavy industries and public enterprises. Geete’s unimpressive performance and Sena’s infighting have created a challenge before the party. The NCP, on the other hand, is pinning its hopes on the support of Peasants and Workers Party, which has a sizeable presence in the area, besides quelling the infighting in the party.
The Shiv Sena and BJP are facing a unique challenge in Palghar. Sena leaders claimed that as per the seat-sharing arrangement, the Palghar seat has been allotted to the party. The move has angered local BJP workers.
Following the death of BJP MP from Palghar, Chintaman Wanga, Sena had fielded his son Srinivas against BJP’s Rajendra Gavit, who had won the Lok Sabha bypoll held in May last year. Also, Hitendra Thakur-led Bahujan Vikas Aghadi has a sizable presence in the area and might put up a tough contest in the constituency.
In Bhiwandi, a section of Sena workers are opposing BJP MP Kapil Patil. Party insiders said Sena leaders have managed to pacify the workers. In Thane and Kalyan constituencies, Sena may have a smooth passage following the alliance with BJP.