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|February 25, 1998||
Their master's order
So you want to win the Ratnagiri and Rajapur seats of Maharashtra's Konkan region? Yes? Well, then, don't go campaigning in 'em constituencies. Hold your meetings in Bombay!
A bit hard to take, we agree. But nevertheless the truth. 'Cos, you see, though the voter is in the village, their human remote control is in big, bad Bombay, also known as the Dubai of Konkanis.
The said remote is the chakarmani, the head of a family. A typical chakarmani works in Bombay. Both Ratnagiri and Rajapur are female-dominated, and the chakarmani's word is the vote there.
In both constituencies, around 57 per cent of the electorate are women. In the late 1970s, females accounted for 60 per cent. Today, Ratnagiri has 486,000 female voters against 369,000 male voters while Rajapur has 451,000 of the fair sex against 349,000 male voters.
The chakarmanis usually visits the village twice a year, for the Shigmo festival after Holi and Ganesh Chaturthi in August-September. Sometimes, he comes for the annual village feast, too. But that doesn't in any way reduce the power of their fatwa which is always prompt in arrival at election times. It could come either by the post, or the man himself might come down... And 80-odd per cent of the families there, all dependant on money-orders from Bombay, will vote as per His wishes.
Even the candidates, though from outside, are not imposed here -- they are a popular choice of the chakarmanis. Which is why Anant Geete, Shiv Sena's Bombay councillor, gets elected with thumping majority in Ratnagiri, and Major Sudhir Sawant or Suresh Prabhu in Rajapur.
Each village has a Gram Vikas Mandal (village development council) in Bombay, having chakarmanis belonging to all political parties and thoughts. There are no fights in these councils; but separate meetings are called by different parties, strictly for election purposes.
The Sena meetings are held in Sena Bhavan, the Congress meetings in the Tilak Bhavan and so on... For Lok Sabha, only two meetings are held for the two seats. But for the assembly polls, 12 different meetings are held, one for each assembly segment.
Being basically mill workers, the chakarmanis had drifted towards the Sena after the mills were closed and they were thrown out. The Sena helped them to continue living in Bombay -- in return, they have been helping the Sena grow in the villages since the late 1980s.
By now, the voter in the village has heard all the political leaders. They are now awaiting 'orders'. After all the electioneering, it is the fatwas that would decide the fate of the candidates.
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