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Imponderables aplenty in Kulaba

FROM PARAG RABADE
DH NEWS SERVICE, ALIBAUG/PEN (M’RASHTRA):

Veteran Congressman and former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay does not see
any rival to him from Kulaba constituency, and boasts that the two opponents, the PWP
and Shiv Sena, are fighting for the second position in this election.

“I have no rival here, that is very unfortunate,” Mr Antulay said. Such overconfidence
can prove costly for Mr Antulay, whose return to Kulaba at the instance of his bete noire
NCP President Sharad Pawar has added star value to the triangular contest. Mr Antulay
had won from this constituency in 1989, 1991 and 1996, but was trounced by his rival
PWP candidate in 1998.

Even Mr Antulay’s rivals — PWP’s sitting MLA Vivek Patil and Shiv Sena’s sitting MLA
Shyam Sawant — are given to similar boasts and paint rosy picture for themselves. But
the battle is certainly not easy for any contestant, notwithstanding their empty boasts and
rhetoric.

Mr Antulay was reluctant to contest this time, but it was Mr Pawar who recommended
his name to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and asked for his nomination, giving up
NCP’s claim on the seat.

Mr Antulay himself tells this incident to his voters, thus earning goodwill of both NCP as
well as Congress voters. It was Mr Pawar who launched Mr Antulay's campaign, thus
ending their past rift.

PWP’s Ramsheth Thakur, who won from here in 1998 and 1999, too was reluctant to
contest and the party chose Mr Vivek Patil, who is equally confident of victory.
Kulaba constituency is spread over Raigad district and has six assembly segments.
Located south of Mumbai, the proximity to the commercial capital of India has ensured
presence of big industries such as Reliance, RCF, IPCL, Indian Organic Chemicals
(IOC), HPCL and so on.

Raigad district is famous for its beaches, but the region earned notoriety when the deadly
RDX that was used for Mumbai serial bombings by the Dawood gang in 1993 was
smuggled from its coastline.

Since independence, two parties dominated the politics here — the Congress and the
Marxist formation PWP, which stands for the Peasants and Workers Party. This regional
block was used by Congress politicians such as Mr Pawar and Mr Antulay to undercut
each other's presence in this district.

The Congress politics ensured PWP’s growth, and out of 13 Lok Sabha polls held here,
six were won by PWP including in the Indira wave of 1984, and seven times by the
Congress.

Now that the Congress is marginalised, NCP has consolidated its presence and the Shiv
Sena has stepped in. Curiously, their common enemy is PWP, and to fight that enemy,
these three parties have been joining hands with each other on many occasions.

One example was that of the election of the president of Zilla Parishad in 2002. The PWP
was the largest party with 19 members, but other parties — NCP with 18 members, Sena
with 16 members and Congress with 5 members ganged up against it to defeat PWP
candidate and instal a Sena member as the president.
The defeat snowballed into a major political crises in Maharashtra, when PWP, which has
five MLAs in the assembly, withdrew support for the Congress-NCP's Democratic Front
(DF) government, bringing it on the brink of collapse. The then Chief Minister Vilasrao
Deshmukh literally begged to PWP boss Jayant Patil not to precipate the matter and the
government survived.
Mr Jayant Patil and his sister Meenakshi Patil control the PWP, which is a cadre based
formation with dominant presence among the aggressive Aagari community (which was
involved in saltpans and salt making in past). The Congress, NCP and Sena accuse the
Patils and PWP of creating a reign of terror in Raigad district.
The PWP, once a Marxist party, is described by opponents as a “party of contractors”, as
Mr Jayant Patil and its sitting MP Ramsheth Thakur are big contractors. Mr Patil runs a
private jetty, has a contract for transporting coal to MSEB and so on, while Mr Thakur is
an equally big contractor.

The PWP pulled off a coup when Congress candidate in 1999 election Pushpa Sable
joined the PWP on Thursday, causing acute embarassment to the Congress. The PWP is
also playing a video-cassette in which Shiv Sena nominee Shyam Sawant has reportedly
stated that he (Sawant himself) is “unfit for contesting a Lok Sabha election”.

Although the Congress is marginalised, Mr Antulay can count on his tremendous
charisma and goodwill he enjoys in the constituency. He has the support of former senior
PWP leader D B Patil. His campaign is being handled by NCP’s MLA and Minister
Sunil Tatkare.

For PWP, the main contest is against the Congress-NCP, while for Mr Sawant of the
Sena, the PWP hardly counts in his scheme of things. PWP's Pen town secretary Prakash
Shingrut told Deccan Herald that the division of votes between the Congress and Sena
and the network of PWP will ensure Mr Vivek Patil's victory.
According to Sena leader Narayan Rane, PWP appears to be having upper hand right
now, with the Congress lagging behind. He says that the antipathy against PWP is such
that sensing PWP’s victory, the anti-PWP votes belonging to the Congress and NCP will
shift to the Sena at the last minute facilitating Mr Sawant's victory.

Mr Sawant, however, writes off PWP as a rival and told this conrrespondent that the main
fight is with Mr Antulay. “The PWP is restricted only in three assembly segments and
there is a great deal of unhappiness against PWP and its MP, Mr Thakur,” he said.

The victory margins in this constituency had always been very narrow. In 1996, Mr
Antulay was elected by a margin of 4,000 votes, while in 1998, PWP’s Mr Thakur was
elected by 9,000 votes. Only 1999 election was one-sided as NCP had supported the PWP
against Congress.

Kulaba constituency presents a very confusing picture, but the outcome will definitely be
shocking for everyone.