Shiv Sena cannot take voter support in Ratnagiri for granted

Published : October 16, 2019 13:41 IST

Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray addressing a meeting against the Nanar refinery project at Sagawe village bordering Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts in April 2018. Photo: Prabhakar Waradkar

The saga of the mega petrochemical refinery at Nanar in Ratnagiri district continues and once again it is politics that is the tilting the balance. In 2017, when the land acquisition notice was issued, it resulted in a massive protest from the local people. They banded together under the banner of the Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsh Sangatana and had the support of the Shiv Sena and the Congressman (and ex-Sena Minister) Narayan Rane. The scrapping of the $44 billion project, officially known as Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd and commonly called the Nanar refinery project, in February just before the Lok Sabha election was seen as a victory of the people. Residents of the 15 villages that it would have wiped out were triumphant with the cancellation and confident that it would be shifted. A place closer to Mumbai in Raigad district was being speculated as the new location of the project.

Now, seven months down the line, there is unease again in Ratnagiri because of the political fluctuations in the region. The Konkan has supported the Shiv Sena for many years, but with the Sena losing its Ministers to other parties the politics of the region has become fragmented. On October 15 Narayan Rane fully threw in his lot with the BJP. A former Shiv Sainik, Rane was expelled from the party in 2005 for revolting against Uddhav Thackeray. He joined the Congress but left it in 2017 and later formed the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksh. Rane drew his strength from his home district Sindhudurg which he had retained for the Shiv Sena when he was a member of that party. Even after forming his own party Rane kept his options open. He became a member of the Rajya Sabha last year with the backing of the BJP. On October 15 he officially joined the BJP and even merged his party with the BJP.

Rane’s move to the BJP has unsettled the villagers. The BJP has always been pro-refinery in the region and only because of the Sena it had gone along with the cancellation of the project site. Indeed, it is understood that changing the location of the project was part of the understanding between the two parties when they agreed to fight the Lok Sabha election together. With the political splintering in the region, the local people can no longer tie their hopes to the Sena, which they feel has used them for their own politics. The BJP, they say, has at least been open in its support for the refinery project. During the Lok Sabha election there had been clear support for the Sena but in the upcoming election the party is on shaky ground.

If the project comes about, around 15,000 acres of fertile land will be destroyed along with more than 10 lakh mango trees of the famed Alphonso variety. The future continues to be unsure for the 13,000 families who will be affected.

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