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|September 9, 1999||
Dandavate comes out of hibernation to take on Sena, Congress
The Rajapur parliamentary constituency which falls in India's first tourism district, Sindhudurg, in the southernmost tip of Maharashtra, is all set to witness a high-profile triangular contest with two former MPs trying to wrest the seat from Environment and Forests Minister Suresh Prabhu.
The electoral battle involves former MP and All-India Congress Committee General Secretary Sudhir Sawant, former Union finance minister Madhu Dandavate and Prabhu.
Dandavate, a five-time MP from this constituency, lost in 1991 to Major Sawant with Waman Mahadik of the Shiv Sena coming second. He was again beaten badly in the 1996 elections, finishing a poor third after Prabhu and Major Sawant. In 1998, he kept away and it took Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar to make Dandavate change his mind and take a plunge as a candidate for the NCP-led Progressive Democratic Front.
Chief Minister Narayan Rane is seeking re-election for the third time from the Malvan assembly segment of this Lok Sabha seat. Rajapur has over the years emerged as a Shiv Sena stronghold though now it faces is facing virtual rebellion in its ranks over the distribution of tickets. As disciplinary action, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray sacked all the rebels, including Vijay Salvi and Subhash Bane, who are now contesting as independents from Rajapur and Sangameshwar assembly segments respectively.
Former minister of state for urban development Ravindra Mane is another candidate in the fray for assembly elections from Sangameshwar. Rajapur, with a population of 7,90,537, was bifurcated from the Ratnagiri district in 1981. Sawantwadi, Vengurla, Malvan, Deogad, Rajapur and Sangameshwar are the six assembly segments of this parliamentary constituency.
Sangameshwar and Rajapur, though part of Ratnagiri district, fall in the Rajapur parliamentary constituency. In the 1996 elections, Prabhu, a former banker, contested from this seat for the first time defeating Major Sawant of the Congress by over 69,000 votes.
Prabhu's victory margin was slightly lower in 1998 when he defeated noted Malvani actor and Congress candidate Macchindra Kamble by over 65,000 votes. Rajapur has always witnessed few candidates in the poll fray. In 1977, there were only two candidates in the fray while there was a maximum of six contestants in 1996. This time, there are only three contestants but Dandavate isn't expected to make a difference.
Some hard core socialists have object to having NCP activists asking that Dandavate be voted as Pawar's and state NCP President Chhagan Bhujbal's man. For Dandavate still has the reputation of being a clean and upright politician.
Prabhu has held portfolios like industry as well as environment and forests during his stints in the Vajpayee-led central government.
This district gained importance after Rane became chief minister, Over the last few months, Rane has pumped in finance for various infrastructure and developmental projects here. Similarly, he has got all Shiv Sainiks to rally behind Prabhu.
According to Prabhu, Rane has been instrumental in providing youth with employment youth and protecting the vegetation by not modifying the Coastal Regulation Zone rules.
Dandavate claims the Konkan Railway came due to his initiative while local Shiv Sainiks assert that it was the product of a mass movement.
The switch from a socialist bastion to a Shiv Sena Stronghold came essentially due to the employment problem -- this district has the highest number of educated unemployed. And the change came when the Rajiv Gandhi government reduced the lower age limit for voting from 21 to 18.
Another factor was the lack of storage facilities for fish and fruits like alphonso mango and jackfruit.
Considered a socialist bastion since 1957, this constituency had always returned Nath Bapu Pai of the Prajatantra Socialist Party to the lower house of the Parliament till 1967. Later, Madhu Dandavate was elected from here, first on a PSP ticket and later as a candidate of the Bharatiya Lok Dal, the Janata Party and the Janata Dal.
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