An advertisement in the ruling party’s mouthpiece can be seen as 'writing on the wall', especially when the party in question is the Shiv Sena. On February 15, Saamna's Konkan edition has printed an advertisement for Ratnagiri Refinery Petrochemical Limited (RRPCL), famously known as the Nanar Refinery Project, in Ratnagiri. Nanar and 15 other villages were selected as sites for this ambitious refinery which will cost close to Rs 1 lakh crore. Many eyebrows have been raised in Maharashtra.
There is no wrong in getting an advertisement for RRPCL or any refinery for that matter, into any newspaper. But something is amiss here. The district of Ratnagiri has been a long-standing bastion of the Shiv Sena and the party has consistently opposed the refinery project in the environmentally sensitive Konkan region. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Sena, in minority in the previous Maharashtra government, had forced its erstwhile ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party to cancel the land-acquisition notification for the project.
At the time, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced it the state assembly. Then, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray roared back saying that he and his party would not allow the refinery to come up in the Konkan region as it was against the environment. However, it now seems that past posturing has been confined to the dustbin, especially after the party bagged a CM-post in the Maha Vikas Aghadi Government.
Nanar is an ambitious Union Government project. The proposed refinery here will be the largest project of its kind in the entire country. It has the financial assistance of mega-oil company 'Aramco'. The project was earlier located in Nanar and the adjoining 15 villages with the total land for the project at 15 thousand acres. However, people from all 16 villages joined hands against the project and protests happened everywhere -- at the proposed site, the villages and at the Tehshil, District and State headquarters. The agitation unified people and persisted; enough for the Sena, to think about safeguarding it's political interest and supporting the protest. That forced the BJP-led Government to announce that the project will not come up at Nanar.
This time however, sources say that the Saamna advertisement is not a sudden move by RRPCL. "Over the last two to three weeks, people with an interest in the project are secretly holding meetings with local Sena leadership and trying to create a narrative that the people of these villages now want this project to happen," said a senior official in Ratnagiri district who is close to developments. "A picture will be created that the people itself realise the importance of the project and went to Sena's local leadership demanding the setting up of project as soon as possible. This will help the state government led by the Shiv Sena to publicly proclaim that people are eager to set up the project, not the government," the senior official added.
CM Thackeray has not changed his stand on the matter, as yet. He is scheduled to visit the adjoining district of Sindhudurg on February 17 and 18. Two of the 15 villages are in this district. "There could be an attempt that the delegation led by villagers of these fifteen villages will meet CM Thackeray and make the demand of setting up the project. These are the kinds of plans being made at the moment," another person close to the development told NewsClick.
It is in this backdrop that the Saamna advertisement is being seen. "Had the Sena been opposing the project then why would it allow the advertisement to be printed? The paper is still led by Sena Rajya Sabha M.P. Sanjay Raut and the world know by now how close he is to Uddhav ji," said a Sena functionary from Rajapur tehsil, who was himself shocked to see the ad. NewsClick tried to contact Raut for a response but he couldn't be reached. Ratnagiri’s Guardian Minister Anil Parab, also from the Sena, remained unavailable for a comment as well.
Nanar’s Sarpanch Omkar Prabhudesai said he and the villagers are shocked to see the advertisement too. "We had ignored word that was doing the rounds that the Sena has changed its stand. And now, choreography is being set up for a new position. We are shocked and saddened to see the advertisement. The Sena has been consistent in supporting us. We request Uddhav ji to make a statement and lend us support. We don't want the project in our area and all the villagers are firm on their stand," he said. He said that even if some people try to create a narrative of support extended by the villagers, the opposition to setting up project in Nanar will be intact on the ground. "People won't give an inch to the project. The struggle will continue even if this new government tries to push us back," he said.