Konkan is the political orphan of MaharashtraUpdated: Apr 24, 2018 16:40 IST
Many years ago, when the Shiv Sena-BJP government had implemented what was considered a flagship scheme of providing jhunka-bhakar at one rupee per plate to the common man, very soon it became obvious that the scheme was a subsidy-cum-land grab racket. The land mafia identified prime spots to set up jhunka-bhakar stalls but while pocketing the government subsidy sold other snacks too from those outlets. So one collector in the Konkan decided to tighten the screws on the racketeers. They were asked to maintain a register of all those who may have snacked on jhunka-bhakar at those stalls and get their addresses. When the collector inspected those registers after a few weeks the names of the snackers were Atal Behari Vajpayee, Gopinath Munde and even Bal Thackeray over and over again – some of them snacking on jhunka bhakar as many as a dozen times a day. When a furious collector threatened to shut down those stalls, the owners protested, “How do we know what their actual names really are? We cannot be held responsible for people entering false names in the registers!”
Nearly two decades later, Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena president, is accusing the land mafia of doing the same in the Konkan again. The Maharashtra government has notified one of the largest refineries at Nanar and, according to Uddhav, the common names of land buyers across the periphery of the proposed refinery are Modi, Shah and Jain. Uddhav believes these are obviously fake names and at a rally in Nanar in Ratnagiri district, Minister for Industries Subhash Desai, who hails from the Shiv Sena, even announced the denotification of the land for the refinery. Of course, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is right in saying that authority to denotify something already sanctioned by the government is not the minister’s in an individual capacity and must be a collective decision of the cabinet. But the contretemps now once again brings into play not just the unceasing battle and differences between the Sena and the BJP, but also the distrust between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis. For Uddhav has told the government off in no uncertain terms that the project must be shifted to Gujarat, which is Narendra Modi’s home state or to Nagpur which is Fadnavis’ constituency. The political challenge to the BJP is implicit in that statement for Uddhav is also pegging his opposition to the aspirations of the Konkani people who want jobs but not at the cost of their beautiful, green land, full of rivieras and estuaries that continue to nurture much flora and fauna, including fish. The last have, however, been drastically reduced due to environmental degradation precisely by such chemical factories.
And although the Congress has jumped into the controversy with its own demand to shift the refinery out of Ratnagiri, it cannot escape its own guilt in degrading the Konkan. The people of the region have always demanded agro-industries to cater to their production of ample fruits, including the world famous Alphonso mango, jackfruit, coconut, chikoo, pomegranate, banana, etc. But all that they have got over the years is chemical refineries and nuclear power plants. Its proximity to the sea makes it an attractive location to various multinationals and consortiums. But it is also true that powerful politicians from other regions, including chief ministers who sanctioned those projects, have not wanted the environmental degradation of their own home turfs and there was no one of consequence in Konkan to fight back.
Now, after Bombay, Konkan is where the Shiv Sena’s karmabhoomi lies because most of its voters in the state capital are migrant workers from the region. In opposing both this refinery and the Jaitapur nuclear power plant, the Sena is doing exactly the same as other politicians - safeguarding its own home turf. Strangely, despite three powerful chief ministers from the region, - AR Antulay in the early 1980s from the Congress and Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane of the Shiv Sena in the late 1990s, not much was done to develop Konkan in the right direction and this political orphan of Maharashtra continues to be the dumping ground for environmentally hazardous projects. Even the Shiv Sena earlier failed to cancel the naphtha-based Enron power project and gave it a new lease of life on better terms than it had got from a previous Congress government.
This latest contretemps, though, is likely to further strain a relationship already at breaking point. The Sena has decided to chart its own course at the next election but if the BJP wishes to woo it back, Nanar is clearly not the way to go.