Jaitapur rage is more about Sena vs Rane than nuclear fears

The protests over a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, which claimed one life yesterday and erupted in street clashes and stone-throwing today, appears to be driven by a local political impulse — the enduring sentiment in the Shiv Sena against Narayan Rane.

By switching loyalty to the Congress, the former Sainik and chief minister of Maharashtra undercut the Shiv Sena in its once-powerful base in the Konkan — provocation enough for the Sena to come out on the streets to denounce a project of the kind it had once championed aggressively.

An indefinite curfew was clamped in Ratnagiri town today after a Sena-led bandh in the district flared into a stoning of the local civil hospital, blocking of roads by burning tyres, an assault on a doctor and a hospital employee and, finally, a lathicharge on protesters who were demanding video-recording of the autopsy of a fisherman killed in police firing yesterday.

The fisherman, Tabrez Tehekar of Nate village close to the proposed Jaitapur plant, was hit during an alleged mob attack on the village police station. The demand for a recording of the autopsy was ultimately conceded.

As Union power minister in the NDA government, Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu had promoted the policy of setting up mega power plants, without excluding nuclear energy as a source of fuel. Some state politicians claimed yesterday that the Sena had even supported nuclear power, and that Prabhu had been instrumental in bringing the project to his Konkan bastion.

"The Sena had supported nuclear power projects and Prabhu had mooted the idea of such a project in Konkan before 2004," NCP MLA Nawab Malik said today.

Rane, now industries minister in the Congress-NCP government, was once the Sena's face in the Konkan. He was close to Bal Thackeray, and was made chief minister of the Sena-BJP government in 1999. He fell out with his party leadership after Thackeray's son, Uddhav, became executive president in 2003, and was expelled from the Sena two years later.

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