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Palghar Lok Sabha bypolls: It is man versus machine, again

Fight to save land from infra projects such as bullet train matters more than the fight between Sena and BJP, say villagers

mumbai Updated: May 26, 2018 13:59 IST
Swapnil Rawal
Swapnil Rawal
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Palghar bypolls,BJP
A banner demanding justice for residents of Hanuman Nagar in Palghar.(HT Photo/Anshuman Poyrekar/)

Away from the buzz surrounding the Palghar Lok Sabha bypolls (May 28), Meena Sutar, 57, a resident of Hanuman Nagar in the taluka, is a worried woman.

Her concern? Getting displaced again, this time for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. In the late 1970s, Sutar’s family was shifted out of Jawhar for the Surya dam project. “I was a little girl then, but I still remember how we were shifted overnight to Hanuman Nagar. They want to leave us homeless again,” said Sutar, who sells vegetables in the village.

According to sarpanch Bandhu Umbarsada, villagers from Hanuman Nagar, which will lose large chunks of land to the ambitious project, have another cause for concern. “The land titles are not in our name. We have been toiling for decades to reach a point where we could sustain ourselves. We are determined. We will not spare an inch for the project,” Umbarsada said, adding the villagers have made their intent clear through the banner put up at the entrance of the village.

INFRA HUB

A slew of Centre-backed infrastructure projects pass through the constituency, which has a majority of tribal population. Apart from the bullet train, the proposed Vadhwan port and Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), too, pass through Palghar, and thus will need the farm land.

Umbarsada said even ahead of the elections, there is no empathy towards the cause of the people. “The previous ruling party got DMIC to pass through the region. Now this party [in power] has got bullet train. Where should we go,” asked Umbarsada. “We are not against development, but we are not being made a part of it. We lack basic facilities such as roads, water, and sanitation. But the authorities only want to give us displacement in the name of development.”

In Uplaat village in Talasari taluka, roughly 50km north-east of Vadhwan, Shriram Bhangade and Yashwant Bhangade are looking for alternative jobs as they will lose their fields to the bullet train project. In Vadhwan village in Dahanu taluka, 25km from Hanuman Nagar, another set of anxious villagers are protesting the shipping ministry’s project to reclaim 5,000 acres in the sea for a port. Damodar Patil, 65, a fisherman, said the port would take away their livelihood.

THE POLITICS

Like its topography, which includes forests, hills and a sea strip, the political allegiance in the Palghar Lok Sabha constituency, too, is distinct and divided. The constituency, which faces a bypoll necessitated by the death of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Chintaman Wanga, has a mix of rural and urban population. While it has a considerable tribal population in Talasari, Vikramgad, Jawhar and Mokhada, it also includes urban areas namely Vasai, Nalasopara, Virar and Boisar. The election took an interesting turn after the Shiv Sena decided to field a candidate against the BJP – its ally in the Centre and state.

Apart from Palghar, two other constituencies – Bhandara-Gondia (Maharashtra) and Kairana (Uttar Pradesh) — will face bypolls. The bypolls are crucial for the BJP to maintain its majority in Parliament, where it currently has 274 seats.

The Palghar bypoll is a four-cornered battle between Sena’s Srinivas Wanga, BJP’s Congress turncoat Rajendra Gavit, Congress’s Damodar Shingda, a tribal leader and former MP; and Bahujan Vikas Aghadi’s Baliram Jadhav, a former MP.

Politically, the tribal population of Talasari, Vikramgad and Jawhar is divided between the Congress, Communist Party of India (M) and BJP. In 2009 and 2014 polls, the CPM candidates got the fourth and third spot, respectively.

One of the Bhangade brothers from Uplaat said the village is wary of the BJP and Sena. “This belt, which goes up to Jawhar, is loyal to the CPM. There is no vote division here. We support the CPM because they work for us. They don’t switch parties for money,” said Yashwant, who recently got a job as a primary school teacher in Talasari.

The resentment is growing in the BJP cadre, which faced embarrassment after the Sena fielded their former MP’s son, for not giving a ticket to “one amongst them”.

Deepak Pawar, political analyst, said, “Hitendra Thakur’s BVA will play the spoilsport in this by-election. Of the six assembly segments in the region, BVA holds three and is strong in the non-tribal belt of the Lok Sabha constituency. Thakur and his team control the real estate, and effectively the political economy.”

SENA VS BJP

Both the Sena and BJP are staking claim to the legacy of Chintaman Wanga, seeking votes to honour the work done by the tribal leader in the region. The power tussle saw them break the unwritten rule between allies – not to contest on a seat held by the other.

A Sena leader said they are contesting the election to take on the “arrogance” of the BJP. The party is also contesting the by-poll to gauge its strength in the region before the next assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

Pawar said the election is primarily a Sena-BJP contest. “The BJP has been really aggressive in campaigning. It got MPs, chief ministers and central ministers to campaign for a bypoll. It wants to send a strong message to the Sena that the seat belongs to them,” Pawar said.

First Published: May 26, 2018 13:59 IST