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'EC puts too many restrictions'

By Tara Shankar Sahay in Mumbai
Last updated on: October 04, 2004 17:31 IST
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Bang opposite Shivaji Mandir in Dadar, central Mumbai, is the Shiv Sena's electoral nerve centre, where a small group of men argues why the election momentum is slow.

A stern-looking Diwakar Borkar, in-charge of the election set-up, asks them to be silent and scan the computers for applications from poor farmers.

Little wonder that Sena workers have made the woes of farmers an issue in Maharashtra.

This correspondent's intrusion into the office raises brows. The men cut short their conversation and Borkar frowns. "Sorry, we cannot divulge our strategy. You better meet our authorised person," he says and proceeds to read a document in a signal of dismissal.

Tracing the 'authorised person' is no mean achievement because although Gandhi Jayanti is a national holiday, the sainiks are leaving nothing to chance.

Situated close to Mantralaya is Shivalaya, where the Sena's media secretary Kiran Wadivkar has his tiny office. "Saheb (Sena chief Bal Thackeray) is keen that since our farmers are Maharashtra's backbone, we have to implement various programmes for their welfare," he says.

He rattles off the concessions the farmers would get if the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine came to power.

"We are winning, make no mistake," he warns. "The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government will be ousted because it has taken the people for a ride."

The Sena also intends to provide free power to farmers. "We have received hundreds of thousands of applications in this context," Wadivkar says.

"We are convinced that they genuinely need it and so it will have to be feasible," he says, adding that the Congress-NCP government too has made such offers.

Another step that the Sena wants to initiate is the sale of cheap food grain to poor farmers, he says.

The ticklish issue of the creation of a separate Vidarbha state crops up and he says, "We are against it. Of course, we will meet the developmental aspirations of the people of Vidarbha, but we are totally against the creation of a separate Vidarbha state."

Wadivkar points out that Congress leader Ranjit Deshmukh is sulking over his party's stand on the Vidarbha issue and asserts that even the Congress knows that giving assent to the proposal would set a dangerous precedent.

The low-key campaign is due to the Election Commission's alertness, he says. "The EC discourages rallies, denies permission for demonstrations and even does not approve the waving of flags. It imposes too many restrictions and so the only other alternative is door-to-door campaigning."

The Ganapati festival also diverted attention from the campaign, which is now picking up, he says.

He is optimistic about the Sena's ability to provide alternative housing to slum-dwellers in and around Mumbai. "It can be done providing there is a determination to see eyesores (slums) disappear."

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Tara Shankar Sahay in Mumbai