Indian Agrarian Crisis now moved to

Farmer-the most endangered species

Opposition to SEZ pays dividends for PWP, sena in Raigad

Posted by Ramoo on March 30, 2007

Meena Menon

Tie-up between Peasants and Workers Party and Shiv Sena led to a
thumping victory in the Zilla Parishad polls in Maharashtra


“PWP has a long tradition of grass roots work in the area”
Congress wins 6 seats compared to 5 last time

MUMBAI: The opposition to proposed Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and
industries, including the Reliance Group-promoted Mumbai Special
Economic Zone (MSEZ) in Raigad district, has paid political dividends
for the two parties in the area who tied up for the recent elections to
zilla parishads.

While load shedding and farmers’ suicides did not prevent the Congress
from performing well in the State, in Raigad, a tie-up between the
Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) and the Shiv Sena led to a thumping
victory for them.

Most politicians do not deny the impact of grass roots campaign with the
farmers and fisherfolk who stand to lose if the SEZs are set up. Senior
PWP leader N.D. Patil, who led a rasta roko last Friday against the SEZs
in Raigad district, said the poll results reflected people’s anger on
the issue.

In a region where over 70 per cent of the people are small farmers or
fisherfolk, agriculture is the mainstay. The land being acquired for the
SEZ is used for paddy cultivation. The PWP has a long tradition of grass
roots work in the area, said the local MLA, Vivek Patil. “We have been
working with the people for a long time and we have stood for certain
values in the district,” he said. Sena leaders such as Manohar Joshi and
Ramdas Kadam extended their support to the agitation.

Although A. R. Antulay, Congress MP and a Union Minister who is from
Raigad campaigned for his party during these local elections, it did not
make much of a dent. Mr. Patil said the Congress had not really been
sensitive to people’s issues and they were too scared of losing out on
contracts and power if they did. They have never been on the side of the
farmers, he said. The other factor against the Congress was that it had
never explained what the SEZs meant and how people could benefit.

This aspect has definitely worked to the PWP and Sena’s advantage. The
PWP gained by winning 26 seats and Sena with 16, of the total 61 in the
ZP. Earlier too, the PWP and the Shiv Sena worked together for about two
years to run the Zilla Parishad. The only issue they differed on was
“Hindutva,” said Mr. Patil, adding that the tie-up did not affect his
party’s secular image up. There were more important battles to be
fought, he felt.

Mr. Patil says that both the PWP and the Sena are cadre-based parties
and close to people. The Congress won only six seats (it had five last
time) and some wins were due to booth capturing and bogus voting, he
alleged. At Rave, there was firing too after complaints of booth
capturing. This is also the constituency of Maharashtra Minister of
State for Public Works Ravishet Patil of the Congress. Desperate to show
solidarity, his son Vaikunth, a newly elected zilla parishad member,
took part in the rasta roko last week.

Unlike other members of his party, Shrikant Patil from Vashi in Pen
taluka of Raigad district is one of the few Congressmen to have won the
Zilla Parishad elections and caused an upset of sorts in his area.

This former sarpanch of Vashi village has been opposing the SEZ. “I too
am a small farmer with four acres and I am strongly opposed to the SEZ,”
he said.

His opponent Anant Patil, who heads the committee of 24 villages opposed
to the SEZ from Pen taluka, said overall, the Sena -PWP did benefit from
the anti SEZ sentiments and he lost only by a few votes.

Youth leaders of the party such as Dhairyashail Patil, PWP district
secretary, said unless the SEZ issue was fought in the political arena,
the people would not win. The anti-SEZ feelings were reflected in the
elections but not to the desired extent, he pointed out. He said the
anti-SEZ sentiment was very strong in the Hamrapur area but the party
lost from there. However, the Congress is probably feeling the heat from
the protests as last Friday, during the rasta roko, Chief Minister
Vilasrao Deshmukh made statements in the Upper House that the Government
would not come in between the farmers and the Government in land
acquisition issues. However, the people are demanding that land
acquisition notices be withdrawn.

Official sources said land acquisition proceedings were not stalled and
the hearings were still underway.

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