Kankavli: Stakes are high for senior Congress leader Narayan Rane, who is facing a resurgent Shiv Sena on his home turf in Maharashtra's Sindhudurg district, where he is contesting the Assembly polls along with his son Nitesh.
Rane's elder son Nilesh had lost the Lok Sabha election from Konkan's Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat in May this year and his close associates Ganpat Kadam, Subhash Bane, Rajan Teli and Ravindra Phatak have all deserted him to join Sena or BJP.
Differences with Rane have led former Minister of State for Urban Development and NCP legislator Uday Samant into Shiv Sena, who is their candidate from Ratnagiri seat.
Rane, whose chief ministerial ambitions are no secret, is seeking re-election from Kudal Assembly seat in Sindhudurg
district which also comprises of Kankavli and Sawantwadi Assembly constituencies.
Rane's younger son Nitesh, who runs NGO Swabhiman and is not a primary member of the Congress, is contesting from Kankavli, which has caused some huffiness among local Congress workers, but there is no open protest against his nomination.
Observers here admit that the prestige of Rane, who is Congress' campaign committee chief, is at stake in the polls.
"Though both father and son may scrape through, the multi-cornered contest makes the poll results anybody's guess," they say. Shiv Sena's Kudal candidate Vaibhav Naik, who had unsuccessfully contested against Rane in 2009, says things have changed since the last Assembly polls.
"People in Kudal have got confidence that Rane can be defeated. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Shiv Sena got a lead of 22,000 votes in Kudal Assembly segment," Naik said.
Several of Rane's supporters have deserted him. People also know that Rane's resignation from the government few months back and withdrawing it was "due to his selfish personal motives and not development of Sindhudurg," he alleged.
"My campaign is to tell people that despite being the guardian minister of the district, Rane had failed to develop
Sindhudurg. He has not got a single project to the district to improve employment opportunities for the youth," he said.
Rane's son Nitesh is pitted against sitting BJP MLA Pramod Jathar who won in 2009 with a margin of just 34 votes. Shiv Sena giving a ticket to Subhash Mayekar, former NCP leader, has not gone down well with staunch Sena supporters.
Sagar, who runs a hotel on the highway near Kankavli said though he is a staunch Sena supporter, he feels that the main contest would be between Nitesh and Jathar. "Jathar will not get Sena votes even if there is resentment over the choice of party candidate. Jathar has done nothing for the constituency to take note of in the last five years," he alleged.
The presence of Congress rebel Vijay Sawant, a sitting MLC, may cause trouble for Nitesh, he felt. Sagar says it remains to be seen if Jathar benefits.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address a rally in Kankavli on October 13. However, Sindhudurg district Congress chief Satish Sawant said the resentment against the local BJP MLA is such that Modi can't do anything.
Meanwhile, Nitesh is campaigning door to door instead of padyatras and street corner meetings. He is visiting homes of locals garnering their views on issues of the constituency and seeking their support.
"I am beginning my political career and I seek your support. Trust me I will not let you down," he has been telling villagers as he speeds past taking brief halts at every village.
Accompanied by his Swabhiman volunteers, Nitesh has been asking the villagers as to what went wrong in the Lok Sabha polls where his elder brother lost to Sena's Vinayak Raut. He told the people that Zila Parishad and Panchayat samitis are headed by the Congress and the elected representatives are doing all they can to work for the people.
"But we need our MLA also to expedite development work," he told villagers during campaigning and also promised to provide women self-help groups suitable markets.
Nitesh told PTI that his brother's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls was the first defeat his family had to face. "Communication gap with local leadership cost us dear. Our own supporters caused this and created misunderstanding between local leaders and my family," he said.
The 2009 defeat of Congress in Kankavli by 34 votes was due to our own people, he admitted. Nitesh said he has focused on interactive campaign and is trying to assuage people that past mistakes will not be repeated. He said he has been focusing on anti-incumbency against the local MLA Pramod Jathar.
Decentralisation of authority among the cadre is also important and every one should get their due. "Earlier few people among the cadre called the shots and I have tried to correct it," he said.
Nitesh also said he has tried to connect with the old Congressmen. "They are loyal to the party if not me. I will try to fill the vacuum created by the departure of some of my father's supporters," he said.
The misunderstandings were deliberately created between Deepak Kesarkar (Shiv Sena candidate from Sawantwadi who was formerly with NCP) and Vijay Sawant (sitting MLC of Congress who is the rebel candidate against Nitesh) by our own people, he said.
"Kesarkar, Sawant and even Jathar have been old contacts with my family," Nitesh said.
Ravindra Phatak was given party ticket in 2009 while Rajan Teli (now with BJP) was made MLC. "It is not that my father preferred his sons over close aides," he pointed out.
Nitesh said he wants to build bridges with the people. Congress base was intact in the Lok Sabha election. It is the new voters who went with Sena and BJP. "We are working hard to regain their faith," he said.
Meanwhile, the long pending quadrupling of the Mumbai-Goa Highway, concretisation of roads, shortage of electricity, upgrading infrastructure to boost tourism and unemployment are some of the main concerns of this region.
The locals also lament that there is no scheme for water conservation despite good rainfall.
Vijaydurg-based resort owner Maruti Palinkar said lack of facilities to support tourism, lack of skilled development for locals through which they can benefit from tourism, lack of good roads, water and electricity has led to no progress of
the district in terms of tourism.
Lack of government hospital and unemployment are also concerning issues, he said.
Fisherman Rafiq Bhatkar said there has been a fish drought for some years. "Like govt compensation for sugar cane and cotton growers, fisher-folks don't get any benefits in case of fish drought," he lamented.
Arif Bagdadi, a local Congress leader in Sawantwadi said Congress has fielded Vilas Gawde from the seat but the main contest would be between Deepak Kesarkar (Shiv Sena) and Rajan Teli (BJP) at this Assembly constituency.
Many NCP workers are supporting Kesarkar while some Congress activists have gone to BJP with Teli. "Situation for Congress looks difficult in Sawantwadi but Rane and his son Nitesh will win their respective seats," Bagdadi said.