When the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha constituency, comprising the two coastal districts of Maharashtra, goes to polls on April 23, people will have a dozen candidates to choose from. The main contest, however, will be between sitting Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut and Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha’s Nilesh Rane, who was a Congress MP from the seat from 2009 to 2014.
The two districts make up the southern-most patch of the Konkan region, which has seen a traditional influence of the Sena, attributed largely to the region’s affinity towards Mumbai with scores of people from the region migrating to the financial capital for employment. Five of six Assembly segments from the constituency are currently with the Sena, while the sixth, Kankavli, is held by Nilesh’s brother Nitesh, who had contested on a Congress ticket.
Nilesh and Nitesh are sons of Narayan Rane, who was the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 1999 in the Sena-BJP government. Narayan Rane was then with the Sena. He later joined the Congress after being expelled from the Sena and was a minister in the Congress-NCP government in the state. Nominated by the BJP, he is now a Rajya Sabha MP. “Here, the name Rane is equivalent to a political party,” says Dilip Walekar, manager of a restaurant in Sawantwadi town of Singhudurg district.
After a tedious search for a name, the Congress has fielded Navinchandra Bandivadekar, who has found himself in a controversy after he allegedly participated in a rally taken out in support of Vaibhav Raut, a member of the radical outfit Sanatan Sanstha, who was arrested in the Nallasopara arms and explosives haul case.
Observers say that the two-way fight between Nilesh Rane and Vinayak Raut is certainly going to be affected by votes going to Bandivadekar, VBA’s Maruti Joshi and BSP’s Kishor Varak.
One of the key issues in the region prior to announcement of elections was the proposed mega oil refinery project at Nanar in Ratnagiri district. The project had seen stiff opposition from local residents and the Sena. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, announced shifting of the project from the proposed site when the Sena-BJP alliance was forged in the state. The scrapping of the project is seen as a major boost for the Sena in the region.
The Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha constituency was formed in 2008 by combining areas from the erstwhile Rajapur and Ratnagiri seats, which have been represented in the past by big names in politics like Barrister Nath Pai, Madhu Dandavate, Sharda Mukherjee and Suresh Prabhu. As the constituency goes for its third poll since its formation in 2008, the views of 70-year-old Vasant Belnekar from a village near Kankavli says a lot.
“Both the main candidates have gone to the Lok Sabha once. But their promises, as I read in papers, are same as they were 20-30 years ago. Konkan has given hapoos (Alphonso mangoes) and cashews but the fruits of development are yet to reach its actual cultivators,” he says.
In 2014, the number of registered voters from the constituency was 13.67 lakh. Issues like infrastructure and industrial development, employment to youth and push to the tourism industry are on top of the to-do list of the candidates.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Nilesh Rane says, “The sitting MP has miserably failed to take forward the infrastructure projects initiated during my earlier tenure. I plan to conclusively take forward the road broadening and airport development projects. At present, around two lakh youths in the district are unemployed. My effort will be to create infrastructure and opportunity for small and medium scale industries, which will use local resources in a sustainable way.”
Vinayak Raut, on the other hand, says, “We have seen the highest ever number of new voters this time, suggesting that the youth from here are no more drawn towards Mumbai. We will have to work hard on the aspirations of these young voters. We will build on the work already done towards opportunities of employment and self-employment. Looking at the increasing area under sugarcane cultivation, a sugar mill is the need of the hour. In case of tourism, we can work on coastal tourism as well as eco-tourism in the biodiversity-rich hilly region.”