The sky over Pen is a roiling, grey canopy. The monsoon seems to be winding itself up to lash out one last time at the Konkan.
In her house in Pen, the town 80 km south of Mumbai on the highway to Goa and famous for its Ganesh idol-makers, Prabha (46), wife of idol-maker Lakshman Bandhankar (54), is in a similar mood. Nobody in her family ever votes, she spits out. “We don’t care any more,” says her daughter Meena (24).
The rain that submerged Mumbai on July 26, 2005, washed away 300 idols and 30 precious moulds from the Bandhankar household.
“It was all insured, but the insurance firm refused to cover our loss of Rs 2 lakh. Politicians promised us a lot, but no one helped. It was the consumer court that finally helped us get our compensation,” says Prabha.
Adds Meena: “Sometimes I wonder why we need politicians. After all, we manage everything on our own.”
Along the 546-km, two-lane sliver of a highway that runs parallel to the western coast of Maharashtra and skirts popular getaways like Chiplun, Ganpatipule and Tarkarli, that sense of disaffection is echoed over and over.
Why is it so? Everywhere, all people say is politicians are never there when you really need them. That, for many, makes politics the most shameful thing you can do.
Inside his hotel at Wadkal, 5 kilometres down the road, its 35-year-old owner, who refuses to be named, lets loose a string of profanities at politicians. “Those #@*^& are only interested in lining their pockets,” he says. “I am an educated man — I hold a Master of Science degree — but I have never voted in my life. I am my own sarkar.”
“I recently applied for a home loan. My papers were in order but the bank officer kept stalling, angling for a bribe,” the hotelier says. “I asked him upfront whether he considers himself in the same class as a politician. That shamed him into passing my loan in two days.”
The 2005 flood destroyed goods worth Rs 25 lakh in Bipin Talati’s (41) electrical and electronics goods showrooms in Mahad, 160 km from Mumbai. He wasn’t as lucky as the Bandhankars — the insurance company never paid up.
“Mahad floods every year,” says Talati, explaining that the town is built like a saucer.
“Politicians talk of turning the Konkan into California. Let them do something as basic as desilting rivers and building dams first,” sneers Talati, whose family came to Mahad 400 years ago from Gujarat.
“We speak better Marathi than most Maharashtrians,” says his father Subhash, smiling at local Congress leader Arun Deshmukh, who is ranting against “outsiders” in the state civil services.
Travel 240 km south of Mahad along winding ghats, the vales painted green by the monsoon, and you come to Oni, a village on the edge of Ratnagiri district. A small crowd has gathered around a new Tata Nano, something the village folk had heard of but never seen.
Arvind Sakhalkar (53) gets into the driver’s seat, saying: “People gather wherever I take it.” The Pune-based former bank employee is here to inspect a 3-acre plot he’s bought.
“I have seen illiterate villagers make trip after trip to the electricity board office, begging for a connection. Among them are widows and the desperately poor. When the connection never materialises, they simply break down,” says Sakhalkar.
No wonder the Wadkal hotelier says: “This is the last election for this generation of politicians. From the next election, we’ll see a whole new generation in our state Assemblies and Parliament.”