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|September 7, 1999||
Shiv Sena leaving no stone unturned to defeat former comrade
The Shiv Sena faces a formidable challenge from sacked minister and former party rebel Ganesh Naik in Belapur assembly constituency -- billed as the largest assembly segment in the country with 889,780 voters.
Naik hopes to gain from the sympathy he got after being summarily sacked from the then Manohar Joshi ministry. He will also benefit from the feverish anti-Sena sentiments among the families rendered jobless by Bal Thackeray's ban on quarrying in the area.
The Sena on its part is making all out efforts to expose the so-called dictatorial attitude of the former minister. Naik is attempting a hat-trick from Belapur which was once a Congress citadel. He won the elections both in 1990 and 1995.
The collapse of the Kalwa-Belapur Cooperative Bank, promoted by the Naik family has also emerged as a strong issue, with the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation standing committee resolving to withdraw the civic body's deposits amounting up to Rs 6.5 million from the bank.
''I helped build the Sena from scratch and I do not have to go around telling people this. I helped many people through the Kalwa-Belapur bank and even now our family is paying something like Rs 1 million every month to make up for several defaulters, '' Naik explained.
Belapur is witnessing a triangular contest with Naik fighting on the Nationalist Congress Party symbol, the Shiv Sena fielding former Thane deputy mayor Sitaram Bhoir and the Congress putting up former MLA Janardan Geuri.
Both the Sena and the Congress are actively campaigning against Naik to expose his alleged non-performance.
All the three main contenders belong to the local Agri community which has over 20 per cent votes. Their share has dwindled over the years with the rapid urbanisation of the area.
Naik's main plank is that people from all religions, castes and language should get equal justice in society. ''I hate the politics of hatred,'' he says and expresses confidence that the election results will demonstrate that the era of change has indeed begun.
About his alleged non-performance, Naik says his opponents simply do not know what they are saying. He takes credit for the reduction of property tax in Navi Mumbai, introduction of a city bus service in the area, and augmenting the supply of drinking water in the Mira-Bhayander area etc.
Belapur constituency stretches from Navi Mumbai in the east to Mira-Bhayander in the north. It is part of the Thane Lok Sabha constituency. It has 505,661 male voters and 384,119 female voters.
The Sena strongman in Thane, Anand Dighe, who has been opposing Naik for a long time, has made it a prestige issue to ensure that Naik does not win this time round. He has instructed all Sena corporators to make all out efforts to defeat the former minister.
''We are happy today that we can express ourselves now. Under Naik's leadership our voice was stifled. He helped only his family members and close associates grow in the municipal corporation,'' says former mayor Chandu Rane.
Congress candidate Janardan Gouri, who defeated Naik in 1985, hopes to repeat his performance. ''Naik's non-performance is writ large all over the constituency. Look at the unemployment, retrenchments, lack of water supply and the problems faced by the people with the increased power tariff, he says.
Corporator Santosh Shetty points out that Naik and his family have done precious little when thousands of students in the constituency were struggling for admissions to various schools and colleges. This again has become a major issue.
The area has a few slum pockets occupied by settlers from outside Maharashtra. Naik is quite popular among these sections.
''Both Sharad Pawar and I are fighting for self-respect and we feel that self-respecting people would back us solidly,'' Naik exclaims.
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